Archibald Joseph Cronin (KROH-nuhn), the Scottish physician who became for several decades one of the most popular writers in the English-speaking world, gave up a profitable London practice in 1931 to become a full-time novelist. Among the eighteen novels that he produced during the next half century, four were best-sellers. His work became known for its direct, simple style, unstinting social criticism, and Roman Catholic outlook. Cronin achieved a critical reputation as well for combining a concern for enduring values with melodramatic action and for fusing realism with a romantic flair.
The son of Patrick and Jessie (Montgomerie) Cronin, A. J. Cronin was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he received his M.D. He served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I and then practiced medicine in New South Wales from 1921 to 1924. Later, he served as a medical inspector of mines investigating occupational diseases in the coal industry, thereby unwittingly gathering material for at least two subsequent novels.
In 1926, Cronin opened a medical practice in London’s fashionable West End, but soon after ill health forced him to take a leave of absence. In the summer of 1930, while convalescing from gastric ulcers on a lonely farm in the Highlands, Cronin began to write a novel to while away the hours. The result was Hatter’s Castle, the story of James Brodie, a Scottish hatmaker obsessed with and ultimately ruined by the idea of his noble birth. The novel was accepted by the first publisher to whom Cronin submitted it and became an immediate best-seller in England. Although some faulted Cronin’s style as too dependent on nineteenth century novelistic techniques, critics on both sides of the Atlantic hailed him as an important new novelist.
His next two novels, Three Loves and The Grand Canary, disappointed critical expectations, but in 1935 The Stars Look Down was...
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