Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
A(rchibald) J(oseph) Cronin 1896–1981
Scottish novelist, dramatist, and nonfiction writer.
Cronin's internationally best-selling novels examine moral conflicts between the individual and society. His heroes, who include doctors, missionaries, and small-town newspaper editors, are idealists in pursuit of justice for the common citizen. Although Cronin's novels are set in the twentieth century, they remind critics of works by the Brontë sisters and Thomas Hardy. Like those earlier novels, Cronin's are moralistic and feature dramatic plots, powerful themes, and memorable characters. Some of his novels have been made into films.
When in his thirties, Cronin abandoned a lucrative medical career to become a writer. His literary debut, the novel Hatter's Castle (1931), was a popular and critical success. Percy Hutchinson proclaimed it "a restoration of the English novel," having "the stuff of greatness." Other early successes included the novels The Stars Look Down (1935), The Citadel (1937), and The Keys of the Kingdom (1941). The Stars Look Down recounts the struggles of miners during a strike in a Welsh coal town. Cronin draws an unsentimental picture of the losses suffered by both the workers and the company when basic human values are neglected. The Citadel was controversial among the British medical community due to its examination of the conflict between medical ethics and what must be done to survive in a competitive field. The Keys of the Kingdom is the story of a priest who must temper his individuality in order to fulfill his commitments to the church.
In addition to The Stars Look Down and The Citadel, Cronin wrote several other novels that are based on his personal experiences. The Green Years (1945) and its sequel, Shannon's Way (1950), recount the life of an idealistic young man who, upon entering medical school, is supervised by an unscrupulous department head. The young man later begins to practice in a clinic in a rundown urban area and finds his work unexpectedly rewarding. A Song of Sixpence (1964) is an autobiographical novel that, according to Cronin, comes closest of all his work to representing his true literary aspirations.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed., Vol. 102 [obituary]; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 5; and Something about the Author, Vol. 25 [obituary].)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 358
To say that [Dr. Cronin's] first novel ["Hatter's Castle"] is causing a sensation is putting it most mildly. He has been reviewed … almost in terms of hysteria. Wherever I go I find that his book is being read—not merely read, but devoured. People sit with their feet on the fender … and their noses in the page almost as they have not done since the days of Dickens.
And yet Dr. Cronin's novel can very easily be criticized. It will be criticized on every side. It will be said that it is imitative …, it will be said that it is old-fashioned, melodramatic and that the general catastrophe is far too thorough to be true. All these criticisms can be made with justice….
[The chief reason that] "Hatter's Castle" is having so sensational a career is that Dr. Cronin, in writing it, has been afraid of nothing. He has not been afraid lest people should call him a fool, he has not been afraid of the hackneyed situation (he has a fine scene of the errant daughter thrust into the stormy night by her irate father….), he is not afraid of melodrama …, and he refuses altogether to be subjective. He tells you nothing at all about Dr. Cronin except that he knows obviously about women's pains and diseases.
The result of this indifference to comment is a terrific creative force! You may, when the book is closed,...
(This entire section contains 358 words.)
look back and let play with your superior mind, but while the narrative proceeds you are absolutely held. Dr. Cronin has a superb narrative gift and he can create character like Thomas Hardy. He isnot Thomas Hardy. He writes very often badly, he does not suggest the larger destinies, he has none of Hardy's wonderful poetic beauty, but the wife of James Brodie is worthy to be set beside the Mayor of Casterbridge: he would not be ashamed of her company.
Now enough of these comparisons. The fact is that the triumph of "Hatter's Castle" is another step in the return of the objective novel to English fiction….
Hugh Walpole, "London Letter: June," in New York Herald Tribune Books, June 28, 1931, p. 9.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1176
Except for "Wuthering Heights" and "Jude the Obscure," it would be impossible to cite another serious novel in English so cumulative of horror as "Hatter's Castle." There have, of course, been scores of stories written with the deliberate purpose of making the reader's hair stand on end and chills course up and down the spine. But the creation of such works is a kind of game, in which the writer is abetted by the reader; entertainment is the purpose of the author's tour de force. "Hatter's Castle" we take to be no such book. Dr. Cronin, we are convinced, has gone about his work scarcely less seriously than did Emily Brontë; his delineation of James Brodie [the protagonist] is clearly intended as portraiture, and the novel, therefore, is not to be judged from the standards set up by Poe and Stevenson. We say all this at the outset, for Dr. Cronin, in ways that will be made apparent, is so little of an artist that his work fails as a whole by reason of an overemphasis which lends an air of artificiality when, if we are right, exactly the opposite was intended….
James Brodie is Scotch-Irish, the scene of the story is Scotland, and the period a half-century ago. This last makes Brodie a bit more plausible, for the tyrant father (witness Patrick Brontë) was more in evidence then than he is today. But James Brodie is more than a mere tyrant, he is a pathological case, controlled by delusions of grandeur and later by the demon of drink. Thus, at the outset, the central character of the narrative is placed outside the human pale; he is largely irresponsible, and if the horror at the suffering which innocent persons are forced to endure at Brodie's hands is thereby increased, and pity for them augmented, the actual effect is vastly less than the novelist desired, because the cumulative catastrophe is seen as one of those "acts of God" against which there is no insurance. If Mary, wanting but a few months to become a mother, is kicked bodily out of the house, and the over-wrought Nessie is goaded into hanging herself, the reader may, indeed, weep, but he weeps as for one struck by lightning or overwhelmed in ship-wreck….
It is proof of Dr. Cronin's inability to maintain artistic control of his concept and his material that when he finds the death of [Dennis Foyle, whom Mary loves,] necessitated by the plan of his narrative, he cannot compass the event except by another burst of melodrama, as if he had not enough of melodrama behind him and before. To have Dennis go to his death with an entire trainload of people when a bridge gives way in a storm is to produce precisely the opposite of the effect required at the moment, for it attracts an attention which should remain concentrated on the tragedy of poor Mary, a tragedy which is immeasurably to deepen.
It is possible that Dr. Cronin, listening to old wives' tales in the Highlands, may have heard of a father who, fancying himself injured by a daughter's indiscretion, actually kicked her from his door. But only an imagination akin to Emily Brontë's could have made use of it. The girl, all but mortally hurt, drags herself to a cow-shed, where she gives birth to her infant. Found by an old woman, who summons Dr. Renwick, Mary is eventually saved. The child is not. Mary then disappears from the story, going to take service in London, and is only brought back into the narrative toward the close on the piteous appeal of Nessie that her sister return to her.
If we have shown certain of A. J. Cronin's failures it is only felt that something should be said of what is not only the finest passage in the book but one of the finest of its kind in the history of the English novel. Reference is to the profoundly stirring and exquisitely lyric scene of Mary's surrender. That Dr. Cronin surpasses the similar scene in "Tess" all who read the two must agree, although, of course, some measure of excuse will be found for Hardy in the Victorian canon that in literature a young woman must be deprived of her will by a draught of wine. But Tess and Mary are sisters in their spiritual innocence; and Dr. Cronin is to be congratulated on a word-picture superior to that done by the novelist he so patently has taken for his master….
The increasing insanity of James Brodie, if one can endure that sort of thing, is carried on with a cumulative effect that is masterly as a literary achievement. Nessie, frail of body and nervously unstable, is held to her books by her father with a paranoiac persistency that is coldly devilish. The university offers an annual money prize for the best work done by a school pupil, and Brodie is possessed with the fixed idea that Nessie can and will be the winner. When she falls she can bear up no longer. Her father has made her do lessons in a cold room; she has been ill fed; she has been allowed not a moment's respite, and her mind breaks. When Mary, whom Nessie had sent out of the house on a pretext, returns, she finds the little girl's lifeless body dangling from a beam in the kitchen. Dr. Renwick comes, and although he can do nothing for Nessie he does take Mary away, having learned that he loves her. Thus one gleam of light enters the dour tale at the last, although Renwick is badly done, being merely a puppet of the author's directing. But it is possible that some injustice is done Dr. Cronin here, for the melodrama of Brodie has so deafened the ears that one can scarcely hear the subdued notes of the Renwick-Mary episode.
What is to be said of "Hatter's Castle" in conclusion? It is not a masterpiece, but it is, unless signs fall, the work of a novelist who is destined for the seats of the mighty. In the first place, A. J. Cronin has resolutely turned his back on the allurements and artificialities which have so often in recent years diverted the English novel from its great tradition of portrayal of human life and human lives. Putting to one side the romantic work of Joseph Conrad and the work of John Galsworthy as belonging more especially within the genre of the comedy of manners, "Hatter's Castle" is the most important work in English fiction in decades. For it is a restoration of the English novel as it began with Fielding and Richardson and Smollett. It is not so complete a restoration as one could desire; the faults are too many and too glaring. But it has the stuff of greatness. And the author has shown an apprentice hand that should grow in sureness and strength.
Percy Hutchison, "'Hatter's Castle', a Novel in the Great Tradition," in The New York Times Book Review, July 19, 1931, p. 4.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
Not since "Wuthering Heights" have we had a horror story that so completely satisfies all the requirements of the genre [as does "Hatter's Castle"]. Hatter's Castle is the home of a great, blustering, egocentric paranoiac, a hatter in a small Scottish town fifty years ago. James Brodie is convinced of his noble birth; he is a large, handsome man, domineering, brutal, deluded with visions of his own grandeur. The tale of his downfall, which is brought about by the destruction or death of every member of his family save one, makes the book. At the end he is a skeleton of his former self, destroyed by drink, by the failure of his last hope, by his own vast, vain aspirations and desires. (p. 113)
This, of course, is not a cheery tale. But the horror story is meant not to cheer but to harrow, and Mr. Cronin has faithfully fulfilled his task. He has done more. His story is differentiated from the ordinary example of its class in two ways. One is his successful combination of romantic terror and realism. When it is necessary to present a scene of unhappiness or desolation or sordidness, no pains are spared to make the picture clear. None of the elegant circumlocutions which sheltered the reader of earlier tales is employed. A spade is described as it is, and if filth clings to it, then the filth is given its proper name. Moreover, Mr. Cronin, incredibly enough, inspires pity in the reader for James Brodie…. He might have been a cheap, stock-company villain, brought to his comeuppance by the forces of goodness and righteousness. He is, instead, a tragic figure, destroyed by his own great vices, a man of strength brought to dust, an Oedipus putting out his own eyes through his own folly.
It is this fact that distinguishes Mr. Cronin from other writers who have attempted the same feat, that, indeed, makes him with this, his first novel, a novelist to be watched and reckoned with. His Mary is all that is beautiful, good, tender, and pure; she is not ridiculous. His Brodie is the embodiment of all villainy; he is nevertheless tragic. Black is black, with Mr. Cronin, and white is blinding white. But because of his frankness and his courage, because he is not afraid of the heights and the depths of his characters, he achieves something of the mighty eloquence that must be in all novels before they are great. (p. 114)
Dorothy Van Doren, "Death, Destruction, and Power," in The Nation, Vol. CXXXIII, No. 3447, July 29, 1931, pp. 113-14.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405
Dr. Cronin's second novel ["Three Loves"] is less powerful but more convincing than its predecessor—"Hatter's Castle"; it is less fantastic and more modern; less gripping, perhaps, but more moving. In short, it is not so extraordinary a feat of virtuosity, imitative but effective, but it is a more genuine piece of work. Both novels are laid in Scotland near Glasgow. The time of "Three Loves," which centers on the turn of the century, is a generation later. And the second, like the first, is essentially a psychological drama, based on the life of a single individual—although melodrama is freely used to heighten effects. The writing is smooth and flowing, failing in emphasis, however, and lacking in original distinction….
In "Three Loves" Lucy Moore is another strong person in a small sphere. She clutches at life instead of letting it flow around her. She seizes, refusing merely to accept. She butts her head against stone walls and dies unyielding. The objects of her love must succumb to her boundless emotional vitality, be purged and recreated in her flames. Her husband first, then her son, and then Jesus are to be molded in the heat of her love. She must manage, rule, order, dictate, out of her devotion. She must possess and they must acquiesce in that possession. Just as James Brodie [in "Hatter's Castle"] had to dominate or die, so Lucy Moore must possess, emotionally, or perish. And in both instances the ruling passions develop increasingly until they become psychopathic. Dr. Cronin, with a physician's logic, follows the course of human motivations to their extreme conclusions….
The book has a few exceptionally strong passages. The episodes involving Miss Hocking, whose queerness suddenly develops into mania, are of unusual interest and in their symbolic significance add luster to the novel…. The last third of the book is a bold piece of representation in its picture (not at all sensational) of convent life. The author's approach toward religion is obviously that of an unsympathetic, essentially hostile rationalist.
"Three Loves" is a sound, serious and moving novel, made of stronger stuff than most of the English novels, which are said to be reviving the Victorian tradition. This is not to say that its author is another Hardy, or that his novel, touching on a similar theme, is a new "Sons and Lovers."
Fred T. Marsh, "The Pride of Possessiveness," in New York Herald Tribune Books, April 3, 1932, p. 5.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1214
Radically as Dr. Cronin's new novel ["Three Loves"] differs in plot and episode from "Hatter's Castle," so indelibly does this author impress his personality on his work that one will recognize the same hand behind both. Nor is this all, for in one particular is there similarity. In the first of the two books it is a man's stubbornness, an uprightness that leans backward, that eventually accomplishes his ruin. In "Three Loves" it is a woman's stubbornness. Here, however, the analogy ends. In "Hatter's Castle" James Brodie breaks most of the lives about him, and his own defeat is unrelieved by anything that could be called a victory. Lucy Moore, on the other hand, although she brings sufficient pain to others, and a major portion of pain to herself, does to no one irreparable injury; and there is something of victory in her own ultimate defeat. "Three Loves" is, therefore, a softer book than was "Hatter's Castle."
But the adjective is to be used only in the comparative degree, for by no stretch of the imagination might even the present work be called a wholly gentle story. It would appear that Dr. Cronin has seen too much of human beings to be deceived into finding them other than they mostly are. Goodness and badness, capacity to yield and inability to yield, weakness and strength, insight to love wisely, and the blindness that makes wisdom in love impossible—all of these Dr. Cronin finds inextricably woven and tumbled together in the people about him. Consequently, he is a clairvoyant novelist; and welcome on that account.
From the title one might easily be led to expect either a romance or one of those analytical studies so much indulged in today. But "Three Loves" is neither. Lucy Moore, a Scotch Highland lass of the Murray clan by birth, is happily married, and the first of the trio of "loves" is her husband. The second is her son—a child at the outset of the story. And the third is God. That people ofttimes are bruised by love is a common thesis of the novelists. But Dr. Cronin has turned things about. Lucy is not bruised by love, she bruises herself on love. In the stubbornness of upright pride she batters herself to pieces against her surroundings, as James Brodie, in "Hatter's Castle," battered himself to pieces.
Lucy Murray, to judge from the story, was a winsome lass when she married the Irish lad, Frank Moore. Their little boy, Peter, was a likable youngster. In the opinion of her kinsfolk Lucy married beneath her family. On the whole, however, this attitude seems to have been adopted by them as an excuse for not helping her in time of financial distress rather than to have had any foundation in fact: Moore was sober and industrious, kind and measurably understanding. Perhaps it is Dr. Cronin's premise that the more easygoing disposition of the Irish prevents them from fully understanding that dourness so prevalent among the Scotch, a premise that was hinted at more than once in "Hatter's Castle."…
[Later,] Frank meets his death when the small boat he is in is run down in the fog. Incidentally, the short and swift narration of the events taking place behind the wall of mist, the pathos (for Lucy is aboard the craft that cuts Frank down), the deftness of sentence and the economy of description, all combine to render this one of the memorable things in recent fiction.
Bereft of her husband, Lucy centres her whole life upon the little boy, placing him in a school in Ireland, and slaving to support herself and him…. When her former employer, old Lennox, asks Lucy to marry him, and she refuses, more than one reader may be tempted to feel that the novelist has taken an unfair advantage of his heroine. For, even if narrow and, perhaps, a little close, nevertheless Lennox was friendly and kind and sufficiently generous so that Lucy would have been assured of comforts and Peter of the university career which had begun to seem impossible. To those, however, whose reading has been among the novelists of the ultra-modern school, Lucy's attitude is readily understandable, for the reason that those novelists have dwelt insistently on the mother-son complex. And it might have been well had Dr. Cronin taken a leaf from their textbook here and made the mother's psychology more clear than he does. Perhaps in his capacity of physician he had so often come into contact with such exaggerated and purblind maternal jealousy he failed to perceive that a reader might not realize at once that Lucy's refusal is due to her fear that a step-father might in some indefinable way come between herself and the boy.
It may be imagined that it will be the purpose of the author of "Three Loves" to have Peter go to the dogs. But it is not. Subsisting on an incredible paucity of shillings a week, Lucy puts Peter through the university (he had won a small scholarship) and he is graduated in medicine. Lucy, although only a few years over 40, has by this time worn herself to the bone, and is an object of great pity. Truly, Scotch stubbornness is a fearsome thing. And the more is she to be pitied, for a second time does her pride render her blind. Because of her insane fear of losing her hold on Peter she tries to prevent his marriage. So he carries it through secretly. It is an excellent marriage, but she was adamant against it. And again she meets defeat at the hands of pride. In her extremity she turns to religion.
Subtly aware of all the forces that have been working for so long within this woman of his creative imagination, Dr. Cronin lets it be known that Lucy's "vision" is due largely to undernourishment and although he will push her to the length of courting, as it were, martyrdom by seeking to join a religious order dedicated to the most rigorous discipline, it is clear he holds no brief either for or against that phase of the religious life. But he understands it, and the pages that deal with Lucy's convent life, an unusual situation for a novelist to handle, are done with understanding, delicacy and beauty.
Again it is Lucy's stubbornness that defeats her. She cannot, in the way she has elected, give herself to her third love, religion. As she managed Frank, and then Peter, so she must manage God. Gently, nay, with tenderness, nevertheless with firmness, Lucy, emaciated, and with a heart fatally deranged from her long struggle with hunger, want and disappointment, dies without again meeting Peter to whom she would return. Victory? Yes. Though a pyrrhic one. For Lucy has been of that indomitable company that never surrenders. Perhaps, however, there is something of irony intended also. Like James Brodie, Lucy Moore is not one we should either wish to be or to come into contact with!
"Three Loves" is a novel "of parts," as our elders might have said. And A. J. Cronin has again demonstrated that he has something to contribute to English fiction.
Percy Hutchison, "Dr. Cronin's Portrait of a Stubborn Woman," in The New York Times Book Review, April 3, 1932, p. 6.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662
In "Grand Canary" we have the third venture by the author of "Hatter's Castle" and "Three Loves" in the field of fiction. A. J. Cronin, it will be recalled, is a London physician who has deserted medicine for the novel—not, we take it, because he likes medicine less, but because he likes authorship more. And just as "Three Loves" differed radically from "Hatter's Castle," so does the new narrative differ from both….
Those who read Dr. Cronin's earlier novels recognized that the author had a flair for direct narration which placed him apart from the general run of modern novelists. At the same time, perhaps because of his long experience in the sickroom, he had also a human understanding likewise somewhat rare. The combination compelled the reader to look forward to subsequent books with keen expectancy.
On the score of narrative only, "Grand Canary" marks, perhaps, an advance. And in respect to two of the characters, certainly, namely, Dr. Leith and Lady Fielding, there is something of the penetration, the depth of analysis, which marked the preceding novels. But in its total effect the new novel has not the impact of either "Hatter's Castle" or "Three Loves," though this is not to gainsay the possibility that "Grand Canary" may not win more adherents for the author than he has won before. If it does so it will be because of its freer style.
Yet we wonder if Dr. Cronin may not have been the victim of his critics. With a man leaping so suddenly into all but the forefront of advancing novelists, it was inevitable that he should be confused as to the direction in which he should seek most assiduously to advance. "Grand Canary" exhibits something of this confusion. Moreover, one fears that it exhibits also certain crotchets which the author has nourished. And for the exhibition of these crotchets Dr. Cronin—moved solely by an ideal—has created, not living men and women, but puppets of his direction….
Yet if the reader is hereby moved to expect anything like [convention] …, let him at once disabuse his mind. One thing Dr. Cronin is not—he is not conventional; possibly because he knows from empirical experience that a combination of elements does not always give the expected result. The relationship between Dr. Leith and Lady Fielding is a delicate, original and moving contribution to modern literature, which seems in general to hold that once a man and woman are thrown together there can be but one outcome. This part of the book—the main part, and its justification—we leave to the reader to discover.
Where we think that the author has erred is in his secondary characters. There are too many of these; their actions are unimportant and their contribution to the story is negligible. Justifiable objection will be raised against the missionary, Robert Tranter. Undoubtedly there are hypocrites in all walks of life; but in a novel hypocrisy may not be treated casually; it should be given adequate treatment, so that the novelist may justify himself, or it should not be handled at all. The same is to be said of other minor characters in "Grand Canary."…
Hence one's fear that Dr. Cronin has become the victim of his critics. He has been told he should be less concentrated, that he should be more diffuse. "Grand Canary" proves that diffuseness is not this novelist's forte. Yet another explanation is possible. It may be that each of these several characters (not excluding Dr. Leith and Mary Fielding) is a type, that each stands for a group the author has met with in the medical practice he has now abandoned, and that, in this novel, he has got rid of them once and for all. We hope so. And reiterating that "Grand Canary" shines as exceptional narrative, we await Dr. Cronin's next novel with interest.
Percy Hutchison, "Dr. Cronin's Gift for Narrative," in The New York Times Book Review, May 14, 1933, p. 6.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
Undoubtedly an aesthetic pleasure can be gained from reading Dr. Cronin, the pleasure of observing a certain kind of novelist flowering with a superb unconsciousness. [In Grand Canary], pressed between two covers, is a perfect example of the Popular Novelist. Viewed in this light his defects become positive qualities. One is inclined to praise his inability to create a plausible human being, for one real character would break the book and Dr. Cronin's importance as an Awful Example. A long literary pedigree is of importance to characters in a novel of this class; it is a badge of respectability, an assurance to the reader: "You have met us all before in the best of company. There will be nothing to shock, nothing to disturb you, nothing to give you ideas." So in Grand Canary we have the missionary seduced by a loose woman, the boxer with a "seductive Irish voice" who reads Plato (spelt Playto to indicate the brogue; but how does Dr. Cronin pronounce the name?); the cockney bawd; the sardonic, embittered doctor, won back to hope in life by the love of a good woman whom he nurses through the yellow fever. Their physical appearance is minutely described—"chiselled" features, "strong" teeth, sometimes "firm" teeth, sometimes "perfect" teeth, almost always "white" teeth; they "hiss" words, their eyes blaze. This is all fair barnstorming, board-rattling stuff, but the popular novelist must also know how to write grandly. On these occasions the English language loses any meaning whatever for Dr. Cronin. Literary phrases run riot. He turns berserk, reckless of consequences. "Slowly before their eyes the day languished as with love, swooning towards the arms of the dark." Dr. Cronin is liable to turn nature on with a tap at the most unnecessary moments. When the missionary succumbs to the loose woman ("He stumbled inside the cabin. He closed the door.") the next chapter opens with supreme irrelevance: "But night succumbed in turn to morning and all the warm beauty of the darkness drooped into the ocean like a languid hand."
It is extraordinary how obscure the Popular Novelist can be without losing his public (Dr. Cronin speaks somewhere of a silence which is "lingering yet chaste," of "omniscient winds," and his principal characters are frequently having visions "which words could never formulate"). This is sometimes explained by what is called the narrative gift. He may not be able to create character; he may not have much of a story to tell, but how quickly it is said, how cleverly he tells it. This is not true of Dr. Cronin, whose characters all tell each other what they know already as in old-fashioned plays, and it is difficult to understand how a narrative gift can ever be said to exist apart from any merit of style, story or character.
Graham Greene, in a review of "Grand Canary," in The Spectator, Vol. 150, No. 5473, May 19, 1933, p. 728.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1099
One of the most interesting of present-day literary figures is A. J. Cronin, the London physician who at the age of 34 suddenly abandoned an increasing practice to become a writer of fiction. Seldom has a first novel received the acclaim accorded Dr. Cronin's "Hatter's Castle." In his fourth venture, "The Stars Look Down," there is to be found the same fearless handling of his theme, the same impressive understanding of men and women and motives, which made the first novel noteworthy.
It is important, this fact of A. J. Cronin's medical career, for it throws light both on his point of view and his method. In "Hatter's Castle" he did not get entirely away from his consulting room. James Brodie, the central figure of the story, is so clearly a pathological case that the novel, in spite of its terrific dramatic impact, fails of universality. "The Stars Look Down," while far from being kid-gloved fiction, has nothing of the pathological. But the characters, even down to the least important, are, as in the earlier book, realized with the same startling accuracy, the accuracy of a physician summing up a patient. A reader, while he could but hate James Brodie, was compelled to acknowledge the truth of the portrayal. There is the same fidelity of portraiture here. And because the pathological has been avoided, there is a universality "Hatter's Castle" lacked. Dr. Cronin inspires confidence in a reader.
The background of "The Stars Look Down" is an English coal mining town. The span of the story is the thirty years between 1903 and 1933. There are strikes and lockouts, and the war. But the war is seen only on the home front, with manufacturers making legitimate and illegitimate profits, and the armistice more a disruption of an established order than a poultice for the wounds of a nation. The underlying theme is the struggle between labor and capital. But Dr. Cronin is neither a crusader for one nor a defender of the other. He is the physician surveying an unbalanced organism, and, as it were, reporting it in his files, together with his diagnosis. But he is a physician who refuses to prescribe, fearing, perhaps, that the remedy may be worse than the disease. The social organism must always be unbalanced, is apparently his view, hence the tolerance inherent in the title. The stars will go on looking down and beholding just about the same scrambled pattern of human goodness and human frailty.
The opening of the novel is pathetic drama. The workers at the Neptune have been out on strike, and starvation stares the men and their families in the face. Starvation breaks the strike and the men go back. Dr. Cronin's picture of the pinched faces of the elders, the thin shoulders of the children, women fighting for a loaf of bread, boys and men snatching at the leavings in the slaughter-house that ordinarily would be thrown away, is unforgetable in its horror….
At the time of the strike there is, among the younger men in the mine, one named Joe Gowlan, handsome, able, but a petty thief, a seducer of women, and a man without heart or scruple. Dr. Cronin tries pretty hard to keep Gowlan in hand, but it will be the opinion of many that not at all times is he successful. Joe every now and again becomes dangerously near a machine-made villain of melodrama. Naturally, there are many such as he in the world—too many. But Dr. Cronin has not completely learned the novelist's art of selection and discrimination. Gowlan should not both succeed by a ruse in turning Jenny, the girl pregnant by him, over to David for a husband and also be the one (having become a millionaire in the war) to drive Arthur Barras into poverty. He might very well have done all this in life, but in a novel it is just a little too much piling up of villainies for a literature that has gone beyond the "Duchess of Malfi" stage.
On the other hand, few novelists have exceeded Dr. Cronin's striking ability to keep a complicated story clear at all times and also swiftly moving. He is uncannily like Dickens in this. "The Stars Look Down" has almost as many characters as some of the Dickens novels, has almost as many different histories advancing simultaneously, or interacting one upon another. (p. 1)
The ending of the book has something of the calmness of a benediction: David, who had served a term in Parliament as Labor Member from Sleescale, is defeated by Gowlan, the omnipotent industrialist and war profiteer. Arthur Barras, once the owner of Neptune, gets a job as underviewer in the mine, and David goes back to work in the pits. Lest this should seem to the reader a bit strained, the author reminds us that when Labor's great experiment in governing England gave way before the country's desire for change, many a man who had been raised from dock or pit or railway yard went back to his original task. Life is a whirligig, says Dr. Cronin in effect. The stars in their diurnal course look down on pretty much the same sort of a world now and forever.
With the possible exception of overdrawing in the character of Joe Gowlan, or, rather, in the author's permitting him to commit so many villainies, this comes close to being a great novel. It is a finer piece of work than "Hatter's Castle." It touches human lives more broadly and is better balanced.
"The Stars Look Down" is an exhaustive and deep reading of life, varied with contrasting characters, kaleidoscopic in its changes, almost breathless in pace. But again this writer comes back to Dr. Cronin the physician in Dr. Cronin the novelist, for it is in his training as a physician that his power as a novelist lies. Many of the pages are perfervid enough in incident or emotion. Yet a peculiar calmness, an all but Olympian serenity, seems to pervade the book. Dr. Cronin, turned fictionist, has the capacity of his earlier profession to be dispassionate without being cold. Hence, along with its calmness, the book exhibits an extraordinary vitality. It is impossible to conceive of a reader laying aside "The Stars Look Down" once he has started the tale. It is equally impossible to conceive of any reader not recommending the book far and wide. It is certain to take its place among the leading novels of the year. (p. 23)
Percy Hutchison, "The Clash of Capital and Labor," in The New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1935, pp. 1, 23.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544
Judging only by the stature and intricacy of ["The Stars Look Down"], one would incline to think of the author's career as meteoric. This has not been the case. Like most great achievements the book is the culmination of lesser endeavors, experiments in the medium embodying a restricted philosophy, a personal moral. It is the logical development from "Hatter's Castle," Dr. Cronin's first novel…. "Hatter's Castle" was a passionate but unsatisfying book, both in style and subject matter more imitative of the Victorians than integral to our own world. Its interest was chiefly pathological and the suffering described was of a world apart, understandable only as the conclusion drawn from a possible but peculiar premise. One was conscious of a straining to be forceful as if the author were trying to overcome in himself a natural remoteness from human problems.
In this new novel, the remoteness is of a different kind. It is the detachment that comes from complete immersion in the life around one, and it makes the book one of the few in recent times in which an author has dealt with the whole riot of confusion and goodness and waste of life in the modern world, trusting his own vision and without the hypocrisy of a vicarious belief. But there is another side to this quality of detachment; there is in it something of the inadequacy of the cynic. Such a book should print a gigantic question mark on the mind. Instead, the author seems to be giving an answer, a personal answer better suited to the range of his earlier work and leaving one with the impression that the only arms against the sea of troubles presented here are reticence and a cup of tea.
For the purpose of analysis one might call the general theme of the novel the struggle between capital and labor. Actually it is broader, the struggle between those who are not willing to compromise their sense of values in order to prosper under the present system, and those for whom no compromise is necessary, who have in themselves the brutality of the system….
It is impossible to summarize the various threads of story, or the many moods and power of the book. When new social standards come as they must to shove the framework of this story into history, the book will be alive still and memorable for its insight and swiftly moving scenes: the lust and cruelty of Gowlan's maneuvers, the poor relation with the tin of crackers by her bedside, the grotesque downfall of Barras, and the tenderness of the scene in which David, after a defeat in the House, watches the death of his wife Jenny, generous, faithless Jenny dying with a teacup in her hand and her little finger crooked "polite." It is so much of life and in a form so subtle that one forgets, reading, that a pattern has been imposed to make life credible. One may even forget the only thing that has been left out of this pattern, which is the ability in people to refuse defeat and to look down on such drama with something more than the neutrality of stars.
Eleanor Clark, "One of the Few," in The New Republic, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 1088, October 9, 1935, p. 250.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544
For the theme of ["The Citadel"], his fourth novel, Dr. Cronin has drawn on his experiences in the study and practice of medicine and has given us a vivid portrait of an intelligent, hardheaded young physician struggling to gain a foothold in his profession. A theme hardly unusual enough to cause the British medical lions to rear on their hind legs as they did and yelp a passionate protest. The crux of the matter lies of course in the fact that the author in its telling committed the unpardonable offense of dragging from the medical fraternity's closet its own privately sequestered skeletons. (p. 5)
The conflict between medical honesty and a competitive society is only the primary theme of this novel. Its secondary and "feminine" theme is that of married love. To the love story of Andrew and Chris the author has brought the extraordinary understanding of women's psychology to which his earlier novels have testified. Level-headed, clear-seeing Chris has as much steel in her backbone as has Andrew. Hard work and poverty have no terrors for her. The passionate integrity he brings to his science she brings to human relations—above all to her man. From him she will accept no compromise of principles, not even when love itself is at stake. They love, squabble, and make up with refreshing realism, always aware, as is the reader, of the reality of the spiritual and physical support each gives the other.
Like the author's previous novels, "The Citadel" has a satisfying solid and three-dimensional quality. "I keep telling myself never to take anything for granted," says Andrew of his medical code—which, one feels, may well be Cronin's own, and account in part at least for the structural solidity that distinguishes all his work. But it is its content rather than its literary excellence that has aroused controversy in England. Is it indeed a fair picture of the medical profession? Many American readers will no doubt object that the canvas has too much shadow, that while all in the know must have met in professional experience the counterpart of every one of Cronin's silly, ignorant, and money-loving physicians, there exists a far larger proportion than the novel suggests whose skill and integrity merit respect and trust. Cronin of course would be the last to deny this, but for his special ends he has chosen to take these for granted. What he has set out to do—and has done admirably—is to cut through the romanticism that still surrounds the medical profession, and boldly expose the potentialities of charlatanism and dishonesty inherent in a system whereby a large group of men must depend for economic security on the real or fancied suffering of others. And what he has to say about this situation applies not alone to England, but to the world over.
To American doctors the novel's main interest may well lie in the differences in methods of medical procedure in the two countries. Among them it will undoubtedly arouse conflicting opinions. But all who enjoy a good novel for its own sake will find it an engrossing, finely written story that needs no justification whatever. (p. 6)
Mabel S. Ulrich, "Doctor's Dilemma," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XVI, No. 20, September 11, 1937, pp. 5-6.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770
Six years ago Dr. Cronin came in like a lion, to the fanfare of a critical acclaim that bracketed his name with those of Ibsen, Hardy and Charlotte Brontë. British fiction, so thin and nervous since the war, seemed a little more human. Here, it was generally felt, was a doctor who had deserted the surgery because of a genuine literary compulsion, a man whose first book was a solid and resounding tragedy, a writer who seemed able to plow his way through the sickliness and the corruption of trivial realism. Dr. Cronin wrote competently; it was obvious that he wrote passionately; and whatever one thought of his claim to greatness, there was a general, pleased feeling that some one solid had arrived.
In those six years the resemblance to Ibsen, Hardy and Charlotte Brontë has become increasingly invisible. Dr. Cronin's big, square novels, published with such becoming regularity, have varied in quality; but in all of them the matter has been less imposing than the moral. The truth seems to be that Dr. Cronin has first-hand ideas and second-hand skill. In "The Citadel," as in "The Stars Look Down," one is excited by his great moral earnestness, his flat insistence on facing the central problems of British economy and culture; but as the book goes on that earnestness becomes a whispered indignation, almost a doggedly pessimistic insistence on the tones of dourness. Characters are added to each other faithfully; the action is blocked out; the story moves along, sometimes with inordinate rapidity; but always, despite one's interest, despite the automatic pleasure taken in "a good story," the end result seems trivial.
That triviality, it seems to me, is due largely to Dr. Cronin's conception of character. The men and women in "The Citadel" are not entangled in evil, shaped to some human modest design; instead they confront life and themselves with uniform emotions and a uniform speech. Dr. Cronin's characters fall a little too easily into two widely separated classes. He has people like Andrew Manson, who wanted to be ascetic and profound, a virtuous physician; and he has society doctors who are all black against Andrew's white, who, a little too sharply, tell you that they are quacks or weaklings or racketeers, while Andrew remains pure and always delightfully, forgivably weak. He has women like Christine Manson, who is Leora Arrowsmith minus the gayety and the erratic humanity, but who is, nevertheless, a treasure of a wife; and he has dark-gowned, softly smiling ladies of leisure who tempt Andrew as if he were Christian and they the demons of Anti-christ.
The story of Andrew's ascent from a grubby, unfashionable Scots medical school to a life of pure endeavor, will remind many of "Arrowsmith," if only because both Andrew and Martin have corresponding wives, jobs, friends and corresponding failures in the attempt to buck commercial medicine. There the two books part…. ["Arrowsmith"] is a book that tingles with the joy of life, a novel written around a problem and not pushed after it; and its strength lies in the contagious zest of its characterizations, in a Gottlieb, a Leora, a Puckerbaugh; but there is not a character in "The Citadel" whom one remembers as anything but a sad-faced participant in an atonal drama….
Andrew's material success and spiritual failure in London form the crux of Dr. Cronin's book. It is in this section that Dr. Cronin expends most of his indignation and takes so many potshots at the medico as villain. Andrew's spiritual crisis, alas! is utterly unmoving. We suspect it because it is so transparently an aberration. Essentially ascetic and selfless at heart, Andrew's sudden greed and extravagance represent not a movement, a phase, but a falsely dramatic stage of decline, a stage about which we know too much while it lasts. Dr. Cronin is forced to take recourse to bathos; the conflict between Christine, who wants to be poor but devoted, and Andrew, who wants money, is stilted….
When Andrew reforms, of course, and decides to be self-respecting, if poor, his remorse flows over, and from one extreme he runs right into another. Christine, like Leora Arrowsmith, dies suddenly in the midst of a crisis, and Dr. Cronin is ready for Andrew's culminating act of defiance. It is a heroic bit, done with great spirit, and it is a declamation that releases Dr. Cronin's opinion of British medicine, its organization and its individuals; but it is only a declamation, a paragraph of rhetoric set against honest but ineffectual fiction.
Alfred Kazin, "Dr. Cronin's Novel about the Medical Profession," in The New York Times Book Review, September 12, 1937, p. 6.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 193
Here is another of those fascinating excursions, by way of fiction, into the regions of men at work, under the conditions of life—"The Citadel." As fiction it has excellent living stuff in whole blocks of pages; and there are blocks where the events necessary to the main design are too abrupt and pat for their necessary effect. But I shouldn't care to judge this novel under the ordinary fictional rules until the term fiction has been widened to include credits for large experience, a balanced judgment thereon and story-teller's knack for recreation thereof; and narrowed to rule out all this review-supplement bosh of credit for Industry and Effort, especially of credit for Correct Conduct along the line of this or that ideology, take your pick. Cronin's novel has above everything else the quality of absorbing instruction, the illusion of seeing through a clear glass certain workings of the world, and the feeling that under its serene air of happen-so there is a detailed particular truth which both verifies and extends whatever of universal truth a person may know.
Otis Ferguson, "Men at Work," in The New Republic, Vol. LXXXXII, No. 1190, September 22, 1937, p. 195.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321
In "The Keys of the Kingdom" as in his preceding novel, "The Citadel" Dr. Cronin tells the story of a man who faced life directly, without cant and with the will to serve his fellow men. The priest in the present story, like the doctor in the widely discussed earlier novel, is an individualist in the sense that his conscience, not his self-interest must be his guide. In the Church, as in the medical profession, that necessity entails courage, disillusion, often personal disadvantage and disappointment….
This story of the life of a priest shows the conflict between an individualist and an institution—a conflict not unlike that between Andrew Mason and the medical profession in "The Citadel." The position of the priest is in some ways simpler than that of the doctor, since Francis had forsworn marriage and personal ambition such as that which compelled Andrew's decisions. Both men, however, have the qualities which distinguish the individualist who is not a mere iconoclast—simplicity, logical directness and faith in one's goal, not the desire to change for change's sake nor the will to dominate.
As readers of Dr. Cronin's earlier novels will anticipate, his present story has vigor and drama. It also has beauty, gentleness and humor. "The Keys of the Kingdom" is, I believe, a more appealing and more memorable book than any the author has written heretofore. Hingeing as it does on questions which deeply involve the faiths of many people, it seems likely that it will be even more widely discussed than "The Citadel." It seems likely also that whether the reader shares the faith of Father Francis or the kindly and honest agnosticism of the Scottish doctor who died fighting the plague at his side, he will find excitement and comfort in this story of the life of a good man.
Mary Ross, "A Most Appealing and Memorable Book," in New York Herald Tribune Books, July 20, 1941, p. 1.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 718
["The Keys of the Kingdom," the] new novel by the author of "The Citadel," is a magnificent story of the great adventure of individual goodness. And yet it is an essential trait of its hero's character that he could not have thought of the word "magnificent" as in any sense applied to his achievements, or the word "great" to his life. He saw himself as a man of puny strivings, and humility was in the very sinew of his saintliness, along with courage and brotherliness and truth. Just so, innately, was Francis Chisholm a man of great adventure. And the novel with a modern saint as hero sharpens a mercilessly perceptive wit in the portrayal of a sinner also, and stabs us to the examination of universal values, in an engrossingly dramatic story about a Roman Catholic priest who went to China as a missionary….
Through the first third of its progress, "The Keys of the Kingdom" sustains an excellent pace as a better-than-average novel which offers a sincere and skillful, though not extraordinary, development of a difficult but not especially unusual theme. The saint moves along a trying way, harassed by others' rigidities and his own self-doubt. The sinner's feet have begun their sure climb upward. A wretched complication of domestic tragedy has been handled with delicacy and daring. And A. J. Cronin is supplying, in short, an acceptable successor to his widely read book of four years ago. Then suddenly the reader is caught and held in the excitement of tense incident. And "The Citadel" is forgotten. What cannot be forgotten, now, is the whole strange close-knit episode of the false miracle. From that first climax "The Keys of the Kingdom" steps to a road apart. It runs its course, now, in unflagging, mounting interest and in far-reaching significance, with the subtlety that conceals subtlety piercing to fundamental question through gripping event….
No one who has read Dr. Cronin's earlier work needs to be told with what compact dramatic skill event has followed event and idea has been held safely back from the edge of symbolism. But "The Keys of the Kingdom" is a better book than "The Citadel," as its greater human warmth and vitality touch a broader significance with more profundity and finesse….
Underlying the whole course of this novel is the difference between good and evil in ordinary men. There is almost nothing here of what the world calls vice. And the book's outstanding sinner is very ordinary indeed. The Anselm Mealy pricelessly portrayed in this story is a successful career man in his church: he would have been equally successful in any business, profession, or office where roseate self-confidence, extrovert geniality, facile enthusiasm and shrewd executive ability moved within the spiritual closed-circle of material satisfaction and untroubled self-approval, to assure their happy possessor's popularity and gain. Anselm's unctuous piety is as sincere, and as inevitable, as his clichés; his gross self-seeking is as unconscious as his lack of sympathy: he is simply incapable of sympathy, or of anything else that requires sensitiveness, spiritual understanding, or naked lonely thought. It will be unfortunate if "The Keys of the Kingdom" is read as "attacking the church" (any church) and discussed from that point of view primarily. Certainly Dr. Cronin is attacking worldliness and bigotry and over-organization, and the claim of man-made standards or establishments to stand between man and his God. But the breadth of his attack is against the ancient deadly evil of intolerance and greed and arrogant complacency, wherever they may be; in church, class, nation; in you and me. And he is telling us too how the sure values without which there can be no real brotherliness grow in loneliness and question from the soil of humility to true spiritual power.
A second reading of "The Keys of the Kingdom" has left this reviewer even more absorbed and impressed than the first. It is not a flawless book: it has perhaps some redundancy of disaster, some overemphasis. But its human force grows in retrospect. And especially, reading the eventful story again, one is struck by the subtlety of thought which slowly gathers its thrust and polishes its steel.
Katherine Woods, "A Modern Saint Is the Hero of A.J. Cronin's Novel," in The New York Times Book Review, July 20, 1941, p. 5.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478
For his seventh novel in fourteen years Dr. Cronin offers us "The Green Years," a slice of Scotch-Irish autobiography that teems with quiet charm and the special brand of heartache that this painstaking author is so adept at fashioning. The fact that the movies have already paid a record price for the rights should surprise no one: like "The Citadel," which won the critics' prize for that year, and "The Keys of the Kingdom," which is yet to be released, it offers a ready-made scenario for the trials, and the ultimate triumph, of a starved but valiant youth, Dr. Cronin's meticulous hand (which made "The Citadel" a kind of super-blueprint of every young doctor) has taken his own boyhood and made of it a mirror in which we may see reflected the frustrations of youth. Here, once again, is the loneliness and the blind ecstasy of adolescence—and the sense of release when adolescence is outgrown and life is faced at last.
Like most successful patterns, the story line of "The Green Years" is simplicity itself to the casual eye. An 8-year-old orphan boy crosses the Irish Sea from Dublin to live with his Scotch grandparents. Levenford, so far as the author pictures it, is a combination of factory town and Main Street, plus a conventionally dour outlook; Lomond View, the Leckies' "semidetached" villa in the suburb, is dominated by the twin Scotch virtues of parsimony and silence. Papa's soul is a closed purse that has grown foul with rust; Mama is a gentle drudge, too busy to do much for her not-too-welcome grandson; Kate, the frumpy schoolteacher-daughter, is tortured by a spinster's unfulfilled dreams; Murdoch, the slightly scrofulous son, is scratching out his brains to pass his Civil Service tests.
But upstairs in his frowsy bedroom is Grandpa—and Grandpa, from Robie's first day in Lomond View, is the boy's delight….
Sometimes the drabness creeps up and stifles the drama. Sometimes, for all of Dr. Cronin's planning, his catalogue of poverty seems a mere catalogue—and little more. The death of Gavin, Robie's boyhood friend, on a railway crossing seems merely a gratuitous blow of fate—similar to Christine's death in "The Citadel."… And the final solution of Robie's despair is redeemed from pure corn only by the author's quick curtain.
But the fact remains that "The Green Years" is a stirring and even eloquent story of boyhood—always providing the reader is willing to join Dr. Cronin midway in his narrative. Dissenters will complain that they have met Mama and Murdoch elsewhere—that young Robie is cold and not too convincing Copperfield—that Grandpa, for all his flourishes, seems a vague blend of Micawber and Bergerac. But dissenters have no business in the stalls while this maestro is performing.
William Du Bois, "Scenes from a Frustrated Boyhood," in The New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1944, p. 3.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409
["The Green Years"] is not one of Dr. Cronin's more effective novels. To get right down to the truth, it is rather a weak and tentative effort, lacking both the assurance and the dramatic outline which are generally characteristic of his work. Some of this lack of tone is certainly the result of design rather than accident, since the story is simply an account of a boy's growth from eight to eighteen. Such a tale would be expected to ramble, to unwind like a kitestring rather than to expand from any dramatic center. Yet even here, in the history of a youth, some position must be taken by the writer other than that of friendly narrator. He may take a youth's view of life, give it to us through eyes drowned in new sight, ears and nostrils assailed with the wonderful, agonizing freshness of sensation. Or he may give us the man's view, looking backward, with some vision be it bitter or proud, just so long as there is an achieved vantage point from which all past and present falls into place and has meaning. You do not need to be Joyce or Wolfe to do either of these things; it would be enough to reach for them.
Dr. Cronin's Robert Shannon is neither one thing nor the other. His is not the hot, immediate experience of youth, nor the remembered pantomine, long ago played, now understood. Robert has none of the spirit of youth, none of the spine of maturity. He seems in fact to have been created expressly to appeal to our least critical sentiments, a cautious, affecting little man of sugar and water, sweet and harmless, no visible character … crosses are piled upon his back to show how he can bear them and walk his ten years—yet somehow it seems that nothing has happened. There is not the feeling of real suffering, or its surmounting, here. You need more of a character for that. It comes down to this, then: that young Robert Shannon is not a successful, living creation, and not all the adventures in unhappy Scotland will make him so. The other characters about him are similarly unrealized…. The book is altogether a mild, even soothing affair, despite its unhappy circumstances. This is a combination of effects that may indeed please many readers.
Nathan L. Rothman, "A. J. Cronin Creates Robert Shannon," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXVII, No. 47, November 18, 1944, p. 22.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 363
"Shannon's Way" is not billed as a sequel to Dr. Cronin's last novel, "The Green Years." It may be read as an entity in itself, and judged on its own doubtful merits. As a sequel, it seems a pale coda to the first volume—or, should we say, a tenuous suspension-bridge to other episodes in Robie's glum saga? As a self-sufficient account of a young Scotch doctor's struggle to make a name for himself as a researcher, his lonely ragings as he trods his chosen path, and the standard females who console him en route, it is a sketchy scenario indeed—something that Dr. Cronin might have jotted down on odd bits of paper with a blunt pencil, and never endowed with a third dimension….
Since Dr. Cronin never takes the time to dramatize [Robie's individual pursuit to isolate an influenza bacilli] properly, or even to explain the chase in terms the layman might understand, one's interest diminishes at a rather startling rate.
The familiar Cronin formula is followed rigorously through-out—with no real variation in the monotony. First, of course, we have the bull-headed, opportunistic Department Head—who sacks our hero promptly when he discovers that he's been using those Bunsen burners for his own ends. Next, the scramble for a livelihood in drab corners—a rural "fever-hospital," a slum-clinic, the residency at a plush-lined sanatorium for mental cases, where Robie meets, suffers, and lives down the meanness of humankind. Finally, and just as inevitably, the Big Frustration (when an American researcher beats him to the deadline), and the Big Recompense (when the girl, and the job he's always wanted, tumble willy-nilly in his threadbare lap).
Throughout, of course, he's sustained by the love of one of those model girl students that apparently exist only in the pages of medical novels, the sultry ardors of a nurse at the mental home, the homespun affection of a few Greenyear leftovers. All of it is told just as baldly as this story-line would suggest—and with little attempt on the novelist's part to warm one's interest in his sullen hero.
C. V. Terry, "Scotch Sour," in The New York Times Book Review, July 18, 1948, p. 12.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274
["The Spanish Gardener"] is a compact and neat parable whose simple moral is well worth restatement for our times. The sermon, so to speak, in "The Spanish Gardener" is one already familiar to Dr. Cronin's readers: namely, that simple, direct affections and honest acts can be corroded and destroyed by distrust and by too much introspection. Or, put more aphoristically and a little less exactly, to the impure in heart all things are impure.
Dr. Cronin begins his story with a firm discipline, in a tone as dry and detached as Somerset Maugham's. Throughout, "The Spanish Gardener" is in fact as attentively carpentered as any novel by Maugham himself. But the detached mood soon disappears: Dr. Cronin has targets to scourge and no intention of remaining above the strife. His story is as predictable as the resolution of a given algebraic equation. (p. 20)
All [the] characters are developed so skimpily, however, as to be mere puppets manipulated adroitly by Dr. Cronin's sure hand. Even the events exploited betray the fact that the author's mind was concentrated on his moral. Here again are the stock devices of the hurried and unexpected out-of-town trip, the placing of stolen articles in an innocent pocket, the villain's moll whose lies indict the virtuous, the Eden-like retreat in the mountains, the pure hearts, existing in the midst of squalor.
The relationship the author places his characters in is not so much superficial as artificial. And in the end, the freight of intended meaning is too heavy for such thin, pallid creations. (p. 21)
Lon Tinkle, "Serpent in Eden," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXXIII, No. 36, September 9, 1950, pp. 20-1.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 354
The Germans have a word for a writer who lets his hair (and standards) down. They call him "unbuttoned." Dr. A.J. Cronin must have been in very unbuttoned mood when he wrote "Beyond This Place" an old-fashioned melodrammer of the kind popular circa Ouida and Marie Corelli. That is not to say it isn't worth propping up in your hammock this summer, or that it won't be a best seller. The answer is yes in both cases. It's just that Dr. Cronin has elected this time to tell a suspenseful tale without regard for people or probabilities.
The book … opens in a British town on a deceptively peaceful note, with Mrs. Burgess, a gray-haired "widow," welcoming her clean-limbed son, Paul, from medical school. He needs his birth certificate for a vacation job, and she can't give it to him. Why? There is a mystery here and Paul soon learns that his real name is Mathry, and that his father has done fifteen years of a life sentence for the murder of a prostitute.
After the first shock Paul goes to the scene of the crime, determined to find out what his father did. Thereafter the author leads him a long and fateful chase picking up the threads of a crime forgotten by all but the man doing time for it….
All ends happily, except that Dr. Cronin leaves some loose ends lying around. What, for example, happened to Lena Andersen, the beautiful blonde who loved Paul and nursed him through illness? She walks out of the story.
Dr. Cronin's sense of theatre has not deserted him. His menaces are satisfying. Some of the scenes are vivid thumbnails….
Plot is all, and it is played out skillfully enough to keep the reader going from cover to cover. But the characters are monochrome figures—Paul pullulating with self-pity and the others merely making automatic gestures to move the story along. They speak in a stilted style….
Button up that overcoat, Doctor. It's time to get to work again.
John Barkham, "Even the Judge Was a Conniver," in The New York Times Book Review, July 19, 1953, p. 5.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436
A. J. Cronin, one of the world's most popular novelists and least competent critics, has this to say about "Beyond This Place," his newest book; "It is probably the most exciting novel I have ever written."… The fact of the matter is that all nine of Dr. Cronin's previous brain-children are better proportioned and more intelligent….
"Beyond This Place" suffers from the major fault of having been "constructed," to use the good doctor's own word, to fit a crusade. It issues from irritation, not from intensity; it is shaped by artifice, not by art. In its grotesque attack on the present system of trial by jury … the book reads like badly diluted Dickens, passionate urgency all but gone and humor totally absent. In support of his attack Dr. Cronin concocts a fantastically irregular murder trial with which to berate the judiciary process, ignoring the fact that his own "trial" of the courts is monstrously loaded and overlooking entirely the fact that in law (as in medicine) some lamentable margin of error must be allowed for the imperfections of humanity. Like many crusaders, Dr. Cronin is vehement in assault, but fuzzy as to the nature of his reforms.
The story, set in Northern Ireland and the Midlands city of Wortley in 1936, deals with the strenuous efforts of young Paul Mathry to obtain the release of his father, Rees, from Stone-heath Prison, where he has spent fifteen years of a life sentence for a murder which he did not commit. The circumstantial evidence on which Rees has been convicted is so faulty that only an author would try to get away with it; the prison so cruel (Rees is never allowed a visitor) that it would seem Dr. Cronin missed the real target of a crusade; the language with which he reports these dismal events so Victorian that one wonders why the whole business wasn't set in 1876 instead of 1936….
The characters are as stereotyped as the language, the original prosecutor in the case (Sir Matthew Sprott) being an engine of knavery and the heroine (Lena Anderson), confusingly described as a Juno, a Madonna, and an Amazon, the misunderstood victim of a British raping party (what a picture of England Dr. Cronin draws!). Rees's villainous truculence toward his family is only the final touch of the bizarre in a novel that also features a purse made of human skin and a hitherto unrecorded illusion of the great magician Harry Houdini, an appearance at Wortley's Palace Theatre just nine years after his death.
Charles Lee, "Fraying Margins of Error," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XXXVI, No. 30, July 25, 1953, p. 14.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331
Dr. Cronin's novel ["A Thing of Beauty"], his best since "The Citadel" almost twenty years ago, is an object lesson in the power a writer can infuse into a story when he becomes deeply involved in its theme. In his last book, "Beyond This Place," Dr. Cronin was the professional story teller, standing aloof from his characters and spinning his tale with a craftsman's competence but a personal disinterest. In his new book, the story of an English painter persecuted for his art, he writes with a crusading fervor that makes this one of the most moving novels of the year.
Never overtly pleading his cause, Dr. Cronin leaves it to his story to drive home its moral with quiet ferocity. I laid down this gripping book vowing never again to be a Philistine about avant-garde art…. Clearly Dr. Cronin feels very strongly about this, and his book should make all but the stoniest of readers share his indignation….
[The story] is recounted with sustained drive and a fine economy of means. Dr. Cronin disdains aimless scene-setting or atmospheric mood-making: every word either advances the plot or throws light on character. His story is none the less powerful for being predictable, and in its finest passages it reaches heights of real eloquence.
The book's moral seems irresistible; for an upperclass Englishman to become a true artist, he must break out of his stifling milieu and make contact with humanity on broad, lower levels. Yet in making the transition, as Desmonde does, he forfeits recognition by the very class from which he springs. Dr. Cronin sums up the irony of this cycle in a peroration faintly tinged with bitterness.
"A Thing of Beauty" … is close enough to truth to make one ashamed of man's recurrent myopia. The reward of the innovator in art, Dr. Cronin seems to be saying, is a fine funeral or an imposing statue.
John Barkham, "Persecuted for His Art," in The New York Times Book Review, May 20, 1956, p. 4.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413
Mr. Cronin has a reputation as a "professional novelist" or a "good story-teller" and his latest book [A Thing of Beauty] has the lulling effect those terms imply. I picked it up, remembering that The Citadel had given me, at the age of fourteen, a strong desire to be a doctor and to save humanity. And I thought that intellectual fashions one adopts at a later age had, perhaps, made me unfair to writers of this kind. But I was wrong. This book is a sedative.
It purports to be the story of a great painter's life and it is no compliment to say that Mr. Cronin gets as near to depicting Genius as Henry James did in Roderick Hudson. James' first attempt, however, did have some subtlety to recommend it; Mr. Cronin's book has none. It is, first of all, one of those chronicle novels that seem to be demanded by women's monthly magazines in which no development of character is required but instead "interesting characters" and much local color….
The infuriating thing about this sort of book is that one can tell oneself that it's manna for the masses only for so long; and there comes a point where one rebels out of simple embarrassment. Of course we know that, if we aren't treated to a happy ending, Stephen will die of TB and his name will live on…. His father will eventually come to realize that there may be something, even though he can't quite grasp what, in the creative life; and then there's compassion and posthumous forgiveness. But this isn't the creative life which is here recounted, and nowhere is there any insight at all into what could possibly engage or destroy the inquiring intelligence…. [That] this sort of tawdry nonsense should be foisted off as the artistic life by an author who can write pages of even semiliterate English is, if not an insult, at least a sort of confidence trick.
Mr. Cronin's prose is perhaps an indication of his quality. It is that pseudo Pre-Raphaelite English which dwells on "maidservants" and the vintages of Port. Everything is "delicious," from spring weather to good working-class tea.
Why, then, take this book seriously at all? As I said, partly because it seems to be a lie. Partly, too, because there is something sad in finding that after all one was right about this kind of book.
Anthony Bailey, "Struggles of the Artistic Life," in Commonweal, Vol. 64, No. 14, July 6, 1956, p. 353.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 118
Oddly, "The Northern Light" seems but a skeleton Cronin novel. Obviously this able and experienced writer has observed the problems of a provincial newspaper … so that he knows what occasionally happens to them when somebody wants to acquire them. Furthermore, his characters are credible, even when their creator is most sentimental about them. But the richness of detail, the solidly woven warp and woof of living that have been so typically Cronin in previous novels, are wanting from "The Northern Light." Here is what might be called a dwarf specimen of a species that is typically larger and more luxuriant in habit.
Peter Girvin, "But the Paper Came Out," in The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1958, p. 5.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 201
["The Judas Tree" is a] silly book about a very rich, retired Scottish-born doctor and his guilty conscience. The doctor, David Moray,… has established himself in Switzerland, where he lives very well…. The serpent, conscience, slithers into this paradise when a chance word pinches David's memory and reminds him of the Scottish village where, thirty years earlier, he wronged and then abandoned a good young woman. He decides to go back to the village and see whether a little gift of money and a kind word might smooth her feelings, even at this late date, but on arriving in Scotland he finds that his lost love is not elderly and not humble and not sad but dead and buried, and no longer able to satisfy his appetite for gratitude and admiration. There is, however, her daughter, twenty years old, very religious, and quite penniless, who is the purest hypocritical spirit to appear on the literary horizon since Little Eva…. What follows is lots and lots of doom, performed to the mission-bell music that is so well suited to Mr. Cronin's coy, parsonage prose. (pp. 208-09)
A review of "The Judas Tree," in The New Yorker, Vol. XXXVII, No. 34, October 7, 1961, pp. 208-09.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 245
There are no bad stories; there are only bad novels. Take [The Judas Tree] for example…. Such a story could make a good or a bad novel but in A. J. Cronin's case, it has made a bad one.
The reason is clear. Everything hinges on the characterization of the doctor: he must be subtly and convincingly drawn. Mr. Cronin fails; for instead of action rooted in character, he gives us facets of character invented to fit the action. We are constantly aware not so much of the fact that Dr. Moray is charming, guilt-ridden or self-deceptive as the fact that Mr. Cronin is trying very hard, and by the most obvious means, to convince us that he is.
The publishers warn us that this is a "devastating" novel and more "realistic" than any of Mr. Cronin's previous works. The realism seems to consist of a few timid vulgarities in the dialogue and a few self-conscious attempts at graphic sexual descriptions. The reader need have no fears. Cronin is still well to the right of D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller in such matters and is, indeed, so unsure in managing them that this, not the speech or action, becomes embarrassing.
This story needed either more "realism" or less; most of all it needed realism in depicting the human soul. What it also needed was a different author….
Joseph Clancy, in a review of "The Judas Tree," in The Catholic World, Vol. 194, No. 1163, February, 1962, p. 318.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
Cronin is a writer of the natural, easy sort. Let us not go in for fantastical comparisons; but he works in the high tradition of Dickens and Scott. He tells a story with such gripping intensity that, reading, you feel glad that this is a book you must stay up until 2 a. m. to finish. In the morning, knowing how things came out, you feel sad that there is not more to read of this enthralling novel.
Dr. Cronin's novels in the past occasionally have been marked by lapses into sentimentality or melodrama. None has been a downright poor novel, but a few have been shaky. "The Green Years" was the best of them, until this one.
"A Song of Sixpence" is a first-person narrative told by a bright Scotch-Irish boy, surrounded by fascinating persons—all, in a true sense, Dickensian characters—in and out of his immediate family. The time span goes from early childhood to graduation from the university as doctor of medicine beginning his practice. It covers some early years of this century, intimately, freshly, thru the narrator's period of growing up.
Economic, social, and religious pressures descend upon him. He is variously poor, intrusive, and Catholic among people who, early in this century, in Scotland, are not disposed to accept him. But he rises. And if there is a touch of Horatio Alger maneuvering in his rising, there also was such a touch in "Ivanhoe" and "David Copperfield."
The book is exceptionally readable and engaging. It tells a story in the old high tradition of the novel. Dr. Cronin does not play about with the language stylistically or structurally. He is not an innovator but a traditionalist, not an experimenter but an experienced writer with a sound eye and ear for prose.
Let us not make fantastical comparisons, but—in his tradition—Dr. Cronin writes compellingly, as did some of his very popular predecessors.
Richard Sullivan, "A Storyteller of the Natural, Easy Sort," in Chicago Tribune, September 20, 1964, p. 5.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520
Given Dr. Cronin's considerable reputation and some fourteen titles on which it is based, [A Song of Sixpence] obviously requires a notice. It does not, however, deserve one. For this is a bad book, not in the sense of being a good book that has failed, but in the sense of being a second-rate book that does not meet the requirements of its lower estate. And the reason for this has something to do with the matters of honesty and sentiment, or—more simply—with honest sentimentality.
The reader is told (on the book jacket, it is true, but in the author's words) that "of all my novels … A Song of Sixpence is to me … the real thing." Further, the author speaks of being "deeply moved" and "carried away" by the narrative because here he "was truly expressing" himself. One takes it, then, that Cronin sees his book as a fictionalized account of his boyhood in the Scottish highlands, a boyhood in which the usual emotional difficulties of growing up were complicated by a would-be writer's sensitivity, by the uniqueness of his Catholicism in a completely Presbyterian community, and by the poverty and loss he knew upon his father's death.
There is a book somewhere in that stuff of memory. It could be shaped into straight autobiography—except that Cronin published his a number of years ago. And it could also be turned into a decent piece of fiction, provided of course that the sentiment in such material could be stopped just this side of the maudlin. But the author wanted it both ways, and simply did not have the talent to manage a genuine autobiographical novel. For to work in that mined field, authors—unlike Coleridge's theatregoers and poetry readers—must not entertain a willing suspension of disbelief. And yet, as his quoted words attest, Cronin took himself and his memories too seriously.
The artist in the man should have known what the man in the artist was not able to discern: that his story, if true, did not have sufficient individuality to interest or to be of interest to anyone but himself: that his story, if invented, did not have anything in it to differentiate it from a hundred other middle-brow novels of slick sentiment and sentimentality.
I have nothing against the latter. In many ways and for a variety of reasons, I believe, an honest, unpretentious tear-bath of a book for the unsophisticated is better than one that aims higher but falls short—or one, such as this, that wrongfully uses art to supply the defects of reality, and reality to substitute for the truth of art. Remembered or not, all Cronin's characters in this book, including its hero, are extraordinarily naive clichés. Created or not, his sequential incidents (plot?), syrupy descriptions (background?), and intrepid moralizing (theme?) suggest not the fruits of a creative imagination but the flotsam of a memory not so selective as it once was and never particularly stimulating in the first place. (pp. 458-59)
James G. Murray, in a review of "A Song of Sixpence," in America, Vol. 111, No. 16, October 17, 1964, pp. 458-59.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
This curiously old-fashioned novel [A Song of Sixpence] is Doctor Cronin's fourteenth, published 35 years after his first, Hatter's Castle. This record demonstrates that Cronin is a prolific writer who has made few concessions to the ephemeral tastes of literary reviewers. A Song of Sixpence is traditional Cronin as much as The Citadel and Keys of the Kingdom but I must confess that I found it pleasant reading.
Set in his familiar pre-war Scotland, A Song of Sixpence traces the coming to manhood of Laurence Carroll, an unbelievably unspoiled youngster of Dickensian cast. The events of his life, although catastrophic in themselves are not nearly tortuous or agonizing enough to satisfy most contemporary novelists. And drastically unlike the latter, Cronin posts only exterior forces toward the development of his characters. The Freudian struggles so essential to most modern novelists are not for him. He eschews the counterpoint of the Id and the Superego so completely that when Laurence suffers "a nervous breakdown," it comes without warning both to him and to us. Significantly, his convalescence is suggested in terms of the recovery of his motor functions; psychotherapy, even self-administered, is never suggested. (p. 74)
As a stylist Dr. Cronin is … conventional but he writes with the effortless grace of a polished professional. As he guides his characters through their actions, he is unquestionably there making all the arrangements, calling all the signals at every turn. He is able to do this unobtrusively, however, because of an assurance that is almost completely free from self conscious introspection and questioning. Like their master, his characters seem hardly ever to question or probe. Isn't it enough that external events are happy or sad, evil or good, frightening or benign? These alone cause the characters in A Song of Sixpence to react, to change and sometimes to develop. So even if Dr. Cronin's style is noticeably dated, it is long enough to reach from the body to the ground. It is clearly adequate to accomplish Dr. Cronin's limited purposes.
What estimation, then, does A Song of Sixpence deserve? On one level it is a pleasant if superficial novel for people with nostalgia for old-fashioned drug stores and band concerts in the park. On another, it may be escapist fare for some of the many who occasionally tire of the existentialist struggle to survive among countless messages and overwhelming decisions.
Neither of these estimates, having been said, are necessarily jibes. A Song of Sixpence is certainly not a major novel, not even an important one, but Dr. Cronin is a master of his trade with the skill and discipline to make his novels something more than literary period pieces. And if sterner critics might find Cronin's latest book superfluous, it can be argued that calorie counting has not made whipped cream obsolete and that there is place for lagniappe so long as we do not mistake it for meat and potatoes. (pp. 74-5)
Robert Burns, "Another Key, Another Kingdom," in The Critic, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, October-November, 1964, pp. 74-5.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195
Superior Slovene Vodka, made entirely from rye and green rye malt, is the "Pocketful of Rye" which entitles this little novel of A. J. Cronin. The Vodka is an attempt at escapism on the part of the hero, Laurence Carroll: young physician. He has reread Thompson's famous "Hound of Heaven" and the running proves to be as futile as the hero of Thompson's poetry. Carroll has a conversion of Hollywood proportions in a tiny Swiss Church as he dialogues with the Blessed Sacrament. The twin voices which he imagines is explained by the parish priest as a dialogue with conscience, the Catholic conscience which few ever escape. This turns the physician back to his Scottish home and to real acceptance of obligations. It's a bit pat, but the story tells well and its message is a needed one for most of us….
[The] author is a man of style and the novel can stand on its own as a good, tight little tale which encourages all of us to face ourselves a bit more honestly.
Eugene J. Linehan, S. J., in a review of "A Pocketful of Rye," in Best Sellers, Vol. 29, No. 15, November 1, 1969, p. 285.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 84
Dr Cronin is not merely not believable [in The Minstrel Boy]: he is committing truthlessness with the unctuous confidence of a money-lender committing robbery. This story of the rise, fall and redemption of a young and beautiful Catholic priest with an exquisite singing voice and a taste for the ladies is sentimentally snobbish about music, religion, food, wine, gardening, travel, sex, money, Ireland, clothes … you name it, Dr Cronin has a snobbery for it.
Jeremy Brooks, "Spine-Chiller," in The Sunday Times, London, May 11, 1975, p. 41.∗
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 138
Cronin's easy storytelling art is [in Desmonde] applied to the true story of his lifelong friend Desmonde Fitzgerald. Desmonde is a brilliant singer with a strong other-worldly bent that leads him to the heights and the depths during a checkered career as priest, night-club singer, movie actor, missionary in India, and perennial spiritual quester. Desmonde's downers are generally caused by his uninvited attraction to the opposite sex. Cronin plays himself throughout—a prosperously devout and loyal friend who recounts Desmonde's progress with an odd mix of disapproval and wonder. Cronin's universe is morally black and white, defined by Catholic orthodoxy and the social assumptions of perhaps a half century ago. However, Desmonde is an enjoyable narrative of a half-rogue, half-saint which should please traditionalists.
Patricia Goodfellow, in a review of "Desmonde," in Library Journal, Vol. 100, No. 16, September 15, 1975, p. 1651.