I thought that bringing forward some facts about the author of The Keys of the Kingdom might add to our discussion at our next meeting, March 14. Here’s what I have gleaned.
A.J. Cronin, in full Archibald Joseph Cronin (born July 19, 1896, Cardross, Dumbartonshire, Scot.—died Jan. 6, 1981, Montreux, Switz.), Scottish novelist and physician whose works combining realism with social criticism won a large Anglo-American readership.
Cronin was born at Rosebank Cottage in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, the only child of a Protestant mother, Jessie Cronin (née Montgomerie), and a Catholic father of Irish extraction, Patrick Cronin, and would later write of young men from similarly mixed backgrounds. His paternal grandparents were the proprietors of a public house in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire. His maternal grandfather, Archibald Montgomerie, was a hatter who owned a shop in Dumbarton. After their marriage, Cronin’s parents moved to Helensburgh, where he attended Grant Street School. When he was seven years old, his father, an insurance agent and commercial traveller, died from tuberculosis. He and his mother moved to her parents’ home in Dumbarton, and she soon became the first female public health inspector in Scotland.
Cronin was educated at the University of Glasgow and served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I. He practiced in South Wales (1921–24) and then, as medical inspector of mines, investigated occupational diseases in the coal industry. He opened a medical practice in London in 1926 but quit because of ill health, using his leisure to write his first novel, Hatter’s Castle (1931; filmed 1941), the story of a Scottish hatmaker obsessed with the idea of the possibility of his noble birth. This book was an immediate success in Britain.
Cronin’s strengths were his narrative skill and his powers of acute observation and graphic description.