Ward's Book of Days.

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JULY 19th

On this day in history in 1896, was born A J Cronin.

Cronin was a physician and author whose novels combined reality with social criticism.

Archibald Joseph Cronin was born on 19th July 1896, at Cardross, Dunbartonshire, the only child of a Patrick and Jessie Cronin, farm workers. Despite family poverty and the early demise of his father, Cronin received an education at Dunbarton Academy, where he excelled in writing English prose. Despite his ability in the arts, Cronin proceeded to read medicine at Glasgow University, where his studies were disrupted by the onset of the First World War. He enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he served as a surgeonís assistant and, after the war, returned to Glasgow to take his degree in 1919.

In 1921, he set up in practice in South Wales, and in 1924, was appointed as Medical Inspector of Mines. He was distressed by the deleterious effects of the mines, not only on the workers' health, but on living conditions in the Welsh valleys. He was exasperated at the neglect of the employers and the incompetence of the medical staff. His protests soon lost him his job and he left to set up in practice in London.

In 1926, Cronin suffered from lung disease, probably contracted in the grime ridden mining valleys, and had to take some time to recuperate in the Highlands. He used his ample leisure time to write his first novel, Hatter's Castle, a story of a simple hat-maker, fixated on a pretentious delusion that he is of noble birth. The work was an immediate best seller, encouraging him to continue as an author. He wrote, amongst other texts, The Stars Look Down, a scarifying account of social injustice, in a Northern mining community. This was followed by The Citadel, a story of the ruination of a Welsh mining community by a combination of greed and incompetence, and the heroic struggle of a young Scottish doctor to alleviate suffering. In 1942, he wrote The Keys of the Kingdom, another novel about the struggle against adversity, featuring a young missionary in China. In 1948, Shannon's Way, depicted the life of a young surgeon, in the Royal Navy, during the First World War.

Cronin drew his popularity from his ability to construct a realistic narrative, based on his keen observation of episodes within his own experience. His work is credible on account of its detailed description, and his personal experience allowed him to construct a dramatic account from mundane events. His appeal lies in a powerful portrayal of working-class life, coupled with social commentary and criticism. His outspoken approach to The Citadel is said to have contributed to the creation of the National Health Service in 1948.

In 1946, for health reasons, Cronin made his home in Switzerland, where he carried on writing until he died in 1981. He is buried in La Tour-de-Peilz, Montreux, Vaud, Switzerland.

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