The Stars Look Down
is a 1935 novel by A. J. Cronin
which chronicles various injustices in an English coal mining community. A film version
was produced in 1939, and television adaptations include both Italian
(1971) and British
The novel is set in 'Sleescale,' a mining town on the coast of Northumberland
, as well as in 'Tynecastle' (Newcastle upon Tyne
). While 'Sleescale' is a fictional locale, it is based on an excellent knowledge of similar places and people. Cronin, a Scot
, served as Medical Inspector of Mines in the South Wales Valleys
during the 1920s.
Beginning before World War I
and extending into the 1930s, the story shows the different careers of several persons: principally, a miner's son who aspires to defend his people politically, a miner who becomes a businessman, and the mine owner's son in conflict with his domineering father.
The novel centres on three very different men:
- David (Davey) Fenwick comes from a mining family but is drawn towards politics, aspiring to help his people, and becomes a strong supporter of nationalisation. Initially, he finishes up his bachelor's degree and is a teacher at a school for the children of miners.
- Joe Gowlan begins as a miner, drifts and then becomes upwardly mobile as a bookie's assistant and a war-profiteer.
- Arthur Barras is the son of Richard Barras, the unscrupulous owner of the Neptune Colliery. He is unhappy with his father's values but also feels too weak to do much about it.
Reactions to the failure of industrial action on safety issues in the coal mines are crystallised in the characters of Davey and Joe, who take vastly different routes in escaping from the working class. While Davey becomes an MP
to fight for nationalisation of the mines, Joe essentially joins the mine owners.
Jenny Sunley is Davey's indifferent wife who craves social status, and other characters have short but distinct tales of their own. Cronin shows a broad sympathy for the workers and a dislike of the bosses, but also allows that at least some of the bosses can be decent at a personal level.
Central to the story is the Neptune coal mine and a catastrophe
that occurs there. The Great War
is also a factor: do you volunteer to fight, volunteer for non-military duties, use trickery to evade service or openly defy the system by refusing call-up? There is a brief description of one of the tribunals
that examined conscientious objectors
, often refusing to accept their objection as valid. There is also a clear commitment to the idea of nationalising the mines, replacing the mass of small private owners that existed at the time.
The novel ends with most of the men much changed, and it is an excellent description of working-class life in the North of England during that period.
The cage dropped. It dropped suddenly, swiftly, into the hidden darkness. And the sound of its falling rose out of that darkness like a great sigh which mounted towards the furthermost stars.
In 2004, North Eastern playwright Alex Ferguson adapted the novel for NTC Theatre Company. An ensemble of five actors played all the parts: Alan Park (Joe Gowlan/Arthur Barras), Ross Waiton (Davie Fenwick), Kim Evans (Jenny Sunley/Hughie Fenwick), Jackie Fielding (Martha Fenwick), and Steve Wedd (Robert Fenwick/Richard Barras). Directed by Gillian Hambleton, the play met with resounding critical success, breathing new life into Cronin's timeless tale.
References in other works
In William Trevor's story "The Children" contained in the collection "Cheating at Canasata" has the child reading her dead mother's copy of "The Stars Look Down" while her father attempts to remarry.
- ^ T.S (24 July 1941). "The Stars Look Down (1939) NYT Critics' Pick ' The Stars Look Down,' Moving Drama of English Mining Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. 29 April 2003.
- ^ Sayers, Dorothy L. (1937). Busman's Honeymoon (1st ed.). London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. p. 27.
Last edited on 9 December 2020, at 04:45
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