Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

Goodbye, Mr. Chips


While purchasing my 1944 edition of the 1934 novella Goodbye, Mr. Chips at a book fair earlier this year, the charming old salesman told me that “I just knew that if I brought this one in someone would buy it.” I recommend we all buy it. Though I am totally bias. Both the 1939 movie adaptation and the BBC TV film featuring Martin Clunes as Chips ensured my childhood had that little bit of public-school-boy-made-up-magic. I was delighted to find that in my now young adult years the charm and elegance of James Hilton’s prose still carries through.

Mr Chipping is a young master of Latin who lands a job at Brookfield Grammar School – an English public boys’ school – in 1870. Over the course of only 130-ish pages, Chips’ evolution from timid young Latin teacher to the gentle patriarch guiding Brookfield through the First World War is heart warming. In hindsight, this piece is almost a self-indulgent nostalgia lamenting the gradual disappearance of the old public school boy way from main-stream English society. Chips representing the dying system of course. But what fun, and how tear jerking the final pages…

Chips’ forty three years of character development is a beautiful portrayal of personal development. Changing entirely and yet remaining exactly the same. A particular highlight is Kathy Bridges.  A fantastic personification of late 19th century feminism, Kathy sweeps into Chips’ life. They marry and she and causes a radical shift in his thinking and manner. Tragically she passes away and decades on people don’t even remember Chips had being married – or what he was like before. Such layers of meaning!

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a delightful book to have read aloud to you. This gentle story is the most beautiful way to drift off to sleep. Each chapter read to me was like receiving a letter in the mail.

– a friend I read aloud too (I have patient friends)

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