Since reading James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which I loved, I have wanted to try more of his work – and although it’s taken me a few years, I’ve finally read another of his books! If I’d known how short Goodbye, Mr Chips was I would have tried to read it before now; there are only about 120 pages in my edition, so it’s a very quick read.
Before starting the book, I thought I already knew the story because I’ve seen two of the adaptations – the 1939 one and the 1969 musical version (both of which I enjoyed). The earlier film is much more faithful to the book, but neither follow the original story exactly and there are incidents in both that don’t appear in Hilton’s text. The novella tells the story of Mr Chipping, a quiet, unassuming teacher, and follows his career at the fictional Brookfield School over a period of many decades. Chipping – or Mr Chips as the boys call him – teaches Greek and Latin and, as the years go by and the world begins to change around him, he gains a reputation for being old-fashioned and traditional, reluctant to embrace new teaching methods and belonging to an earlier time. We first meet him as an old man – the sort of old man people struggle to imagine ever being young:
…white-haired and only a little bald, still fairly active for his years, drinking tea, receiving callers, busying himself with corrections for the next edition of the Brookfeldian Directory, writing his occasional letters in thin, spidery, but very legible script. He had new masters to tea, as well as new boys. There were two of them that autumn term, and as they were leaving after their visit one of them commented: “Quite a character, the old boy, isn’t he? All that fuss about mixing the tea — a typical bachelor, if ever there was one.”
Of course, Mr Chips was young once and the boys would have been surprised to learn that he wasn’t always a bachelor. Back in 1896, at the age of forty-eight he had married Katherine Bridges – and although their time together was tragically short, Katherine’s kind heart and sense of humour had a profound effect on Chips, leaving him a better person and changing his outlook on life.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks, with the elderly Mr Chips looking back on his life and career, remembering not only the happy days of his marriage to Katherine, but also the more difficult times he has lived through, such as the First World War. It’s a nostalgic and sentimental book, but quite a sad and poignant one too. I found it too short to be completely satisfying and I think this is one of the few occasions where I would say I preferred the film – either of them – to the book, but I did still enjoy it and am looking forward to reading Random Harvest, the other James Hilton novel I have on my TBR.
This is book 23/50 read from my second Classics Club list.
15 thoughts on “Goodbye, Mr Chips by James Hilton”
There was a TV adaptation with Martin Clunes and Victoria Hamilton … I was about to put “a recent TV adaptation”, but apparently it was 18 years ago, erk! Been meaning to read the book ever since….
I don’t think I saw that one – although if it was 18 years ago I could have forgotten!
I’m glad you got to read it. I love each version–though I think there was a tv version and I have not watched it–only the various movies. The musical touched my heart but would probably not get made today. Too sweet.
I’m glad I’ve read it at last – I’ve been wanting to for years! And yes, the musical version is lovely and very moving.
Sounds different from what I remember, but then again, I have only seen the movies.
They seemed to put a lot of extra things in the movies that weren’t in the book.
I haven’t read this one, or seen the film, but it sounds like I should go with the movie version first.
Yes, I think that would be a good idea!
The Robert Donat film version (1939) is still the best I think. I’ve seen it so many times but never thought to read the book on which it’s based. Interesting to discover it is so slim.
The Robert Donat version is quite faithful to the book, I think, although there are still some differences. I was surprised that the book was so short – I would have liked it to have been longer.
I’ve seen those two movies as well, but I liked the older one better. I don’t know why I though this was a play and not a novella, though. I really should try to get a copy to read.
The older one is more similar to the book. I didn’t enjoy the book as much, but I still think it’s worth reading.
I loved Lost Horizon too, but never got around to looking for other works by Hilton. I’m adding this to TBR.
I think Lost Horizon is a much better book, but I did enjoy this one too.