Monday, April 11, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

I have no idea when I first heard a reference to Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It seems I’ve always been aware of its existence, embedded in the culture, probably from the movie title. Yet I never actually saw the movie or read the book. What is it about? A teacher of some sort? So when I heard it referenced recently, out of the blue, I decided it was time to read the book. To my pleasant surprise, Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton is a novella that I could read in a sitting.

First published in 1933, the novel peeks in at the elderly Mr. Chipping, known to everyone as Mr. Chips, a retired school teached/headmaster, who devoted his life to a private boys’ school called Brookfield. This is described as no Harrow, but still one of the top second-tier schools in England. Mr. Chips is quite elderly as the book opens. He looks back at his life over the course of a few short chapters.

Mr. Chips’ career spans a busy time in the history of Britain and in the world. He started teaching at Brookfield in 1870 and continued on through the turn of the century, retired just before WWI and came back to help out “for the duration.”

Allusions to the war are made throughout, mainly as poignant mentions of alumni who were lost. One chapter shows Mr. Chips keeping his classroom together and teaching throughout a bombing, courageously helping the boys through the terrifying event. The war is central to the novel, as it was to the man’s life; and yet, the focus is so squarely set on Chips’ involvement with the school that the war is kind of hazily distant, a memory.The novel is mainly about this good man, his love for the school–which to him embodies the ideals of the Englishman, and his love for his country. He is helping to bring up the next generations of Englishmen. Times change, but he remains the same, mostly. Longevity helps him become an institution at the school and he takes pride and comfort in that.

He is an old-school gentleman and the later generations peg him as an old bachelor. However, embedded within the novella is a poignant love story. In middle life, he met, fell in love with, and married a younger woman whose more modern ideas challenged him and whose charm softened him. She died tragically. And he forged on.

The novella packs a lot into its few pages. The storytelling is simple and is mainly presented as narrative with a few short scenes. The secondary characters are sketched in. Even his wife is only fleetingly presented. And yet, there is emotional depth to the story because Mr. Chips is so fully fleshed out.

This is a charming story. And now I’ve finally read it!


  1. I've seen two films made from this. One with the original WWI and another where they moved it up to WWII.

  2. I haven't read this but I'd like to. The movie is great! Thanks for the review. People don't seem to want to review classics much but I wish they would. We need to remember them. Love your site...I just started book blogging this year for the challenge and am so enjoying reading everyone's wonderful blogs :)

  3. I didn't realise that this was a novella!

    Thank you for sharing this with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge