Mooresville Public Library

Mooresville Public Library
MPL Courtyard

Monday, June 14, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #46: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips, by James Hilton, which was first published in December, 1933 in the British Weekly, is a children's book, but I know many more readers who first enjoyed the novel as adults. I was well into my 20s when I first read about Mr. Chipping's long and distinguished teaching career at fictional Brookfield School. It was a charming and loving portrait of English boarding school education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilton obviously had a powerful affection for such institutions--his father was a headmaster, and young Jimmie was quite happy at the boarding school he attended--and this warmth overflows from his prose. Mr. Chips is a composite of his father's wisdom and sweetness, his own Latin master's discipline and idiosyncrasies, and all teachers' complete devotion to their charges, stated Edward Meeks in the foreword of one edition. Broadcaster and New Yorker columnist Alexander Woollcott called the book "the most profoundly moving story that has passed this way in several years." (Woollcott made this ringing endorsement of Hilton's novel on his CBS radio program, The Town Crier, which began in 1933.) High praise from Woollcott, who could be rather cutting in his literary critiques.

Our book trailer below gives a snapshot of the novel:

This is as good a time as any to nitpick. The book's published title is actually Good-Bye, Mr. Chips, which was the common hyphenated spelling of the word in the 1930s. Modern grammar warrants goodbye sans hyphen. If that bothers you, feel free to mentally insert the hyphen.

Hilton wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips more quickly, with fewer revisions, than any of his other books, which was a good thing, too. He had a deadline to meet and needed the fifty pound payment his publisher would remit upon completion. But inspiration poured forth, and Hilton's most beloved book was the result. I dare anybody not to have tears welling up when s/he reaches the end of the story, or the middle, for that matter.

For 20 years I was a college professor. Goodbye, Mr. Chips, in both its book and motion picture incarnations, was truly an inspiration, as was the movie Dead Poets Society. The 1939 movie version of Chips is glorious. Robert Donat won the best actor Academy Award for his performance, defeating, among others, James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind. Many people felt that Stewart should have won, and his Oscar the following year for The Philadelphia Story was considered some small consolation. Gable was stupendous as Rhett Butler--if you've read Margaret Mitchell's novel, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the role on the big screen--but Donat's performance was, in its own way, just as compelling and masterful. After reading the book, rent the movie, or watch it on Turner Classic Movies. The ending is just as moving as in the novel, and Greer Garson was, well, just wonderful--staggeringly beautiful and a tremendously capable actress.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips was arguably Hilton's finest novel. Considering the fine quality of his other masterpieces, that is quite an accomplishment.

Bill Buckley
Indiana Room Librarian

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