Saturday, August 13, 2016
Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
My copy of Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton shows off its age with the hyphen in the word "good-bye". I just finally noticed this, today. The copy shown is an illustrated "Junior Deluxe Edition" printed by Little, Brown in 1962. Because it's technically novella length and it doesn't appear to have been watered down in any way, I'm certain the "junior" aspect is the addition of illustrations, rather than any editing to suit a younger crowd.
I saw the movie Goodbye, Mr. Chips (no hyphen in that title!) as a child and fell in love with its warmth. Like another book I recently got around to reading decades after seeing the movie version, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the story stuck with me, but in a vague way. I knew it was about an elderly man who spent many years teaching and I remembered that he died in the end. Otherwise, the details were lost to time.
But, unlike The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I found the book every bit as satisfying as the memory of the movie. Miss Brodie's teaching style is one I've always wished I had access to, but as an individual, her character suffered from an inflated ego and damaged judgment. Mr. Chips, on the other hand, grew in my estimation. He begins the story as a young classics teacher who is only average in his teaching method and not particularly a standout in any other way. But, then he marries a bright, younger woman who is full of energy, enthusiasm, and unexpected wisdom. Her joy and kindness rub off on Mr. Chips during their brief marriage; and, because of her he becomes a favorite of the students. After retiring, he continues to stay involved in the lives of the children, inviting new students to his small home for tea and keeping track of them well into adulthood. He returns to teaching during the Second World War and steps aside when it ends.
Because it's novella length, Good-bye, Mr. Chips is not very detailed. He'll recall, for example, the time a young boy set a mouse loose in the choir loft but the reader is left to imagine what kind of chaos a mouse in a choir loft might have entailed because there's absolutely no description at all. The book is focused on the fact that he grew from a relatively boring teacher to one who was beloved, whose sense of humor was set free, who was changed immensely and made a better person by the touch of a single person's love, even though her presence in his life was short-lived. It's really a lovely story.
Highly recommended - Originally written and published in a magazine, Good-bye, Mr. Chips is a short and tightly written story that is gratifying and heartwarming. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.
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