Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
by James Hilton
Hodder & Stoughton
126 pages

Cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Disclaimer: I read this book 10 years ago. Please comment if you spot an error, and I will correct it.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the story of an elderly British schoolteacher flashing back upon his long career teaching Greek and Latin at a boys’ boarding school.

I first came across unused but somewhat old perma-bound copies of Goodbye, Mr. Chips at a teacher supply store back in 2004. I returned within a couple of months to pick up the remaining copies for gifts, as I was graduating from high school that spring. Since then, I’ve given away all those copies, including the one I first read, and at a used book sale obtained this older edition. It’s one of the most beautiful books I own.

Title Page
Title page. Today’s books do not look as cool as this.

The inside jacket is full of praise for the novel:

Duct Jacket
Dust jacket


Dust jacket 2

Today, when I reread this quote from the dust jacket, I realized that I had lived that out in giving away many copies of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I know only one person to whom I gave the book actually read it, and she cried and enjoyed the 1939 movie just as I did. It’s that rare old book I’ve been able to convince another person to read. I don’t know what it is about my incredible taste that is off-putting, but I’m always impressed when someone around my age will read a Reel Old Book.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the story of a man’s life in 126 pages. The book is a flashback of an elderly man, Mr. Chipping, who spent his entire career teaching Greek and Latin at Brookfield School and still lives there. Chips goes from the present to the past and back again. Most of the flashbacks are provided in a chronological order, but not all. This gives the novella a dreamlike feeling.

GMC Inside Cover
Inside cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Chips spends his entire teaching career at Brookfield, and that is where most of the action takes place. When he first arrives at the school, he and the students do not connect. Eventually they grow to like him, and even adore him after a pretty, charming young wife loosens him up.

Chips stays at Brookfield past his retirement. Good thing, too, for when the Great War calls many instructors to the battlefront, Chips is called to serve on the schoolfront. As headmaster, one of his duties is reading the names of former students who died in the war. He’s the only person to whom many of those names have any meaning, as he is the only individual still employed by the school after all those years.

I used to be a teacher. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a must-read for educators. There’s a beautiful quote about how teachers can remember all students as they were:

“I remember . . . I remember . . . but chiefly I remember all your faces. I never forget them. I have thousands of faces in my mind–the faces of boys. If you come and see me again in years to come–as I hope you all will–I shall try to remember those older faces of yours, but it’s just possible I shan’t be able to–and then some day you’ll see me somewhere and I shan’t recognize you and you’ll say to yourself, ‘The old boy doesn’t remember me.’ [Laughter] But I do remember you–as you are now. That’s the point. In my mind you never grow up at all. Never. Sometimes, for instance, when people talk to me about our respected Chairman of the Governors, I think to myself, ‘Ah, yes, a jolly little chap with hair that sticks up on top–and absolutely no idea whatever about the difference between a Gerund and a Gerundive.’”

Send me back in a time machine and I’ll know that Chris can’t sit by Tyler because they will interrupt class, and that part of Grace’s home was destroyed by a fire and that she’s not doing well in class because she’s not sleeping well because the snoring of family members is keeping her awake. Teachers don’t forget students. We just don’t always know their adult selves when we meet them later.

Charming illustrations kept me company throughout the novella.


Chips and Kathie
Chips and Kathie

The book made me bawl. I don’t know that I have cried harder, before or since, when reading. Yet it’s not a weepy book like Where the Red Fern Grows or Love Story. I read somewhere that it took Hilton four days to write Goodbye Mr. Chips. As a writer, I find that impressive, intimidating, and inspiring! It’s a short book, and Hilton does so much with 126 pages.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is probably the quickest read of any of the books on my grown-up shelf. It can be done in one comfortable sitting. Do not speedread Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Get a large cup of tea and sip it as you read.


A special note about the inscription:

I love inscriptions and I try to inscribe all books I give. Books are so personal. It makes me sad that the giver and recipient won’t again see this 1938 Christmas gift.

Inscription 1

Inscription 2

If relatives/friends of either party can recognize this book and want it back, comment at the end of this post and we’ll communicate about it. I’ll note the names as I read them: Aunt Gillian E. Stevens, from Eleanor, Christmas 1938. Otherwise, I’m perfectly content to keep the book with its little treasures.

GMC Spine


Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Directed by Sam Wood
Starring Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn and Paul Henreid
Nominated for 7 Academy Awards
Won Oscar for Best Actor – Robert Donat

I love this movie! It’s faithful to the book in spirit and story. There’s a little from the book that isn’t in the film, there’s a little in the film that isn’t in the book, but overall, it’s the same thing. If there were a test on the book and you just saw the movie, you’d get, at the lowest, a B+, but probably an A. The flashbacks in the film are linear, which is a more traditional way to tell the story than the book’s following the elderly Chips’ memories as they come and go. What was for me the most memorable part of the book was included in the 1939 film – the heart-wrenching April Fools’ Day scene.

Robert Donat, as Mr. Chips, won the only Oscar for the film. He beat out Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind), Laurence Olivier (Wuthering Heights), Mickey Rooney (Babes in Arms) and James Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). I believe those four films are more widely shown, so I imagine that in the minds of audiences today, Donat is overshadowed by all the others. His is not a household name. In case you’re entirely new to movies, or you’ve a movie lover who’s somehow missed this fact, the biggest year in the history of film is generally agreed to be 1939 (Memorize this; it may help you in trivia one day). So many great movies came out that year. With Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz coming out that year, plus a bunch of others, 1939 marks a year when it was indeed an honor to be even nominated.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips was Greer Garson’s film debut. She and Chips meet in the mountains. With mist covering her face, she is ethereal. Audiences must have loved her at first sight.

Garson received the first of seven Oscar nominations, losing to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. No matter—Greer would win a few years later for Mrs. Miniver, a wartime homefront tearjerker that I hope will be a future Reel Old Reads post.

Child actor Terry Kilburn, who portrayed Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol (1938), plays four generations of boys from the same family, which was a great touch. Mr. Kilburn has been involved with theatre for decades; you can read a delightful interview with him in a recent issue of Lavender Magazine.

I fully recommend the book and 1939 film Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I have not seen the Peter O’Toole musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips from 1969, but I will post an update when I do. Is it worth a watch? Let me know. Your comments and questions are appreciated!


Junior Miss by Sally Benson

I’m from St. Louis, so I grew up hearing Sally Benson’s name every so often.  I’ve never met anyone who’d read her short stories, and I never read anything by her in school.  That’s a shame, because she writes better short stories than most I read in high school.

In the past year I’ve read Benson’s Junior Miss and Meet Me in St. Louis.  It could be that I’ve seen the film adaptation of Meet Me in St. Louis too many times, or that I found stories that followed one character stronger than those that covered an entire family, but I feel that the Junior Miss collection is superior.

Junior Miss
By Sally Benson
Published 1941 by Random House
214 pages
Book-of-the-Month Club selection in May 1941

JM Cover

One-Sentence Summary: Judy Graves experiences the ups and downs of being caught between her girlhood and her teenage years in New York City in 12 funny short stories.


How I Found It: About two years ago, I was at a used bookstore that has a fantastic selection of old hardbacks.  I have a list of books and authors I check whenever I’m in a used bookstore.  When I got to Sally Benson, I found Junior Miss.  I had been hoping to find Meet Me in St. Louis, but that book isn’t always easy to find in the city of St. Louis, and there is something so romantic about finding a long-sought book in a store rather than by ordering it online.  I bought Junior Miss and finally gave it a try this past summer.  I read it in one day.  I considered slowing down to make it last longer, but I was having too good a time seeing Judy get herself into all sorts of situations.

The Setting:  New York City, c. 1940, in and around the apartment of a middle class family.

page 120
page 120

The Characters:  Judy Graves is a mature child or an immature young adult.  She has a good nature and struggles between holding on to her childhood and embracing adolescence.  Lois is Judy’s older sister and considers herself very grown up.  Their parents are kind but often baffled by raising daughters.  Fuffy Adams is Judy’s best friend and makes appearances in many of the stories.

The Best Thing: What moves me about Junior Miss is its sensitivity.  Being a young teen in late 1930s New York was not so different from my 1990s experience in a Midwestern suburb.  In “The Best Things Come in Small Packages,” the Christmas story, Judy goes from excitedly viewing the tree, to tearing up when remembering her pet who passed away in the past year, to contentedly getting presents she expected because she asked for them, to stealing a few minutes from family time to visit with her best friend—and compare their near-identical gifts.  It could be a description one of my Christmases.

In another story (“Les Temps Perdus”), Judy discovers that she had a pirate ancestor and writes an essay for school entitled “I Am Partially Pirate.”  Few of the stories really stand out- they’re all good.

The Worst Thing: It’s the bookworm’s cliché, but I’m sorry Junior Miss wasn’t longer, or that Benson didn’t write a sequel book about Judy’s college years.  It would have been funny to see Judy and Fuffy going off to live in a dormitory and getting into all sorts of sticky situations. 

Of Note: The title refers to the first of the stories in which the Graves family goes shopping.  Much to Judy’s dismay, she is too big to fit in a beautiful coat from the children’s department.  She resists shopping in the Junior Miss section because she wants the coat so much.

The name of the candy Junior Mints is a play on Junior Miss, and is noted on the back of each box.

Availability: Junior Miss is out of print, but used copies are available for 1 cent.

The Author: Sally Benson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1897.  Her family moved to New York City when she was a child.  Benson published 99 short stories in The New Yorker.  Only the two compilations mentioned above were published in book form; one must subscribe to the New Yorker to have access to the others.

Junior Miss was a Broadway play from 1941-1943, a radio show starring Shirley Temple in 1942, and was adapted for film in 1945, the year after Meet Me in St. Louis was released.  There was another Junior Miss radio series in the late 1940s that starred Barbara Whiting, who played Fuffy, Judy’s best friend, in the film.

After these successes, Benson had a career as a screenwriter, adapting Shadow of a Doubt, Viva Las Vegas, The Singing Nun, and others.  She was nominated for an Oscar for her 1946 screenplay Anna and the King of Siam (starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison).  She died in 1972 in California.

A book on Benson’s life and work by Dr. Maryellen Keefe will be released this year by SUNY Press.  I’m looking forward to the release of Quiet Little Affairs: The Life and Fiction of Sally Benson and will review it on this blog as soon as I get a copy.

The Film
Junior Miss
Released 1945
94 minutes
Black and white
Directed by George Seaton
Produced by 20th Century Fox

Differences: While not drastically different, this movie isn’t overly faithful to the book.  Like Meet Me in St. Louis, Junior Miss required some restructuring in order to have a linear plot rather than 12 separate episodes.  A storyline of Judy playing matchmaker, and getting in all sorts of trouble as a result, is added.  The big theme of the book—Judy is an awkward tween divided between things of childhood and the allure of young womanhood—is intact.

Cast: Peggy Ann Garner, Stephen Dunne, Allyn Joslyn, Faye Marlowe, Mona Freeman, Sylvia Field, Barbara Whiting, and Scotty Beckett.  Of the cast, Peggy Ann Garner and Barbara Whiting stand out.

Clips: You can watch the first minutes of the movie on Youtube.

Availability: Many classics have been released in the last couple of years, and not just the big names and award-winners.  A DVD of Junior Miss was released last year.  No special features, but good sound and picture quality.


The Book: The highest recommendation.  This is the perfect book to read before bed because each of the twelve stories is fairly short.  I bought copies as gifts for friends and family.

The Movie: Recommended.

Next month: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett