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!


Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

I didn’t have a Reel Old Reads post for January because I was busy with editing a much bigger work, my master’s thesis.  Though I’m not done with it quite yet, I should have a little more time to work on this blog and a couple of other projects.

I was rarely a straight-A student, but I always turned in my work and almost always had it in on time.  I am treating this blog the same way.  I’m not skipping January’s post; this is January’s post.  I will have a post for February posted by the end of this month or at the very latest by the early days of March. 

Book Details:

By James M. Cain
Published 1941 by Alfred A. Knopf
288 pages

One Sentence Summary: Ambitious housewife Mildred Pierce becomes a successful entrepreneur, but fails in relationships with men and with her greedy, vindictive daughter.

How I Found It:  Annual library bookfair, but I’d seen the movie long before and first heard of it when watching Mommie Dearest.

The Setting:  Depression-era Los Angeles.

The Narrative: Third person limited.  Cain is a descriptive writer, but his descriptions don’t go on too long.  It makes for a fast read.

The Story: Mildred Pierce is a housewife in her late 20s who makes ends meet by selling cakes and pies while her unemployed husband cheats on her and avoids contributing to the household.  Mildred begins making decisions viewed by those around her to be extreme: kicking her husband out of their house– in a subdivision that bears his name, taking his car because she needs it more than he does, and looking for a job that will keep her daughters– one playful, one snobbish– and herself in their home.  She discovers that housewives are only qualified to be waitresses or housekeepers—servant positions that she always thought herself above.  Eventually she swallows her pride and manages to make her way from waitress to entrepreneur in only a few years.

Mildred’s personal struggles weigh on her.   She falls in love with a socialite who, like her ex-husband, has no work ethic.  Mildred constantly seeks the approval of elder daughter Veda, who is only satisfied when she receives the best that money can buy, and later on, with money alone.

The Characters:  Mildred is a mostly likeable character who twice makes the mistake of marrying a man whose company she enjoys but who is unambitious and financially irresponsible.  Ex-husband Bert is a well-intentioned if clueless parent, and socialite Monty Beragon, who embraces a carefree lifestyle and puts a smile on Mildred’s face.  The standouts are Mildred’s friends, Ida and Mrs. Gessler.

The Best Thing: What stood out to me in this book was that the description of the restaurant business was complicated, realistic and interesting: waitressing from the standpoint of a novice to the economics of baking pies to sell to a restaurant to sell to the process of opening up a new restaurant and growing a chain business.

The Worst Thing: How sad the story is… Makes me want to go and be extra nice to my mother!

Of Note: James M. Cain also wrote the novels Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Availability:  In paperback at

MP Cover

The Movie
Released 1945
111 minutes
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Warner Brothers

Review: The film Mildred Pierce is told as a flashback after one of the characters is murdered.  Mildred is being interviewed by a detective and we see where she started began years earlier and how she wound up in that position.

See a trailer here:

Differences:  Vast differences.  Most importantly, the murder plotline is added no one gets murdered in the novel.  Personally, I don’t mind it now that there is a miniseries that is so true to the story.  Without the murder plot, the movie would have lost a lot of its excitement as it had to be tamed down for those protected cinema-attending masses in the 1940s.   Other than typical condensed-for-runtime and edited-for-Production Code changes, Mildred meets lover Monte Beragon when she is buying property for her first restaurant rather than by waiting on him during her last day at her first restaurant job.  Veda works as a singer/dancer after a big fight with Mildred rather than as a singer at places of prestige as in the book.  The younger daughter’s name is changed from Ray to the more feminine and ordinary Kay.

Cast:  Joan Crawford is great as Mildred, and Ann Blyth is a terribly bratty Veda, but Eve Arden gets all the best lines as Ida.  She comments on Monte’s getting involved with Veda: “Don’t look now, Junior, but you’re standing under a brick wall.” “I don’t get it,” Monte says. “You will – when it falls on you.”

Awards:  Joan Crawford won the Oscar for Best Actress (beating out Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s, Greer Garson in The Valley of Decision, Jennifer Jones in Love Letters and Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven).  It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Eve Arden AND Ann Blyth lost to Anne Revere for National Velvet), Best Cinematography (Ernest Haller lost to Leon Shamroy for Leave Her to Heaven), Best Writing/Screenplay (Ranald MacDougall lost to Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder for The Lost Weekend) and Best Picture (lost to The Lost Weekend).

Of Note: This film revived Crawford’s career.  That fact, along with references to it in Mommie Dearest (based on Joan’s daughter’s memoirs), make it a must-see to any movie fan (in this fan’s opinion).

Availability: Digital format and DVD on Amazon.


The Miniseries
Aired March 27, 2011
5 episodes, 336 minutes

Review:  I was pretty surprised a couple of years ago when I saw a trailer for a new 1930s-set HBO miniseries… and that it turned out to be Mildred Pierce.  I finally saw it last year, weeks after  finishing the novel.  It’s as true to the book as any other book-to-film adaptation I’ve seen.  All of the dialogue especially seemed to have been taken verbatim.

The highlight of the miniseries is its look—hair, costumes, cars, houses.  All of these make the story come alive for an audience who never saw the 1930s in a way that words couldn’t.

My complaint is that the miniseries is too long.  Adapting the fewer than 300 pages into a 2 hour movie would have been a struggle, but 5 hours is excessive.  In making a miniseries so true to the novel, very little fat was cut.  Perhaps it was because I’d read the book just weeks before and everything was so fresh in my mind, but I think a 3-hour Mildred Pierce would have been better.

Differences: It’s been a few months since I’ve seen the miniseries, but I can’t come up with anything to say here.

Cast: The casting is just right.  Guy Pearce as Monty is likable but slappable at the same time.  Kate Winslet is even more Mildred than Joan was, but her American accent sounds to me like she has a cold.  My favorite character Mare Winningham as Ida, Mildred’s coworker and friend.

A trailer is here:

Awards: Mildred Pierce won five Emmys: Best Leading Actress-Miniseries or Television Film (Kate Winslet), Best Supporting Actor-Series, Miniseries or Television Film (Guy Pearce), Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Movie) Mark Friedberg, Peter Rogness and Ellen Christiansen De Jonge), Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Carter Burwell), and Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Laura Rosenthal).  Kate Winslet also won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Availability: Digital format, DVD and Blu-ray available at Amazon.


The Book: Yes.

The Movie: Yes.

The Miniseries: Yes, but not right after reading the book.  If you’re seeing the miniseries first, wait awhile before reading the book.

Next on Reel Old Reads: Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Novel

The Details:
Published in 1943 by Harper and Brothers.
493 pages.
Top 10 Publishers Weekly bestseller in 1943 and 1944.

One afternoon when I was 14 years old, I wanted to read something refreshingly different from whatever YA stuff I’d been devouring.  I went to my mother’s room and opened a bright green hardback without a dust jacket.

I wasn’t exactly grabbed by the opening lines, but the writing was perfectly easy to understand:

I took a chance and borrowed it, so beginning my first love of a novel written for adults.  That was 13 years ago and I haven’t returned it yet.

A few years later, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was selected for Oprah’s Book Club.  I’ve read a number of Oprah’s Book Club selections and I’ve been grateful that it has brought so many readers to the book—readers who weren’t attracted to an old copy.

The Author: Elisabeth Wehner was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1896.  She dropped out of high school, married (becoming Betty Smith), started a family, and then attended the University of Michigan.  She divorced, remarried, and began to make a name for herself as a writer in the early 1940s.  Two of her books were adapted as films.  She died in 1972 at the age of 75.

The Setting:  The tenements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, c. 1900-1920.

The Narrative: Told in third person omniscient, the novel is divided into five books that switch between two generations of a German-Irish family.

The Story: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of how home and community environment shape two generations of working class Brooklynites at the turn of the 20th century. The main character is Francie Nolan, the elder child in a Catholic family.  She struggles to survive a sickly childhood and to thrive in a home where she is loved but suffers amidst family dysfunction.  Her mother, Katie, is emotionally aloof and favors her son, though she is ashamed of the preference and tries to mask it.  Francie’s father, Johnny, a singing waiter, is closer to her.  But Johnny is an alcoholic, which is why the family lives in states of poverty and tension.  Yet he understands the value of her dreams and encourages her to follow them.

As Francie and Neeley grow older, they become aware of the conflict between their father’s way of thinking and their mother’s necessary realism, their father’s alcoholism, and how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty.  Despite its serious subject matter, and many tear-jerking moments, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is not devoid of humor.

The Characters:  This is a character-driven story, and all of the characters are developed and unique.  An alcoholic father finds it more comfortable to fantasize about being a wealthy star than to hold a job.  A mother has largely sacrificed her own dreams and her belief in dreams to keep her family fed.  A vivacious aunt never keeps a husband for more than a few years because her babies live for only a few hours.  The daughter, when younger, idealizes childhood memories, education, and a nice neighborhood.  Jaded after experiencing loss, struggle, and natural maturation, she is not cynical at the end.

What I like about Francie that she makes the decision not to seek friendships because they are complicated and lead to pain.  Maintaining friendships– and ending them– can be emotionally draining.  Francie seems to have made a decision to conserve her energies to deal with life’s other problems, not understanding that good friendships provide more energy than they consume.  Still, I appreciate a heroine who was alone without being lonely– one who largely was content with her books like many “reader” types are.

The Themes: The fight for survival; coming of age; the American Dream; poverty; alcoholism; mother/daughter and father/daughter relationships; truth and lies; birth, growth, and death.

The Best Thing: The details of urban family life among the poor second and third generation Americans at the turn of the century and after. The various ways neighborhood children are manipulated and victimized.  There are abundant specifics on hygiene (the unsafe lengths to which the mother goes to prevent her children from getting head lice) and frugality (the stress of saving money for years and the heartbreak of having to redirect those funds when an emergency occurs).

The Worst Thing: The book is near-perfect.  It jumps around in time more than most, but this is for the benefit of the narrative.

Of Note: The debut novel of the author, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is definitely the best of her four works, all of which I will review for Reel Old Reads.

To Read It: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and pretty much any other English language bookstore in the world.  There were some illustrations in my edition (1947):

The Film

Oscar Winners: James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Courtesy of Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation.

The Details:
Released in 1945.
Produced by 20th Century Fox.
129 minutes.
Black and white.

The Best Thing: The Christmas scenes may be what take this movie from a decent classic movie to a great classic movie.

The Worst Thing:   Changes made in the interest of time.

Differences from the Novel: To do a nearly 500 page book in two hours, many changes were necessary.  Subplots are simplified or eliminated, characters are combined, and the timeline is shortened to about one year.  But it works well, and the major themes of the book remain.

Cast: A young Dorothy McGuire plays the dedicated but edgy mother, Katie.  McGuire was not even 30 years old when the film was made, and she was only 15 years older than the actress playing her daughter.  McGuire is younger than her character, yet plays the part as aged by circumstance.  Peggy Ann Garner is quiet, sensitive, and believable as Francie.  James Dunn makes the father, Johnny, loveable to the children but another burden to bear for the wife.  All of the other performances, from Joan Blondell as Aunt Sissy and Ted Donaldson as Neeley down to the bit parts, are perfect.

Courtesy of

Awards:  Won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (James Dunn).  Nominated for Best Writing/Screenplay (Frank Davis, Tess Slesinger).  Special Academy Juvenile Award (Peggy Ann Garner).

Of Note: Hollywood directorial debut of Elia Kazan, who is best known for On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire.  The Christmas scenes are memorable, and it’s a good movie to watch during the holiday season.

To Watch It:  The movie also airs on Turner Classic Movies periodically, usually around the holidays.  The next showing is December 11, 2012, at 12:30p.m. Eastern.  It’s not to be missed.  It’s also available on DVD.

Your Comments Invited
Share your thoughts below.  And thanks for reading!