Good-bye, Mr. Chips is a sentimental novel that depicts the main character, Mr. Chipping's, refusal to be conquered by the trials and tribulations that are set before him?written in the wake of England's recovery from the First World War and the Great Depression, it brings a sense of hope to weary readers. Published with intentions to be a best-selling Christmas novel, Good-bye, Mr. Chips invokes a good-natured step towards accepting the things one cannot change (such as war, death, and pain) and in the spirit of Christmas it inspires its readers to be kind, generous, and considerate. The novella also takes a step back to look at the cultural, political, and social history around the turn of the nineteenth Century through a sentimental lens. However, even though it had the ability to touch many readers (who had all been affected by the global war and ensuing depression), Good-bye, Mr. Chips still remains close to home for Hilton. It in fact is closely biographical to the teaching career of Hilton's father and Hilton's own experience in the English school system (Dictionary of National Biography). The novella attests to the importance of tradition, stability, and reflection in a period of change?it holds onto meaningful institutions, conventions, and friendships while accepting the celerity in which the modern world is changing.
Good-bye, Mr. Chips renews hope in postwar England in its depiction of the survival of both the young men themselves and of Brookfield as an institution through the battles of World War One and the Great Depression. The novella commemorates the many lives of young men lost to the trenches, but does so without blaming an enemy. The novella even recognizes humanity in the enemy?in the novella Mr. Chips not only reads the names of lost British soldiers, but also of the character "Max Staefel, the German master? was killed last week on the Western front" (Hilton 95). By making Mr. Chips recognize a friendship with a so-called enemy, Hilton himself acknowledges the universal suffering in the war. Hilton pushes his readers to remember the dates, happenings, and conflicts of the war, such as "The Battle of the Marne, the Russian steam-roller, Kitchener," as well as the loss of individuals, for example in the character of "Forrester, the smallest new boy Brookfield had ever had?about four feet high above his muddy football boots?[until] he was killed in 1918?shot down in flames over Cambrai" (Hilton 87-88). Hilton recognizes loss but does so in a productive manner, he "gave the public a glimpse of escape into philosophical reflection, a sight of a man who made peace and quiet in his own mind?[in a] humane, genteel, balanced atmosphere that Hilton?and his readers?felt was destroyed in the ferocity and barbarism of the world war" (Dictionary of Literary Bibliography). Mr. Chips retells the events of his life, the war, and the depression, from the perspective of an honest civilian. This perspective lead to the success of the novella?many people empathized with the community of Brookfield because they too felt that same death, fear, and loss in the early twentieth century.
Hilton himself even felt the backlash of the war and the Great Depression in his own career, after his first book Catherine Herself was published in 1920 "the years that followed the war were difficult for him and it was not until 11 years later, in 1931, that he had considerable success in And Now Goodbye" (NY Times). Not only is the novel's recollection and recovery from the post-war slump parallel in a way to Hilton's literary career, the plot itself borders on being autobiographical of his father's career. In fact, Mr. Chips seems to encapsulate the values Hilton respected in his father and Hilton seems to "paint?a tender portrait of his father?in the ?old-boy's-view' of masters and boys at an English school" (Dictionary of National Biography). Hilton's heritage and public persona are rooted in Mr. Chips' character and also the book as a whole "reminiscences about his school days" (Dictionary of Literary Biography). The novel not only attests to the happenings in Hilton's own life but also serves to "soften the criticism of public schools and their masters which has come from both within and without" (NY Times). However, Hilton's public image does not remain the same for long?shortly after Good-bye, Mr. Chips' success Hilton career takes a drastic turn as he moves to Hollywood, divorces his wife to marry a movie star, and even wins an Academy Award (Dictionary of Literary Biography). The novella merely represents Hilton's early career in England, which shifts once he becomes an American citizen.
Although the novella seems to have a shortsighted focus on a small British school community, it actually manages to cover many important universal topics of social, cultural, and political progress. Mr. Chips' wife Katherine embodies the spirit of change around the turn of the Nineteenth Century. She is:
A new woman of the nineties?she read and admired Isben; she believed that women ought to be admitted to the universities; she even thought that they ought to have a vote. In politics she was a radical?[and] her ideas and opinions poured out. (Hilton 24/26-27)
Her character not only represents a spirit of modernity, but also shows how a modern youthful female can relate to a traditional elder male. The marriage between Mr. Chips and Katherine invokes the readers to accept modernity while still adhering to some important historic values?their elated union creatively blends the attitudes of the past and future. Good-bye, Mr. Chips also marks the political change in historical occurrences such as when Mr. Chips announces to the students, "In 1900?you will all be deeply grieved to hear that His Majesty King Edward the Seventh died this morning" (Hilton 61). Hilton also depicts World War One's effects on Mr. Chips: "1918. Chips lived through it all?to keep a sense of proportion, that was the main thing. So much of the world was losing it" (Hilton 94-95). Mr. Chips also encounters the tragedy of the people who died aboard the Titanic and even technological advances such as the bicycle and the cinema (Hilton 65, 82). The novella is rooted in specific historical contexts that serve to further envelop the readers, many of whom may remember the effects of the same instances in history on their own lives. It serves to make the novella easy to relate to because Mr. Chips lives through the same drama the reader or the reader's parents experienced.
The novel is not only references the events that occurred in the time period, Good-bye, Mr. Chips also is reminiscent of a wave of sentimentality in some literature in the nineteen-thirties. Readers of the era found the genre of British sentimental fiction endearing and it was called "a triumph in the art of sentimentalism, which the British like just after having been especially realistic. It can be guaranteed to hit almost every soft spot in the reading public" (American History and Life; Book Review Digest). Although reviewers often looked down upon sentimentalism, many praised the novel's "sentiment without sentimentality" and felt it "a delicate and moving book" (Dictionary of Literary Biography). Although the novel touched readers' hearts, it was not perceived as a tearjerker:
No tears will flow over this story of a schoolmaster who gradually turned into a mythical character instead of a drone, but everybody will feel like crying, and that does us all good. The little tale gives us the soft English character in a hard nutshell. (Book Review Digest)
The sentimentalism brought back memories of the past, but without the pain that accompanied many past occurrences, and the genre proved to be immensely popular. There was a?
genuine coincidence with the tastes of the general public, not necessarily the tastes of professional critics. He was a ?novelist who sells the reader a good time' [and] evoked a rosy image of Victorian and Edwardian life.
(Dictionary of Literary Biography)
Hilton himself even said, "I don't mind being called a sentimentalist so long as it is not used in a derogatory sense?All the great novels of the world have been sentimental" (Dictionary of Literary Bibliography). Undoubtedly this genre proved successful by remaining on the top-ten bestseller list for two years in a row and even in the Twentieth Century (as of October 2002) it is still in print (Publishers' Weekly). Sentimentalism, fiction about World War One, and fiction about teenagers, all prove to be longstanding genres that are still around in 2002.
Good-bye, Mr. Chips' success not only was dependent on the novella's contextual appeal?Hilton's success also had a lot to do with the Atlantic Monthly's relationship with Little, Brown, and Company Publishers. Alfred Robert McIntyre, the head of Little, Brown, and Company as of 1908, "entered an arrangement with the Atlantic Monthly Company whereby works which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly or were otherwise generated by its editors would be published by Little, Brown" (Dictionary of American Bibliography). This relationship insured that after Good-bye, Mr. Chips was published in serial form in the Atlantic Monthly, it would be published to an even broader audience. Along with his keen choice of a publisher, Hilton believed that "what made his books sell [was] a mixture of media promotion" (Dictionary of National Biography). After the novella's booming success, Good-bye, Mr. Chips' hurriedly was debuted on a radio broadcast in 1935, onstage in 1938, and on film in 1939, which all served to continue and further the novella's popularity (Publishers' Weekly). In fact "eight of his own novels were made into motion pictures, generally with his supervision" (Dictionary of Literary Biography). Mr. Chips even became a well-known persona that Hilton continued to chronicle in ensuing short stories in To You, Mr. Chips "a collection that includes some more stories of Mr. Chips?which capitalized on the Chips fad by writing six short stories about his hero's further exploits, [and also was] first published in magazines" in 1938 (Dictionary of National Bibliography). To You, Mr. Chips was even rewritten as a play in 1938 and performed in London. These subsequent stories of Mr. Chips and the many forms of media Good-bye, Mr. Chips took, sustained the novella's sensation and Hilton's advancing success.
Although Good-bye, Mr. Chips' achievement is rooted in many variables, the novella's success depended strongly on the new sediment that developed in Europe and America after the effects of World War One and the legacy of the Great Depression had tapered in the 1930s. There was a trend towards recovery that was reached with reflection on the hardships, grief, and deaths that readers around the globe dealt with. However, this novella not only represents recovery, but also the change in the technological, social, and cultural history. Hilton introduces modernity's effects on tradition in the happenings and relationships between Mr. Chips and his more progressive students, wife, and fellow professors. The transformation of Mr. Chips' students, from traditional British schooling into the modern world, is parallel to Hilton's own journey from England to the global world of film production. However, even though the novel relies heavily on Hilton's own childhood experiences, the novella is able to reach a broad audience with a universal relevance. Good-bye, Mr. Chips has attracted readers with its endearing tone, desirable universality, and its lovable main character Mr. Chips?the novella flourished as a bestseller in 1934 and 1935 by giving the readers just what they needed to recover from previous worldwide misfortune.
Hilton, James. Good-bye, Mr. Chips. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1934.
Dictionary of National Biography
Dictionary of Literary Bibliography
Dictionary of American Biography (McIntyre)
American History and Life
Book Review Digest (Cleveland Open Shelf, July 1934; Forum, Volume 92, 1934)
The New York Times, Obituary for Hilton
Publishers' Weekly (September 1934; December 1935)