As I finished re-reading the thin volume of Good-Bye Mr. Chips, I remembered one of the unforgettable jokes that I had read in Reader’s Digest.
A young school teacher smiles at a personable young man sitting opposite her on public transport. At his perplexed look, she realizes her mistake and says, ” I am so sorry. I mistook you to be the father of two of my children!”
The delightful Goodbye, Mr. Chips, takes us into the world of schools, love, and war. The book begins with a universal truth, When you are getting on in years ( but not ill, of course), you get very sleepy at times, and the hours seem to pass like lazy cattle moving across a landscape.
Mr. Chips remembers the day he joins Brookfield, “ You are a young man, Mr. Chipping, and Brookfield is an old foundation. Youth and age combine well. Give your enthusiasm to Brookfield and Brookefield will give you something in return.” Truer words have not been said! Mr. Chips recollects how his youth fresh-complexioned, high-collared, and side-whiskered ( odd fashions people followed in those days) was at the mercy of five hundred unprincipled ruffians to whom baiting of new masters was fine art, an exciting sport, and something of a tradition.
Thus begins the journey of Mr. Chips.
A passionate master, he was not just teaching classics in Brookfield School but became an institution by himself. This kind, gentle man meets his girl bride and she urges him to look beyond the roofs and turrets of Brookfield , so that he saw his county as something deep and gracious to which Brookfield was but one of many feeding streams. Even when he did not accept her radical-socialist talk, he absorbed her young idealism worked upon his maturity to produce an amalgam of very gentle and wise. Even after her untimely demise in a short-lived marriage, he asks himself often, ” How would Kathie handle this situation?”
He lives through war and the changes. He remembers the boys or rather the faces. He evokes lots of laughter and develops a mannerism that punctuates words with an “umph”. One of the most memorable lines in my memory is when he observes and which holds true to date: There used to be someone who um..promised people ninepence for fourpence. I don’t know that anybody..umph.. ever got it but …um… our present rulers seem… um … to have solved the problem of how to give four pence for nine!
At the time of his death when he says, “ I thought I heard you one of you saying…. it was a pity… a pity I never had any children..eh? But I have..I have thousands of em..thousand and all boys.” he leaves behind a catch in the throat.
At the end of the book, you couldn’t have put it better than Chip himself who dreams of times and incidents in which he alone could take a secret interest. Funny and sad, comic and tragic, they all mixed up in his mind, and someday, however hard it proved, he would sort them out and make a book of them…..
This book by James Hilton is a delightful read told in impeccable language.