Places: Good-bye, Mr. Chips

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1934

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Sentimental

Time of work: 1870-1933

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBrookfield School

Brookfield Good-bye, Mr. ChipsSchool. English public school (comparable to an American “private” school, that is, one that is not government run) at which Mr. Chipping (nicknamed “Mr. Chips”) spends his entire career teaching boys. Of unspecified location, the school functions as an idealized and realistic microcosm of England. The men who lead it and the boys who develop under their tutelage are allegorical inhabitants of this symbolic design. As a benevolent archetypal mentor, casting his personality over and through everything and everyone, Chipping is the paragon of all that is held dear to the English heart.

Brookfield is “an old foundation,” its history dating to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of the sixteenth century, when England first asserted itself as a major world power brimming with self-confidence. However, Brookfield’s fortunes throughout the centuries have gone up and down. Unlike famous schools such as Harrow and Eton, Brookfield has never achieved first-rate status; it has attracted students from the middle class and masters who are solid but not brilliant scholars. Such a setting allows for a realistic representation of England as a whole and also underscores the unpleasant British emphasis on class and social standing, which Chipping, in his quiet way seeks to make more democratic, though he reveres much that is traditional.

Under different headmasters, the school, like England, changes, abandoning the classics for the moderns and altering the organizational structure that Chipping struggles to preserve when made acting headmaster. Ultimately, Brookfield School, like England, is compelled to change not only because of the Great War, in which its own great losses mirror those of the nation as a whole, but also because of social issues such as woman’s suffrage and class distinctions. Through Chipping’s reactions and solutions and the pains Brookfield School must endure, readers recognize the paradox of English life in those times, indeed the paradox of any society in a period of upheaval: While change is as inevitable as growth, one must be careful of what may be lost in the gain and cherish that which the past has taught and bequeathed. In great part from the lessons Chipping learns from his brief marriage to a young nonacademic woman, who comes to Brookfield and introduces new ways and ideas, he steers Brookfield through the perils of change with grace and understanding and support.

Brookfield School symbolizes all that is believed good, decent, traditional, and sacred about English life during the period in which it is set. Beneath this paean to society, however, lies a deep irony, one of which Chipping is well aware: To preserve the ideals embodied in the symbol, sometimes the physical structure of the symbol must be altered, even transformed, and in overly ambitious or inefficient hands, such as Headmaster Ralston’s, change can spell disorder. However, the faith of the British people in themselves as phoenixlike is embodied in Chipping and Brookfield as school and nation and man rise again and again from their own ashes to adapt to and fashion the times.

Mrs. Wickett’s house

Mrs. Wickett’s house. Boardinghouse in which Chipping lives. In his retirement, he can watch the school from his room and experience its life vicariously. The house is close enough to the school for him to invite boys to tea, thus allowing him to maintain his connections; he still knows all the boys and is a part of the whole while technically apart. His books, his papers, his photographs, all the trappings of his life make up his room, which serves as a symbolic cave of death and rebirth, as he retires to it and emerges again, reborn, to lead the school through difficult times during the war, only to return to die there, and live on, reborn, in the hearts of all who knew and loved him.

*Lake District

*Lake District. Region in northern England that is a popular tourist destination and the subject of much Romantic poetry, a symbol of poetic genius and inspiration. In this English shrine of Romanticism and celebration of nature and life, Chipping goes on vacation in 1896 and meets young Kathy, with whom he falls in love and marries. For all her youth, Kathy teaches Chipping more about humanity in their short time together than he could ever learn in the greatest books. Though she and her baby die when she is in childbirth, Kathy’s presence is with Chipping throughout the novel and is an indispensable element of the spiritual setting of the novel.

BibliographyBellman, Samuel Irving. “The Apocalypse in Literature.” Costerus 7 (1973): 13-25. Describes the episode in which the boys play an April Fools’ Day joke on Mr. Chips, who, distraught over the deaths of his wife and child, does not understand the prank. Uses this incident to discuss human estrangement.Mathews, T. S. “A Gallery of Novels.” The New Republic 19, no. 1024 (July 18, 1934): 271-272. Calls Good-bye, Mr. Chips a little tale that “gives us the soft English character in a hard nutshell.” Notes that the real world is not as tender and gentle as the one portrayed in the book.Mott, Frank Luther. Golden Multitudes: The Story of Best Sellers in the United States. New York: Macmillan, 1947. Tells how Hilton’s bicycle ride through the English countryside inspired him to write a novel based on the recollections of his own school days.Scott, Patrick. “James Hilton’s Good-bye, Mr. Chips and the Strange Death of Liberal England.” South Atlantic Quarterly 85, no 4 (Autumn, 1986): 319-328. Calls for a reassessment of the novel, pointing to the importance of Hilton’s commentary on the historical and cultural significance of the old schoolmaster and the school.Weeks, Edward. Foreword to Good-bye, Mr. Chips. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962. Hails Good-bye Mr. Chips as Hilton’s most successful novel and “the most endearing portrait of a schoolteacher in our time.”
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