Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
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. 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. 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.