I had absolutely no idea that I wanted to read Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. I'd watched various adaptations of course (Robert Donat (my Nan's favourite!) and Martin Clunes) and they're a pleasant, if undemanding way to spend the time, but nothing to make you rush out and buy a copy of the novella. For the tiny number of people who have not seen Goodbye, Mr. Chips in any form, it is the slightly sentimental story of a teacher in a minor British public school (public in the sense that you pay a fee to attend and board there) from the mid-Victorian period until he comes out of retirement to save the educational day during WWI. It was written in the 1930s by James Hilton who later won an Oscar for his adaptation of Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver, so he certainly knew a thing or two about selling British Values to the British Masses.
In that pleasant way of bookselling though, I fell in with a copy. There it was. There I was. Not feeling like tackling a new 'proper' read late one evening I picked it up and an hour later I was still reading. And do you know, it was much better than anticipated. Nothing earth shattering of course, and the adaptations are pretty close to the book so you're not ging to be surprised by the plot (I'm assuming this is one of those books where you're bound to see it before you read it), but it really was a lively and interesting read of its time.
Before becoming a bookseller I taught for five years. The schools I taught in were as far removed from Brookfield as it is possible to get and yet I recognised quite a lot: much of the teaching rang true, as did the relationships between the teacher and student (master and pupil!) and the way that a merely adequate teacher can evolve over years, with a careful and thoughtful approach, into the best asset the school has. Even now most schools have a teacher or two like this in the staffroom. I was also taken with a lovely exchange with a new headmaster where Chips defends his subject (Classics of course!) from the idiocy of edicts from above on how to teach it. Great scene, and great social history. Education as political football is clearly nothing new.
Another pleasant aside of living with one's work as a bookseller is the editions one comes across. My unassuming little grey volume (an early reprint) has some rather good Art Deco illustrations by Bip Pares. I was particularly taken by this image of Chips and Mrs Chips from the days when a teacher (or a vicar or a doctor) was employed by the institution which got his wife's talents for free in a sort of marital employment BOGOF.
"Tendering her advice in any little problem that arose..."
One could, of course, subject Goodbye, Mr. Chips to some kind rigorous Marxist / post-colonial analysis and mock it to bits, but I think at heart it really is better than that and deserves more. It is not a book to change anyone's life but if it can reflect just a little of my experience as a teacher (in a state school in a seriously deprived Lancashire cotton town over 60 years after the book was written and over 100 years after it was set) then it's got something and I'm glad I read it.