James Hilton

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443

The “biographer” of a fictional schoolteacher named Mr. Chips, James Hilton was himself the son of a schoolmaster. Born at Leigh, England, on September 9, 1900, he was educated in the succession of schools where his father taught. Later, he attended Leys School and Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he received his bachelor’s degree in history and English in 1921. He not only distinguished himself in scholarship but also proved an able officer in the university Reserve Officer Training corps.{$S[A]Trevor, Glen;Hilton, James}

A professional writer at seventeen, when he published an article in the Manchester Guardian, Hilton published his first novel at the age of twenty. The royalties from Catherine Herself were so meager that he continued in journalism, writing from England two articles a week for the Dublin Irish Independent. His first financial success came from And Now Good-bye in 1931, which enabled him to give all his time and energy to fiction. That same year, Hilton published a mystery, Murder at School: A Detective Fantasia, under the pseudonym Glen Trevor. Republished as Was It Murder? in 1933, it did not appear under his own name until 1935 but has proved to be one of his more enduring works.

Commissioned to write a story to be published in a supplement of the British Weekly, Hilton wrote Good-bye, Mr. Chips a month before it was due while bicycling in Europe—and made his deadline. Successful as it was in England, its success in America was even greater. In 1934, Hilton submitted the manuscript to The Atlantic Monthly, where it was published to great popular acclaim. It then went into many printings as a short novel and finally was dramatized by the author for both stage and screen. While many think of the book as overly sentimental, millions of readers and viewers remember the lovable old schoolmaster with great affection. From this time on, Hilton was one of the best-paid writers of all time. He extended the metaphor of utopia to Tibet in Lost Horizon. The novel was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in England in 1934 but was not widely acclaimed until the American publication several years later. This, too, received even greater attention after dramatization, as did nearly all Hilton’s later works.

Hilton married Alice Helen Brown in 1935, and the two moved to California, where their marriage ended in 1937. He married the actress Galina Kopineck the same year, but the couple subsequently divorced in 1945. A third marriage followed. During this period, Hilton wrote a number of successful screenplays and acted as host on the radio program Hallmark Playhouse, but his remaining novels proved disappointing. Hilton died of liver cancer in Long Beach, California, on December 20, 1954.

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