The Browning Version

by Terence Rattigan

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Characters Discussed

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Andrew Crocker-Harris

Andrew Crocker-Harris, a schoolmaster in an English public school. He is a failure both in his teaching of the classics and in his marriage. “The Crock,” as he is dubbed by his pupils, is retiring for health reasons, one year short of qualifying for a pension. He assumes that because there is precedent, he will be granted a pension. With a reputation for giving students grades that are neither more nor less than they deserve, he seems an anachronism in a time when younger masters curry favor with students. Emotionally repressed, he gives no outward sign of his knowledge of his wife’s infidelities, the latest involving Frank Hunter, a popular and younger master. On this, his penultimate day at the private school, he experiences for the first time in many years an emotional release that he describes as the twitchings of a corpse. His pupil, Taplow; his colleague, Hunter; and his replacement, Gilbert serve as catalysts for this release. Confronting his personal and professional failure openly, he breaks down his traditional English “stiff upper lip” and makes hard choices: to leave Millie, to take a position at a crammers’ school, and to follow rather than precede a popular master in speaking at term-end exercises. In making these choices, he begins to rejoin the human community and gain a self-respect that enables him to face his future with a new dignity.

Millie Crocker-Harris

Millie Crocker-Harris, the unfaithful wife of Andrew. Bitter about his professional failure and their marital failure, she has been involved in a desultory affair with Frank Hunter. She expresses her contempt for her husband in a grippingly climactic moment when, in the presence of Hunter, she taunts Andrew with the fact that she had witnessed Taplow mimicking Andrew. She reacts even more cruelly to Andrew’s emotional display when he receives a gift from Taplow—a secondhand copy of Robert Browning’s version of Agamemnon. She describes the gift as a few bobs’ worth of appeasement for a grade.

John Taplow

John Taplow, a plain boy of about sixteen who wears glasses. Entering the Crocker-Harris flat for a final Greek tutorial, he is soon joined by Hunter, who has arrived for his final farewell to Andrew. The two have an easy, informal exchange, during which Taplow mimics “the Crock.” Despite Andrew’s reputation for teaching Agamemnon as an exercise in translation, rather than as an exciting story about a woman who murders her husband, Taplow confesses to a sympathy for Andrew. His sympathy is expressed in his inscription in his gift, a quotation from a speech by Agamemnon to Clytemnestra: “God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master.”

Frank Hunter

Frank Hunter, a ruggedly built younger man with the confident bearing of a popular schoolmaster. Intending for some time to bring his relationship with Millie to an end, he now does so out of anger over Millie’s devastating cruelty to Andrew. In an offer of friendship that he convinces the reluctant schoolmaster to accept, Hunter promises to visit Andrew when Andrew is settled in his new position.

Dr. Frobisher

Dr. Frobisher, a stereotypical headmaster who conveys to Andrew the rejection of the latter’s application for a pension and who only makes matters worse when he attempts to assuage the impact of his disappointing news by suggesting that Andrew precede rather than follow the more popular master as speaker at the end-of-term ceremonies. The latter would be embarrassingly anticlimactic, but Andrew refuses to speak in the earlier position.

Peter Gilbert

Peter Gilbert, the young replacement for Andrew. During his visit to look over the Crocker-Harrises’ flat, into which he and his wife will move, he inadvertently lets slip the headmaster’s description of Andrew as the Heinrich Himmler of the lower fifth. Even though he apologizes for the unintentional tactlessness of his comment, Gilbert, like Taplow and Hunter, serves as a catalyst for Andrew’s confrontation with his failure to communicate with the young boys. The two men reach an understanding and achieve a bond of which Andrew was in need.

Mrs. Gilbert

Mrs. Gilbert, the young wife of Peter. In a marriage only two months old, she seems superficial and immersed in petty concerns, so that Peter reacts harshly to her inaccurate account of what he describes as their sordid encounter, their first meeting. Their marriage seems destined for a fate not unlike that of the Crocker-Harrises.


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Andrew Crocker-Harris
Andrew is a gifted classical scholar and unpopular schoolmaster. He has worked at the same school for eighteen years and is leaving for a different, less stressful job in Dorset. It seems that a heart condition is forcing the move. In his eighteen years, Andrew has tried to reach his students by becoming something of a character, which has only increased most students and faculty dislike of him. He also has a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian.

On this, the last day of school, Andrew suffers several indignities. His wife has been having an affair with colleague, Frank Hunter, and Andrew has known about it from the beginning. He has been denied a pension by the school because he has not been there long enough. He has been asked by the headmaster to speak first at a prize-winning ceremony, when he should speak last because of his seniority.

Yet, he is moved by the gift of his pupil, John Taplow. After mentioning to the boy that he wrote his own translation of the play they are working on in Taplow’s tutoring session, Taplow buys a similar version of the book and presents it to Andrew as a gift. This affects Andrew deeply until his wife, Millie, undermines his happiness over the gift.

Throughout The Browning Version Andrew has taken abuse from his wife without much comment. But, urged on by Frank, he reclaims some of his dignity by insisting on speaking second at the ceremony and deciding to stay there for the summer, no matter what his wife decides to do. As the play ends, Andrew is a stronger man than he was at the beginning.

Millie Crocker-Harris
Millie is the long-suffering wife of Andrew. She dislikes her husband immensely and has been having an affair with Frank Hunter. Although she does many of the household chores and social duties expected of her, she resents her husband’s lack of success as a schoolmaster.

Millie knows her husband is unpopular, and she does not like it. His professional failings have meant that she has to do many of things a maid would take care of, like cook. Since she is a woman of some means, including a yearly income from her father, being associated with Andrew is a disappointment.

Millie expresses her resentment by undercutting anything Andrew says or does with a mean comment. She errs, however, when she destroys a happy moment for her husband in front of Frank. Millie’s cruel attitude compels Frank to end their relationship and take Andrew’s side. By the end of the play, Millie has informed Andrew that she will not go with him to his new job. He is indifferent to her decision.

Dr. Frobisher
Dr. Frobisher is the headmaster at the school where Frank Hunter and Andrew Crocker-Harris teach. He is uncomfortable with Andrew but acknowledges his intelligence. Dr. Frobisher is the official who informs Andrew that he will not be granted a pension, and he asks him to speak first, rather than second, at the ceremony.

Peter Gilbert
Peter Gilbert is a new schoolmaster at the school. He is the one who informs Andrew that he is known as ‘‘The Himmler of the lower fifth.’’ This knowledge upsets Andrew. Gilbert looks to Andrew for advice on teaching, and Andrew responds with a bold, emotional statement on his shortcomings. Andrew’s revelations embarrass Gilbert, but he remains polite.

Frank Hunter
Frank Hunter is a young schoolmaster who teaches science at the same school as Andrew. Unlike Andrew, he is quite popular with his students. Frank has been having an affair with Andrew’s wife, Millie, for several months.

Although Frank does not seem to like Andrew, he does feel sorry for him and is always polite to him, unlike Millie. After Taplow gives Andrew the book and Millie tries to ruin her husband’s happiness over the gift, Frank sympathizes with Andrew. He breaks off the affair with Millie and tries everything he can think of to protect and help Andrew.

John Taplow
John Taplow is one of Andrew’s students. Andrew is tutoring Taplow in classical Greek, and they are translating the play Agamemnon. Taplow would rather play golf than be doing extra work on the last day of school and expresses his frustrations to Frank Hunter.

Despite the advice of Millie and Frank, Taplow insists on staying for his session. In a sense, he fears Andrew, because he realizes his future is in Andrew’s hands. Yet Taplow also likes Andrew, which he proves when he brings Andrew a verse version of the play they have been working on with a meaningful inscription. Taplow’s kindness touches Andrew until Millie ruins it for him.

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