As one of two short companion plays, The Browning Version rapidly gained favor as one of Terrence Rattigan’s best plays. Coming from the same tradition as James Hilton’s famous schoolmaster, Mr. Chips, the figure of the “Crock” became almost as well known to English audiences as Hilton’s schoolmaster. An award-winning Oxford University graduate, Crocker-Harris comes to his career at a public school with great enthusiasm about teaching the classics, especially Agamemnon. Gradually habit has taken over, however, and he develops into a strict disciplinarian no longer able to communicate his enthusiasm to students.
Crocker-Harris’s marriage to a woman whose family provides her with an annuity is loveless from the start. He describes himself as having been unable to give his wife the type of sexual love that she requires. Their relationship soon turns to hatred. The play is about the failures of a career and a marriage, with both failures attributed to the conflict between private need and public behavior, a major theme in all of Rattigan’s plays. The destructive disguising of inner feelings with outward decorum is an English character trait Rattigan has dubbed the “vice Anglais.” Thus Crocker-Harris aptly describes his uncontrollable burst of emotion at Taplow’s gift as the muscular twitchings of a corpse.
The fast-moving events on this last day of the school term serve to revive that living corpse. Crocker-Harris’s emotional reaction to Taplow’s gift, his confession to Gilbert of his initial excitement about teaching, and his admission to Hunter that he has known all along about his wife’s infidelities, in...
(The entire section is 683 words.)