Terence Ratting: The Browning Version

Bookreport: The Browning Version

27thof October
by Thomas Cik
Author: Sir Terence Rattigan ( 1911 - 1977)
In 1911 one of England's most successful playwriters was born. As his grandfather had already received a knighthood and his father was in the diplomatic service he was educated in England's best schools. At Harrow he became interested in theatre. Once they had to write a dramatic scene in French. His teacher wrote under it:"French execrable, theater sense first class!" (p 4) At Trinity College, he was interested in everything connected with the theatre but not in learning and school. In 1936 he had his first big success. French Without Tears. His next play was about Hitler (Follow My Leader) but as it came out too late it was a failure. To over a bout of depression he joined the RAF. There he wrote Flare Path, a play about the Royal Air Force. The life during World War II was the theme of his next play: While the Sun Shines. After the war also the film industry was interested in his plays. Many of his plays were turned into successful movies like The Sleeping Prince (The Prince and the Showgirl) with Marilyn Monroe and Sir Lawrence Olivier.
As in the 50's and 60's the New Wave Drama and the Theatre of the Absurd came up Rattigan continued writing conventional plays. He did this for Aunt Edna. She is an imaginary middle aged theatre - going lady who doesn't like any innovations or experiments on stage. Critics were very negative but his plays were still popular. In the 60 's Rattigan became pneumonia and hepatitis. Even leukemia was diagnosed, although wrongly. But this made him write one of his best plays In Praise of Love. His last play was Cause Célébre.
The plays Rattigan wrote were mostly about middle - class people who have middle - class problems and talk middle - class vernacular. He liked it to observe people and include them in his plays. Many plays were also influenced by personal experiences.
He died because of cancer in 1977 in his house in the Bermudas.

List of plays: n French Without Tears
n Follow My Leader
n Flare Path
n Adventure Story
n While the Sun Shines
n The Browning Version
n The Winslow Boy
n The Deep Blue Sea
n The Sleeping Prince
n Seperate Tables
n Variations on a Theme
n Ross
n In Praise of Love
n Cause Célébre

Title: The Browning Version
Date of publication: The Browning Version was first produced at Phoenix Theatre, London, on September 8th, 1948.

Plot synopsis: Andrew Crocker - Harris is a master at a public school. Although it is the last day of the term one of his pupils, Taplow, has got to do some extra work. Waiting for him in his room he gets to know Frank Hunter who is also a master. As Taplow imitates the Crock his wife, Millie, comes in. Millie has an affair with Frank. As Crocker - Harris will leave school he wants to get a pension, but the headmaster, Mr. Frobisher says that this is impossible. As Taplow gives Crocker - Harris "the Browning Version" as a present, he is so moved that he starts to crie out of luck. Later his wife tells him about the joke Taplow has made. Crocker - Harris feels ashamed but Frank tells him that before that Taplow said that he liked the Crock. As Frank says that Crocker - Harris should leave his wife because she is faithless Andrew tells him about the problems between him and his wife. She needs a kind of love he can 't give her.
At the end of the story Mr.Frobisher calls to ask for the timetable. Andrew tells him that he wants to have his speech at the prize - giving ceremony after a master who will also leave and not before as they had agreed. He seems to have the energy he had before he got married.

Main characters:

Andrew Crocker - Harris: He is a teacher, a so called master, at a public school in the South of England. He is married to Millie. They have no children.
The Crock, as his pupils use to call him, isn't much liked by them. In his early years he tried to be popular, but later he gave it up. "I discovered an easy substitute for popularity. I had, of course, acquired - we all do - many little mannerisms and tricks of speech, and I found that the boys were beginning to laugh at me. I was very happy at that, and encouraged the boy's laughter by playing up to it. It made our relationship much easier. They didn't like me as a man but they found me funny as a character and you can teach more things by laughter than by earness - I did never have much sense of humour. So for a time you see I was a quite success as a schoolmaster. (p 30)
Nevertheless there are still some pupils like Taplow for example who like him. "The funny thing that in spite of everything, I do rather like him." (p 13)
After this school year Crocker - Harris will leave school to teach in a crammer's in Bradford.
Frank:" What sort of job is this you're going to?" Andrew:" A crammer's - for backward boys. It is run by an old Oxford contemporary of mine who lives in Dorset. The work will not be so arduous as here and my doctor seems to think I will be able to undertake it without - er - danger." (p 20) The reason why he is leaving are his problems with his health. Millie: "What's the matter with you?" Andrew: "Nothing." Millie: "You're not going to have another of your attacks, are you? You look dreadful." Andrew: "I'm perfectly all right." Millie: "You know best. Your medicine 's there, anyway, if you want it." (p 31& 32) As he has been working at this school for more than 15 years, he expects to get a pension but the headmaster, Mr.Frobisher says that the governors have decided not to give him a pension. Andrew: Pension? You have decided not to award me a pension? Frobisher: Not I, my dear fellow. It has got nothing to do with me. It's the governors who, I'm afraid, have been forced to turn down your application. I put your case to them as well as I could, but they decided, with great regret that they couldn't make an execption to the rule. (p 25)
Although Crocker - Harris needs the pension he isn 't fighting for it. He just accepts the governors decision and tells Millie. "The governors are afraid of establishing a precedent." (p 28)
As Taplow wants to say goodbye to Mr.Crocker - Harris he brings him a little present - a translation of the Agamemnon. Andrew is very happy about it, so happy that he starts to cry. Andrew breaks down and begins to sob uncontrollably. He makes a desperate attempt, after a moment, to control himself, but when Taplow comes back his emotions is still very apparent. (p 33)
As Frank is talking to Andrew he tells him to leave his wife. Frank:"Why wont you leave her?" Andrew:"Because I wouldn't wish to add another grave wrong to one I have already done her. Frank:"What wrong have you done her?" Andrew:"To marry her." (p 40) Then Andrew tells Frank about the problem between him and his wife. She needs physical love which he can't give her, and he needs affection and understanding, a love she can 't give him. He tells him that he has already been killed by her unfaithfulness As Frank says that a corpse can be revived (p 41), meaning that Crocker - Harris shouldn 't accept everything and that he shouldn't let his wife rule, he seems to get energy. Because later he says to the headmaster that he wants to have his speech after another teacher who is also leaving, as this is his privilege.

Millie Crocker - Harris: Millie is Andrew's wife, or better Andrew is Millie's husband, because she is the boss, so to speak, in their marriage. You can see this as Andrew tells Millie that they won't get a pension. Andrew: There wasn't much I could say, in Latin or in any other language. Millie: Oh, wasn 't there? I'd have said it all right. I wouldn't just have sat there twiddling my thumbs and taking it from that old phoney of a headmaster. (p 28) She cruelly accuses him of incompetence. Regarding their relationship Crocker - Harris says about himself that he is henpecked. "Merely the problem of an unsatisfied wife and a henpecked husband. You'll find it all over the world. It is usually." (p 41)
Millie has an affair with Frank. Frank, darling, I love you so much (p 15) but he isn 't the first one she betroys her husband with. As Andrew is talking to Frank he says :If over the last twenty years, I had allowed such petty considerations to influence my choice of dinner guests I would have found it increasingly hard to remember which master to invite and which to refuse. You see, Hunter, you mustn 't flatter youself you are the first. (p 39) There you see that this doesn't really hurt him anymore. One of Millie's positive characteristic features is that she never lies to Andrew, even if she hurts him by always telling the truth. She's a dutiful wife. She tells me everything. She never lies. (p 40) Only one time she lies. She told Andrew that Frank wanted to marry her. Andrew: That's a kindly epithet to apply to a lady whom, I gather you have asked to marry. (p 39)
Athough she never really loved Andrew she married him She was fascinated by his plans for the future. "He talked about getting a house, then a headmastership." (p 16)
Now as he isn't so successful as he promised to be, Millie is very disappointed. She isn't a member of the higher class, but her uncle ( that's Sir William Bartop p 14) is and as her parents have a shop she thinks that she is also something better. She is also supported by her parents, so that she can follow the life style she wants to.

Frank Hunter: He is also a master at the school where Andrew teaches. He teaches science, but isn't interested in his subject anymore. Taplow: I'm extremly interested in science, sir. Frank: Are you? I'm not. Not at least in the science I have to teach. He has an affair with Andrew's wife Millie. If you see him the first time every young pupil would think: Hey, I'd also like to have such a cool teacher. But all in all he's just a normal teacher, who tries to be popular by using teenage - language.
My God how easy it is to be popular. "I've only been a master three years but I've already slipped into an act and a vernacular that I just can't get out of. Why can't anyone ever be natural with the little blighters?" (p 16)
Although Frank has an affair with Andrew's wife and he is making jokes about him
(p 13) in the end it turns out that he is the only friend Crocker - Harris has got at this school. He will also come and visit him at the new school in Bradford. Millie: He's coming to Bradford. He's not going to you. Andrew: The likliest contingency is, that he's not going to either of us. (p 42) I think this scene shows that both, Millie and Andrew like Frank. Millie as a lover and Andrew as a friend. It also shows that Frank is a likeable fellow but rather superficial. He already forgot on invitation once.

John Taplow: He is a pupil at the school where Andrew and Frank are teaching. He is still in the lower fifth but he will get his remove the next day and then specialise in science. (I'm extremely interested in science, sir. p 11)
Although, the Crock, as he uses to call Mr.Crocker - Harris, is a very strict teacher he likes him. The funny thing is that in spite of everything, I rather like him. (p13) But he also makes jokes about him. For example while talking to Frank he imitates his master. "My dear Taplow, I have given you exactly what you deserve. No less; and certainly no more." ( p 11)
In the evening he comes and brings Andrew a little present. A translation of the Agamemnon by Robert Browning. Taplow:"I - er - thought this might interrest you, sir. Andrew: "What is it.?" Taplow: "Verse translation of the Agamemnon, sir. The Browning version. It 's not much good. I 've been reading it in the Chapel gardens. Andrew: "Very interesting, Taplow. I know the translation, of course. It has its faults, I agree, but I think you will enjoy it more when you get used to the metre he employs." Taplow: "It is for you, sir." Andrew: "For me?" Taplow: "Yes sir."( p 32) He also wrote something in Greek into it: "God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master:" (p 34) Andrew is very pleased.

Dr. Frobisher: He is the headmaster of the school where Andrew and Frank teach. Perhaps he also had an affair with Millie, he finds her very attractive. You' re looking extremely well, I must say. Has anyone ever told you, Crocker - Harris, that you have a very attractive wife? (p 28)
Although he is always friendly to Andrew he is anything but a friend. He didn't show much encouragement for Andrews pension although he takes advantage of him as Andrew makes the timetable for him. He makes a sarcastic joke about Andrew while talking to him (That should go down extremely well.) and behind his back he calls him the Himmler of the lower fifth (p30).

Peter Gilbert: There isn't much to say or write about him. He is Andrew's successor in the lower fifth and that would normally be everything if there wasn 't something special he said. He said that Mr.Forbisher, the headmaster, called Andrew the Himmler of the lower fifth (p 30) because he's so strict. Of course Andrew is very shocked about that, he knew that he wasn't very popular but the fact that the headmaster calls him this way seems to destroy his, Andrew's, soul.
The headmaster is very impressed by Gilbert. He says that he "is a very brilliant young man who won exeptional high honours at Oxford." (p 24) Also Millie believes that Gilbert will be more successful than Andrew was. Still I bet when he leaves this place it won't be without a pension. It 'll be roses, roses all the way, and tears and cheers and goodbye, Mr.Chips. (p 31)

Interpretation: What do we learn from this book, that women are evil? - No. Everybody is bad, and if you don't look for your own advantage you'll be left behind? - No. Perhaps this play wants to tell us that everyboody, no matter how stone - cold he/she seems to be needs to loved somebody. As Andrew notices that Taplow likes him he is as happy as he has not been years and he also gets back his power after a breakdown. He decides to stay on at school as is his right until the end of the holidays and let Millie go to Bradford on her own. He also no longer renounces to his right to speak last at the prize - giving ceremony. He remembers his role as an excellent scholar and his speech might be very interresting. This leads to a release or "catharsis" for the audience, a typical feature of the Greek Tragedy.

Personal comment: I wouldn't say that this play bored me to death, but something was missing. It is a play about middle - class people, talking middle - class language and trying to solve middle - class problems.
I understand thoose critics who wrote that he 's just a mainstream writer, but I also understand thoose people who love his works. This play had a few good jokes, something like a historical background and all classical features of the Greek drama. If I had the priviledge to give this play a mark it would be a 3.

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