The story of The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan is inspired by the author’s own experience of school and its teachers. The text is based around the relationships between teachers and pupils and among teachers themselves.
The story, The Browning Version also touches on the notions of fidelity, appreciation, honesty and truthfulness.
The Browning Version Summary
Taplow’s Promotion Issue
The main characters of the story are the Crocker-Harris couple, Millie and Andrew, Hunter Frank (Science teacher) and John Taplow, a sixteen-year-old student. Taplow is failing his class and needs a promotion by Andrew, who teaches Classics, to pass his grade.
In pursuit of his aim, he reaches Andrew’s house for remedial work but finds him not present there. Finding himself alone, Taplow fiddles with chocolates kept on the table and uses a walking stick to practice his golf swing.
Mr Hunter’s Entry
Suddenly, he is interrupted by Mr Hunter who advises him on golfing techniques. They both start chatting about Andrew and his stern methods. Taplow thinks that Andrew is a strict disciplinarian but has never used violence with students.
Instead, Taplow admires Andrew’s unique teaching style. He even mocks his ways when suddenly Andrew’s wife Millie appears in the scene. She asks Taplow to fetch some medicines and Taplow leaves the two alone.
Millie – a Promiscuous Woman
The subsequent conversation reveals that Millie is a promiscuous woman and is cheating on Andrew with Hunter. They both plan to visit Millie’s parents in the fall. The romance is broken when Andrew finally arrives for the tutoring lessons.
He is disappointed by the fact that Taplow was sent to run an errand. Millie leaves to prepare dinner and the two men enter into a different conversation. Andrew informs Hunter that he will be leaving the school for a new one owing to his heart condition.
Then, Taplow returns and Andrew leave them in peace. Andrew instructs Taplow to translate the Greek classic, Agamemnon which he does but with casual flair. Andrew tells Taplow that he too had written a versified translation earlier of the same classic.
Mr Frobisher’s Entry
Their session is interrupted by the headmaster, Mr Frobisher. After Taplow leaves, the headmaster informs Andrew that he would not get any pension post his retirement from school as he has not spent enough time there.
Moreover, he asks him to speak earlier than the other retiring teacher as Andrew did not enjoy as much popularity among the students. He also tells him about the teacher which would replace Andrew, Mr Peter Gilbert.
As soon as the headmaster excuses himself, Millie rips into Andrew for not arguing for his claim for a pension. Amidst their quarrel, the Gilberts arrive and Millie shows them around.
Andrew confesses his failure as an educator before his replacement but tries to cover up his emotional outburst thereupon. Mrs Gilbert mirrors the same ambitions and traits of Millie, maybe a sign for a repeat in the future.
When the Gilberts exit the scene, Taplow returns but with a gift. It is a translation of Agamemnon by Robert Browning (also in verse). Andrew is overjoyed with the gesture. Taplow is followed by Hunter again and Andrew shows him the gift.
However, the joy is rudely interrupted by Millie who calls it a ‘bribe’ to earn a better grade and also squeals about the mimicking act that Taplow had done earlier. Andrew leaves in disquiet. Hunter is aghast at the ruthless behaviour of Millie and ends the relationship with her.
When Andrew returns, Hunter confesses about their affair but finds out that it was no secret to Andrew all along. Hinter then reassures him about the genuine regard that Taplow had for Andrew.
He even promises to visit Andrew in his new place later that year. Millie invites Hunter for dinner but he rejects it and bids farewell to the Crocker-Harris couple. Millie, seemingly hurt and seething declares that he would not shift with Andrew in the new house.
Unfazed by her infidelity, uplifted by Taplow’s warmth and emboldened by Hunter’s words, Andrew informs the headmaster that he would speak at the very end of the farewell function, a sign of confident and proud teacher. Then, he asks his wife to join him at dinner which was not getting any hotter with time.