The Browning Version - Pre Reading Task
Read the synopsis of the original play of which this chapter is an extract:
The play is about the last few days in the career of Andrew Crocker-Harris, an ageing Greek and Latin teacher at a British Public School. He is forced to retire due to health concerns and feels that he has become obsolete.
Taplow, a pupil who needs Crocker-Harris to pass him so he can go up to the next year, comes to him for help with his Greek, but Crocker-Harris is not in his rooms. Instead, Taplow meets Frank Hunter, another Master at the school. We find out (after Taplow leaves) that Hunter, and Crocker-Harris' wife, Millie, are carrying on an affair.
When Crocker-Harris returns, he first has the lesson with Taplow, where he begins to show his true feelings through his love for literature. Afterwards, the headmaster arrives to inform him that the school will not give him his pension because of his early retirement, though he was depending on it, and wishes him to relinquish his place in the end-of-term speech-giving to a popular sports master.
Mr. Gilbert, Crocker-Harris's successor at his teaching post, arrives to view the Crocker-Harrises' home. He seeks advice on the lower fifth, the year Crocker-Harris teaches, and how to control them. Crocker-Harris begins to relate to Gilbert his own sad experiences after Gilbert tells Crocker-Harris that the headmaster had referred to Crocker-Harris as the 'Himmler of the lower fifth'. Heinrich Himmler was a commander in Hitler's Nazi army. Crocker-Harris, who did not realise he was feared by the boys, is very disturbed by this title.
Taplow returns, and moves Crocker-Harris by giving him an inscribed version of Robert Browning's translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, at which point he breaks down crying. Millie, his wife, shows her callousness at Crocker-Harris's emotional state by ruining this fond moment by implying Taplow only gave the gift to get the grades. Hunter breaks off the affair with her, instead turning his sympathies to Crocker-Harris. Crocker-Harris informs him that he knew of Millie's affair with Hunter, as well as her previous ones, but despite this he does not wish to divorce her.
As the play ends, Hunter makes plans with a reluctant Crocker-Harris to meet him at his new place of work, and an uplifted Crocker-Harris telephones the headmaster saying that he will make his speech after the sports master, as is his right.
The 'Browning Version' of the title references the translation of the Greek tragedy given by Taplow, Agamemnon, in which Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, aided by her lover.
E. R. Braithwaite's To Sir, With Love
Robert Browning's Agamemnon
To Sir, With Love
AS YOU READ, OBSERVE:
1) The student-teacher relationship between Taplow and Frank vs. the relationship between Taplow and Crocker Harris
2) The portrait of Crocker Harris which emerges from the conversation between Taplow and Frank
3) Comparison of Frank with Harris as teachers at the same school
4) The concept of punishment, rules and bonding with students
Q.1. Comment on the attitude shown by Taplow towards Crocker-Harris?
Q.2 What impression of Frank do you get as a teacher?
Q.3. What kind of person is Mr. Crocker-Harris?
Q.4. Why is Taplow in school at 6:30p.m. on the last day of school?
Q.5. Mr. Crocker-Harris is the subject of the conversation between Taplow and Frank. What kind of a picture emerges of Mr. Harris as a teacher and as a person?
Q.6. Why is Taplow bitter?
Q.7. Does Frank encourage Taplow's comments on Crocker - Harris?
Q.8. Why do you think Harris called 'The Crock' or 'Himmler of the lower fifth'?
Q.9. Why does Frank seem to envy Harris' fear in the students?
Q.10. Describe Millie. What do you think happens after our extract ends?