CBSE Class 11-Literature -Hornbill – The Browning Version — Explanation

The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan

Let’s know the characters ..

Taplow .. He is a sixteen-year-old boy waiting for his promotion from Class V Junior to Class V senior.
Mr. Crocker-Harris .. He is a senior teacher in the school where Taplow studies. He is a stern teacher, unforgiving in his attitude to small aberrations on the part of students. Because of his dour demeanour, students find him particularly unpleasant. He teaches Greek literature that Taplow finds drab and difficult to memorise.
Mr. Frank .. He is also a teacher in the same school, although junior to Mr. Crocker-Harris. He is jovial, and friendly. He endears himself to students due to his ability to engage with them freely. He teaches Science.
Mrs. Millie Crocker-Harris .. She is the wife of Mr. Crocker-Harris. Apparently, she is in a romantic relationship with Mr. Frank.
The day of this happening .. It was the last but one day of the session, after which the holidays would start. The list of promotion of students from Class V Junior to Class V Senior was to come out. Everyone is in a light celebratory mood, except the disciplinarian Crocker-Harris. He has called Taplow to his house to complete some pending lessons. Taplow has dutifully come to his master’s house fearing that if he didn’t come, his master could withhold his promotion. Mr. Crocker-Harris has gone out somewhere, but could come in any time.

The story ..

Taplow is waiting for his teacher Mr. Crocker-Harris. Around this time, Mr. Frank comes in to the house. Finding Taplow alone, he begins to chat with him. Since Taplow is in Class V Lower still, Mr. Frank does not know him. Science is not a subject in the Lower section. It is taught in Class V Higher. [Here ‘Remove’ means promotion to the next class.]
Taplow tells Mr. Frank that Mr. Crocker-Harris hasn’t disclosed to him if he has passed to the next class i. e, Class V Higher. Normally, the examination results are declared well before the last day, but Mr. Crocker-Harris keeps it to himself till the last day, apparently to keep the students in needless anxiety. At least, this is how Taplow feels. He says the same thing to Mr. Frank. In order not to portray his colleague in poor light, Mr. Frank says that as per rule, the Head Master is to declare the results on the last day.
To this, Taplow sys that the rule is followed more in the breach, than in its observance.
Mr. Frank tells Taplow that he has to wait for the next day. He lightheartedly asks Taplow what will happen if he passes. Taplow says he will most happily go to study science in the next class.
Mr. Frank wryly says that he gets all the insincere students in his Science class. [Here ‘slackers’ means ‘insincere’.]
Taplow asserts that he is keenly interested in Science, only to get a rebuff from his teacher.
Taplow says the Greek he is presently studying appears so dull and uninteresting. ‘Science will be far more interesting,’ He assumes. Taplow cites the story of Agamemnon to make his point. He says, a wife murdering her husband, as in that story, is a repulsive idea, and Agamemnon has so many difficult names to remember. In the event of just one name going wrong, he is asked to write fifty lines as punishment.
Mr. Frank asks why Taplow is so bitter, and if he has been detained / failed. [‘Kept-in’ means failed or detained.]
Taplow ruefully says that he has been given to complete some extra work, that too on the last day of the school.
It emerges from Taplow that Mr. Crocker-Harris is leaving the school permanently. Probably because he had missed a class last week, he has been summoned today. It is time for out-door enjoyment, especially for the bright weather. Taplow is sullen and resentful.
Mr. Frank tries to lessen the grief in Taplow’s mind. He says that by doing the assigned extra work, he can please his teacher, so that the promotion to the next class is certain.

Taplow perceived Mr. Crocker-Harris as stone-hearted, and emotionless teacher. So, he was not quite convinced by Mr. Frank’s conclusion that obeying the summons of his teacher would definitely lead to Taplow’s promotion to the next class.

He told Mr. Frank that he had, in fact, asked Mr. Crocker-Harris about his fate in the examination. Taplow was told that he has got exactly the same mark that he deserved. Such an indifferent answer had left Taplow bewildered and anxious.  Rather he feared that his doing additional lessons could make Mr. Crocker-Harris cut his marks, rather than increase them. It was an uncharitable comment that Taplow quickly retracted. [Here ‘got carried away’ means getting unduly emotional.]

Mr. Frank makes Taplow repeat what exactly Mr. Crocker-Harris had told him. On hearing this verbatim, Mr. Frank dispels Taplow’s fears and asks him to read Aeschylus again and be quiet.

Taplow detests the idea, but manages to hide his dislike. He informs Mr. Frank that Mr. Crocker-Harris was to return by six thirty.

Mr. Frank suggests that it was ten minutes late already. He could go away for playing a little golf, and then come back. [Here ‘cut’ means to go away/ escape.]

Taplow is horrified at the suggestion. He can’t afford to defy Mr. Crocker-Harris’s instruction. Given his harsh nature, he could punish him severely for his absence, and even could complain to his parents at home.

Mr. Frank is amused to see the fear his colleague has instilled in his pupils. He wants to know if he beats them to create such awe in them.

Quite intriguingly, Taplow says that Mr. Crocker-Harris is not a sadist as some of the other teachers are.

Mr. Frank wants to know who these ‘sadist’ teachers are.

Taplow says Mr. Frank knows them too. But, he says that most teachers think that the pupils, in general, are dumb. They don’t understand what is being taught. Taplow quickly moves to remove any doubt in Mr. Frank’s mind that he is among these teachers. To flatter him, Taplow says that he is young, and teaches Science. So, he is not in that list.

Mr. Frank is somewhat exasperated.

Taplow knows his disgust about his teacher Mr. Crocker-Harris known. He says the latter can’t be a sadist because in order to be one, he has to have some feeling, friendly or hostile. Mr. Crock has nothing. He is more like a wood – no life, no feeling. Inside, he is fully dried up, like a nut. [Here ‘shrivelled up’ means bone-dry, with no emotion, no feeling.]. Taplow adds that Mr. Crocker-Harris hates the idea of people liking him. It’s so unusual. Generally, teachers feel happy if pupils love them. The opposite is the case for Mr. Cocker-Harris.

Taplow candidly tells Mr. Frank about his dislike of Mr. Crocker-Harris. If the latter senses that Taplow likes him, instead of reciprocating with kind feelings, he become grumpy and irritated.

Mr. Frank feels Taplow is, perhaps, exaggerating things.

Taplow proceeds to prove that Mr. Crocker-Harris is, indeed, a thoroughly disgusting character, bereft of any human sentiment. He cites an example.

On one occasion, Mr. Crocker-Harris told  joke in the class that fell flat on the whole class, because no one quite understood it. In order not to displease his teacher, Taplow began to laugh although, he, like all others, had not understood the joke. Mr. Crocker-Harris asked Taplow to stand up and explain the joke to the rest of the class to make them understand it. Taplow Is trapped.

At this pint of time, the door opens and Millie Crocker-Harris enters the room with a shopping basket in hand. She wears a cape in her head, and is smartly dressed. She closes the door and waits for a few seconds behind the screen. Mr. Frank and Taplow notice her.


Mr. Frank continues his conversation with Taplow. He asks the youngster to tell the joke to him. Seeing Mille Crocker-Harris, he feels somewhat awkward because he and Taplow were talking about the jokes of Mr. Crocker-Harris.

Mr. Frank greets the lady, but Taplow is stricken with fear. He feels Mrs. Mille Crocker-Harris has overheard them. He tells Mr. Frank that if she goes and tells her husband that he and Mr. Frank were talking about his jokes in his absence, the stern Crocker-Harris will surely fail him as punishment.

Millie Crocker-Harris informs Tapplow tht her husband is at the Bursars and could be late in coming home. She advises Taplow to go. Taplow knows his teacher’s temperament, and hesitates to go.

Millie Crocker-Harris then suggests Taplow to go out and pla for about fifteen minutes and then come back. [Mille wanted some private time with Mr. Frank, her lover. Hence she wanted Taplow to leave.]

She doesn’t stop. She tkes out a prescription from her bag, and asks Taplow to go and fetch some medicine from the store.

Taplow can’t refuse her, and goes out.


Questions answers

  1. Comment on the attitude shown by Taplow towards Crocker-Harris.  Answer .. It will be safe to say that there was no love lost between Taplow and Crocker-Harris. The latter didn’t endear himself to his students due to his stern demeanour. He derived pleasure in inflicting pain in his students for no plausible reason. He called Taplow on the penultimate day of the school session to complete some work. Around this time, everyone gets into a holiday mood. Asking a student to complete some work on this day is simply insane. He also tormented Taplow by not disclosing if the latter had passed the examination. He avoided giving a direct answer to Taplow. So, Taplow had only disregard and uncharitable feelings in his mind towards Crocker-Harris.
  2. Dos Frank encourage Taplow’s comments on Crocker-Harris?   Answer ..  Yes he did, but only inwardly. Outwardly, he spoke as if he didn’t quite like Taplow speaking disapprovingly about Crocker-Harris.
  3. What do you gather about Crocker-Harris from the play?   Answer .. Crocker-Harris, no doubt, was a stone-hearted person who had no kindness or sympathy in his mind. He had nothing in him which could win him the love and respect of his students.





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