Mr. Verloc is described as a man with heavy eyes and with the appearance of "having wallowed, fully dressed, all day on an unmade bed" (4). He resembles a well-to-do tradesman, but he gives off an air of living off the vices and follies of mankind (found, for instance, in casino-owners or private detectives) (10). He is "thoroughly domesticated" and content to stay close to home, near his wife and his mother-in-law (4-5). He was born to industrious parents and, as a result, was devoted to a life of indolence (10).
In Chapter II, we are told that Verloc is a natural-born English citizen but had a French father. He spent five years in the French artillery and was imprisoned for much of that time for attempting to steal French gun designs. Verloc also reveals that he joined the artillery due to an infatuation with a French girl, who took his money and then told the police about him.
He has worked for the Embassy for eleven years.
Winnie Verloc is Mr. Verloc's wife. She is described as a "young woman with a full bust, in a tight bodice, and with broad hips" (4). She has tidy hair and is steady-eyed like her husband.
Winnie's mother is a "stout, wheezy woman with a large brown face" (5). She wears a black wig and a white hat, and, because her legs are swollen, is largely inactive. She claims to be of French descent and married a "victualler of the more common sort." After becoming a widow, she provided for herself by renting furnished apartments for men near Vauxhall Bridge Road. She subsequently moved into Verloc's shop once he married her daughter, but, in the middle of the novel, she secretly arranges to leave in order to live at an almshouse set up by friends of her late husband.
Stevie is Winnie's brother. He is "delicate" and good-looking, though his lower lip droops. He is a source of concern to Winny's mother and to Winnie herself (6-7). Because the Verlocs have no children, Winnie takes care of him like a son. This behavior began when they were both children; Winnie protected Stevie from the brutality of their father, who was unsure what to make of having such a peculiar son and beat him (29; 126). Stevie is unsuccessful as an errand boy because he is easily distracted on the street and forgets to deliver messages. He sometimes stutters and squints when he feels uncomfortable.
At age 14, he set off fireworks in the staircase of the office at which he worked, instigated by two other office-boys, and was fired for doing so. Afterwards, he worked as a dishwasher and a shoe-shiner until Winnie's marriage to Verloc, after which he did household duties in the Verloc's home.
Stevie is easily moved by the pain and suffering he sees around him—for instance, when he sees a cabman whipping his horse in Chapter VIII. This compassion often morphs into rage—e.g., "the anguish of immoderate compassion was succeeded by the pain of an innocent but pitiless rage" (124). Stevie feels deeply but is often unable to express what he feels.
Privy Councillor Wurmt, Chancelier d'Ambassade
Wurmt first appears in Chapter II dressed in black. He is bald and short-sighted, ugly with a pasty complexion and thick eyebrows. He wears black-framed pince-nez glasses.
Mr. Vladimir, First Secretary in the Embassy, first appears in Chapter II, sitting in an armchair in a large room in the Embassy. He is popular socially, known to be witty, agreeable, and entertaining (15). He often talks by sitting forward in his chair and gesturing with his left hand raised. He has a round, clean-shaven face with an expression of "merry perplexity" (15).
Now deceased, Baron Stott-Wartenheim was formerly Ambassador in Paris. It was he who directed Verloc to settle down in London after Verloc did several missions for him to London in the past. As described in Chapter II, Stott-Wartenheim "had enjoyed in his lifetime a fame for an owlish, pessimistic gullibility" (21). His dispatches were a joke for those in the Foreign Offices for being preoccupied by issues of social revolution. In Vladimir's judgment, Stott-Wartenheim was easily duped, and this fact explains for him why Verloc was hired by the embassy in the first place.
Michaelis is a man with an enormous stomach and distended cheeks, with a pale complexion. He has previously spent twenty years in prison and is out on a "ticket-of-leave." His crime was being involved in a plot to rescue prisoners from a police van; his job was to use a crowbar or skeleton keys to open the door at the back of the van (he was a locksmith by training). The plot went wrong and a police constable was killed. Michaelis was both upset that the constable was killed and that the plot failed, and so was viewed unsympathetically by the judge. He was sentenced to life in prison, a much harsher sentence than expected. The harshness of his sentence was what made him famous, and what led to a campaign by some to get him released early.
Because of his time in prison, Michaelis bad at engaging in discussion, for he is very unused to hearing another voice respond to him as he thinks and speaks. He is spending time in the country at his patroness' small cottage in order to write a book called the "Autobiography of a Prisoner."
Yundt calls himself a terrorist. He is old and bald with a white goatee. He uses a walking-stick and has a dry throat and toothless gums, which makes him difficult to understand. He is not a man of action, nor a particularly good orator. Rather, he subtly plays on the "sinister impulses" that are present in people's ignorance and misery.
Ossipon is a former medical student who is the main writer of the F.P. leaflets. He has blonde hair and a freckled face with a flat nose. He smokes cigarettes by placing them in a long wooden tube. He is nicknamed 'the Doctor'. After leaving medical school, he became a freelance lecturer, speaking to labor associations about the "socialistic aspects of hygiene" (34).
The Professor is a small, poorly-dressed man who wears glasses. He is called the Professor because he was once an assistant demonstrator in chemistry at a technical institute before leaving because he thought he was being treated unfairly. Thereafter he worked at a laboratory that manufactured dyes, but again he complained of unjust treatment. These difficulties made him believe that it was impossible for the world to treat him fairly; he believed himself smart but was unable to resign himself to existing social conditions.
He has flat ears that jut out from the sides of his frail skull. He has a greasy complexion and generally seems physically inferior. He makes up for this by being very self-assured in all of his movements and in his speech. He speaks curtly and is often more impressive in his habit of keeping silent.
The Professor is of humble origins and is motivated by stories of men rising from poverty to prestige through merit alone. He is ambitious. He believes that force of personality and character are what is most important, and that members of the International Red Committee, like Yundt and Ossipon, are too cautious in their activities. He believes that they are as tied to existing social conventions as the authorities are, and that what is really needed is conclusive action of some kind. To this end, the Professor works on developing explosives, and he wears an explosive contraption on his person at all times that he can detonate by squeezing a rubber ball he keeps in his pocket. This mechanism prevents the police from ever arresting him, he imagines.
The Professor gives Verloc the explosives with which to detonate a bomb in Greenwich Park.
Chief Inspector Heat
Chief Inspector Heat has a large forehead and a long, drooping, blonde mustache. He is a kind man of generally amiable nature (88). He began his police career investigating thieves, whom he liked because he viewed them as playing by the same rules as society, though on the wrong side (68). By contrast, he has little patience or time for anarchists, whom he views as simply disorderly for no clear reason (72). Chief Inspector Heat likes to play by the "rules of the game," and he thinks both common thieves and the police do so, whereas anarchists do not (90).
The Assistant Commissioner is Chief Inspector Heat's boss at police headquarters. He began his career in a tropical colony and preferred his work in that context to working in London. He took a leave from working in the colonies and impulsively married; his wife had many connections (including to Michaelis' benefactor) but was opposed to the colonial climate, so he was stuck working in England. What he disliked about working in the metropole was the weight of public opinion, which he viewed as unpredictable and irrational (74).
The Assistant Commissioner is a slender man. He relaxes by playing whist at his club every day from five to seven.
Sir Ethelred is the Secretary of State. He is a tall, large man with a long face and a double chin. He has puffy lower eyelids and a hooked nose. He is so large that his clothes seem as though they are about to split (99). He is allergic to details and constantly tells the Assistant Commissioner to avoid telling him anything specific about how the investigation has proceeded.
Toodles is Sir Ethelred's Private Secretary. He has a smooth face and has the look of an overgrown child: perfectly symmetrical hair and a fawning attitude toward Sir Ethelred.
Mrs. Neale is the charwoman of Brett St. She has a bad marriage with a joiner and has to take care of several infant children. She "exhaled the anguish of the poor in a breath of soap-suds and rum, in the uproar of scrubbing, in the clatter of tin pails" (132-3).
The Secret Agent Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Secret Agent is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.