The Secret Agent

Characters

  • Adolf Verloc: a secret agent who owns a shop in Soho in London. His primary characteristic, as described by Conrad, is indolence. He has been employed by an unnamed embassy to spy on revolutionary groups, which then orders him to instigate a terrorist act against the Greenwich Observatory. Their belief is that the resulting public outrage will force the British government to act more forcibly against émigré socialist and anarchist activists. He is part of an anarchist organisation that creates pamphlets under the heading The Future of the Proletariat. He is married to Winnie, and lives with his wife, his mother-in-law, and his brother-in-law, Stevie.
  • Winnie Verloc: Verloc's wife. She cares deeply for her brother Stevie, who has the mental age of a young child. Of working class origins, her father was the owner of a pub. She is younger than her husband and married him not for love but to provide a home for her mother and brother. A loyal wife, she is disturbed upon learning of the death of her brother due to her husband's plotting, and kills him with a knife in the heart. She dies, presumably by drowning herself to avoid the gallows.
  • Stevie: Winnie's brother has the mental age of a young child. He is sensitive and is disturbed by notions of violence or hardship. His sister cares for him, and Stevie passes most of his time drawing numerous circles on pieces of paper. Verloc, exploiting both Stevie's childlike simplicity and his outrage at suffering, employs him to carry out the bombing of Greenwich Observatory. Stevie stumbles and the bomb explodes prematurely, killing him.
  • Mrs Verloc's mother: Old and infirm, Mrs Verloc's mother leaves the household to live in an almshouse, believing that two disabled people (herself and Stevie) are too much for Mr Verloc's generosity. The widow of a publican, she spent most of her life working hard in her husband's pub and believes Mr Verloc to be a gentleman because she thinks he resembles patrons of business houses (pubs with higher prices, consequently frequented by the upper classes).
  • Chief Inspector Heat: a policeman who is dealing with the explosion at Greenwich. An astute, practical man who uses a clue found at the scene of the crime to trace events back to Verloc's home. Although he informs his superior what he is planning to do with regards to the case, he is initially not aware that the Assistant Commissioner is acting without his knowledge. Heat knew Verloc before the bombing as Verloc had supplied information to Heat through the Embassy. Heat despises anarchists, whom he regards as amateurs, as opposed to burglars, whom he regards as professionals.
  • The Assistant Commissioner: of a higher rank than the Chief Inspector, he uses the knowledge gained from Heat to pursue matters personally, for reasons of his own. The Assistant Commissioner is married to a lady with influential connections. He informs his superior, Sir Ethelred, of his intentions, and tracks down Verloc before Heat can.
  • Sir Ethelred: a secretary of state (Home Secretary), to whom the Assistant Commissioner reports. At the time of the bombing he is busy trying to pass a bill regarding the nationalisation of fisheries through the House of Commons against strong opposition. He is briefed by the Assistant Commissioner throughout the novel and often admonishes him not to go into detail.
  • Mr Vladimir: First Secretary of the embassy of an unnamed country. Though his name might suggest that this is the Russian embassy, the name of the previous first secretary, Baron Stott-Wartenheim, is Germanic, as is that of Privy Councillor Wurmt, another official of this embassy. There is also the suggestion that Vladimir is not from Europe but Central Asia.[7] Vladimir thinks that the 'English' police are far too soft on émigré socialists and anarchists, who are a real problem in his home country. He orders Verloc to instigate a terrorist act, hoping that the resulting public outrage will force the British government to adopt repressive measures.
  • Michaelis: a member of Verloc's group, and another anarchist. The most philosophical member of the group, his theories resemble those of Peter Kropotkin while some of his other attributes resemble Mikhail Bakunin.
  • Comrade Alexander Ossipon: an ex-medical student, anarchist and member of Verloc's group. He survives on the savings of women he seduces, mostly working-class women. He is influenced by the theories on degeneracy of Cesare Lombroso. After Verloc's murder he initially helps, but afterwards abandons Winnie, leaving her penniless on a train. He is later disturbed when he reads of her suicide and wonders if he will be able to seduce a woman again.
  • Karl Yundt: a member of Verloc's group, commonly referred to as an "old terrorist".
  • The Professor: another anarchist, who specializes in explosives. The Professor carries a flask of explosives in his coat, which can be detonated within twenty seconds of him squeezing an indiarubber ball in his pocket. The police know this and keep their distance. The most nihilistic member of the anarchists, the Professor feels oppressed and disgusted by the rest of humanity and has particular contempt for the weak, whom he blames for all his troubles. He dreams of a world where the weak are freely exterminated so that the strong (himself) can thrive. He supplies to Verloc the bomb that kills Stevie. (The Professor also appears as a character in Conrad's short story, The Informer.)

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