The Secret Agent

by

Joseph Conrad

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The Secret Agent: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Assistant Commissioner travels to Parliament, where he is met by Toodles. As Toodles leads the Assistant Commissioner to Sir Ethelred, the Assistant Commissioner talks about catching his “sprat”, which might be used to catch a bigger fish (Mr. Vladimir) in turn. When the Assistant Commissioner is seated in front of Sir Ethelred’s desk, he explains that he discovered Verloc was eager to confess. Verloc quickly told him of Vladimir’s instigation and Stevie’s involvement. Michaelis wasn’t involved and probably still doesn’t know about it, though Stevie had been staying with him. Verloc turned up at Michaelis’s this morning and took Stevie out on the pretense of a country walk.
In contrast to the more domestic scene that occurred at the end of Chapter IX, the Assistant Commissioner now travels to the center of British power. While Inspector Heat was mainly concerned about nailing a specific culprit, the Assistant Commissioner is eager to exploit the political dimensions of the case by uprooting foreign spies. (A sprat is a very small fish, and here it symbolizes Verloc.)
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
The Assistant Commissioner continues filling in Sir Ethelred on Mr. Vladimir. Both men think the whole situation sounds far-fetched, but Verloc evidently took it seriously and felt threatened. He got carried away, fearing betrayal by the Embassy people, and acted out of fear and anger. The Assistant Commissioner doesn’t believe that Verloc is a hardened criminal or that he ever intended for Stevie to die. The whole affair, he reflects, has the air of someone who committed suicide in hopes of putting an end to his troubles, only to discover that it did nothing of the kind. In any case, he tells Ethelred, he let Verloc go; he doesn’t believe that Verloc is a flight risk.
The Assistant Commissioner and Sir Ethelred suspect that Vladimir was playing Verloc—that Vladimir didn’t intend his threats very seriously, and that Verloc, believing the worst, allowed fear to get the best of him. As. result, Verloc acted out in senseless violence and made things much worse for himself. To the police, Verloc’s meltdown seems incidental; the Embassy is the more significant target.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
As Sir Ethelred dismisses the Assistant Commissioner, the latter confirms that, indeed, Verloc has a wife whom he genuinely seems to love and respect. The whole thing, in fact, is really a “domestic drama.”
Sir Ethelred finds Verloc’s marriage odd, given his other associations. The Assistant Commissioner’s remark about a “domestic drama” could be read as Conrad’s comment on the significance of the book as a whole, suggesting that the story’s primary conflict is interpersonal rather than political.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As the Assistant Commissioner goes on his way, he feels a “crusading” impulse. After going home to change, he goes to the home of Michaelis’s patroness, where his wife currently is. He greets the elderly patroness and assures her that although Michaelis was under some suspicion, he has been cleared. Then, the lady introduces him to a figure seated nearby—Mr. Vladimir. The patroness explains that, in light of today’s bombing, Vladimir has been frightening her with stories of revolution—anarchists like the bomber must be suppressed. Sarcastically, the Assistant Commissioner says that he’s sure that Vladimir understands the true significance of the incident.
Encouraged by his success with the case and Sir Ethelred’s approval, the Assistant Commissioner is eager to seek out spies. Apparently by coincidence, he discovers Mr. Vladimir at the home of their mutual acquaintance, Michaelis’s patroness. Mr. Vladimir has been manipulating the influential patroness with stories of anarchist outrage, and the Assistant Commissioner sees exactly what he’s doing. Ironically, revolutionists and police bump into one another in London’s wealthy drawing-rooms—confirming The Professor’s cynicism about his fellow anarchists (they and their pursuers are mutually dependent).
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
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After Mr. Vladimir leaves, the Assistant Commissioner hurries to intercept him. When Vladimir sees no cabs available, they walk down the street together, and the Assistant Commissioner casually mentions that they’ve gotten ahold of Verloc. Vladimir appears unshaken, but inwardly he’s amazed by the cleverness of the English police—he hadn’t believed that they were capable of it. The Assistant Commissioner says that he’s grateful for this opportunity to begin clearing the country of foreign spies; the persecution of Verloc will also be useful for turning public opinion against revolutionaries. He adds that they’ll now succeed in rooting out all anarchists, and it only remains to get rid of the agent provocateur. Mr. Vladimir catches a cab and leaves without a word.
Vladimir has underestimated the English police, whom he believed were ineffective and complacent. Ironically, the persecution of Verloc may end up achieving part of Vladimir’s goal—awakening public opinion against anarchists—but in the process, he and the Embassy have also landed within the government’s sights. Vladimir’s disappearance from the story suggests that the influence of foreign spies will also fade from British life.
Themes
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon