The Secret Agent

by

Joseph Conrad

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Mr. Adolf Verloc Character Analysis

Mr. Verloc, the novel’s protagonist (and eventual antagonist), is the titular secret agent. He lives in London with his wife of seven years, Winnie. Though he runs a shop selling pornography and contraceptives, he is primarily a secret agent for an unidentified foreign embassy. Verloc is a large man in his forties with heavy-lidded eyes and a big mustache. He has a good-natured, generous personality, though he is also lazy, preferring to stay in bed past noon and to avoid unnecessary labor. Verloc got his start in spying when he stole military secrets from the French Army (he is British by nationality, but his father was French), hoping to impress a girl, who then betrayed him. After that, Verloc began working as a secret agent for the embassy; he has done this for 11 years. Verloc is a Vice President of a revolutionary society called the Future of the Proletariat (F. P.). Despite his revolutionary involvement, Verloc is conventionally respectable in many ways: he’s contentedly married to Winnie, and he isn’t strongly ideological. However, when Mr. Vladimir (the First Secretary of the Embassy) pressures Verloc to commit a terrorist act in order to stir outrage against anarchists, Verloc can’t bring himself to confess his involvement to Winnie. Instead, over the coming weeks, Verloc coaches Winnie’s brother Stevie to commit the bombing. After the Assistant Commissioner and Chief Inspector Heat get Verloc’s confession, Verloc spends his last hours ranting to Winnie about Vladimir’s disloyalty in putting him in this position. Verloc remains complacent about Winnie’s love for him until the moment she plunges a knife into his chest, killing him to avenge Stevie’s death.

Mr. Adolf Verloc Quotes in The Secret Agent

The The Secret Agent quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Adolf Verloc or refer to Mr. Adolf Verloc. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Secret Agent published in 1907.
Chapter 2 Quotes

England lags. This country is absurd with its sentimental regard for individual liberty. […] England must be brought into line. The imbecile bourgeoisie of this country make themselves the accomplices of the very people whose aim is to drive them out of their houses to starve in ditches. And they have the political power still, if they only had the sense to use it for their preservation. I suppose you agree that the middle classes are stupid? […] What they want just now is a jolly good scare. This is the psychological moment to set your friends to work.

Related Characters: Mr. Vladimir (speaker), Mr. Adolf Verloc
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

And Mr Vladimir developed his idea from on high, with scorn and condescension, displaying at the same time an amount of ignorance as to the real aims, thoughts, and methods of the revolutionary world which filled the silent Mr Verloc with inward consternation. He confounded causes with effects more than was excusable; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb throwers; assumed organisation where in the nature of things it could not exist; spoke of the social revolutionary party one moment as of a perfectly disciplined army, where the word of chiefs was supreme, and at another as if it had been the loosest association of desperate brigands that ever camped in a mountain gorge.

Related Characters: Mr. Vladimir, Mr. Adolf Verloc
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Madness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it either by threats, persuasion, or bribes. Moreover, I am a civilised man. I would never dream of directing you to organise a mere butchery, even if I expected the best results from it. But I wouldn't expect from a butchery the result I want. Murder is always with us. It is almost an institution. The demonstration must be against learning—science. […] The attack must have all the shocking senselessness of gratuitous blasphemy.

Related Characters: Mr. Vladimir (speaker), Mr. Adolf Verloc
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Winnie after the death of her father found considerable consolation in the feeling that she need no longer tremble for poor Stevie. She could not bear to see the boy hurt. It maddened her. As a little girl she had often faced with blazing eyes the irascible licensed victualler in defence of her brother. Nothing now in Mrs Verloc's appearance could lead one to suppose that she was capable of a passionate demonstration.

Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

"I had to take the carving knife from the boy," Mrs Verloc continued, a little sleepily now. "He was shouting and stamping and sobbing. He can't stand the notion of any cruelty. He would have stuck that officer like a pig if he had seen him then. It's true, too! Some people don't deserve much mercy." Mrs Verloc's voice ceased, and the expression of her motionless eyes became more and more contemplative and veiled during the long pause. "Comfortable, dear?" she asked in a faint, faraway voice. "Shall I put out the light now?"

Related Characters: Mrs. Winnie Verloc (speaker), Mr. Adolf Verloc, Stevie
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

"I have the means to make myself deadly, but that by itself, you understand, is absolutely nothing in the way of protection. What is effective is the belief those people have in my will to use the means. […] Therefore I am deadly […] Their character is built upon conventional morality. It leans on the social order. Mine stands free from everything artificial. They are bound in all sorts of conventions. They depend on life, which, in this connection, is a historical fact surrounded by all sorts of restraints and considerations, a complex organised fact open to attack at every point; whereas I depend on death, which knows no restraint and cannot be attacked. My superiority is evident."

Related Characters: The Professor (speaker), Comrade Alexander Ossipon, Mr. Adolf Verloc
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The Chief Inspector lost himself suddenly in a discreet reflective mood; and the Assistant Commissioner repressed a smile at the fleeting thought that the reputation of Chief Inspector Heat might possibly have been made in a great part by the Secret Agent Verloc.

"In a more general way of being of use, all our men of the Special Crimes section on duty […] have orders to take careful notice of anybody they may see with him. He meets the new arrivals frequently, and afterwards keeps track of them. […] When I want an address in a hurry, I can always get it from him. Of course, I know how to manage our relations. I haven't seen him to speak to three times in the last two years. I drop him a line, unsigned, and he answers me in the same way at my private address."

Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

There is a peculiar stupidity and feebleness in the conduct of this affair which gives me excellent hopes of getting behind it and finding there something else than an individual freak of fanaticism. For it is a planned thing, undoubtedly. The actual perpetrator seems to have been led by the hand to the spot, and then abandoned hurriedly to his own devices. The inference is that he was imported from abroad for the purpose of committing this outrage. At the same time one is forced to the conclusion that he did not know enough English to ask his way, unless one were to accept the fantastic theory that he was a deaf mute. […] But an extraordinary little fact remains: the address on his clothing discovered by the merest accident, too.

Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

On the box, Stevie shut his vacant mouth first, in order to ejaculate earnestly: "Don't."

The driver, holding high the reins twisted around the hook, took no notice. Perhaps he had not heard. Stevie's breast heaved. […]

"You mustn’t," stammered out Stevie violently. "It hurts."

"Mustn't whip," queried the other in a thoughtful whisper, and immediately whipped. He did this, not because his soul was cruel and his heart evil, but because he had to earn his fare. […] But on the bridge there was a commotion. Stevie suddenly proceeded to get down from the box.

Related Characters: Stevie (speaker), Cab Driver (speaker), Mrs. Winnie Verloc, Winnie’s Mother, Mr. Adolf Verloc
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs Verloc, his only sister, guardian, and protector, could not pretend to such depths of insight. […] And she said placidly:

"Come along, Stevie. You can't help that."

The docile Stevie went along; but now he went along without pride, shamblingly, and muttering half words, and even words that would have been whole if they had not been made up of halves that did not belong to each other. It was as though he had been trying to fit all the words he could remember to his sentiments in order to get some sort of corresponding idea. And, as a matter of fact, he got it at last. He hung back to utter it at once. "Bad world for poor people."

Related Characters: Stevie (speaker), Mrs. Winnie Verloc (speaker), Cab Driver, Mr. Adolf Verloc
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

"You know you can trust me," Mr Verloc remarked […] with hoarse feeling.

Mrs Verloc turned slowly towards the cupboard, saying with deliberation:

"Oh yes. I can trust you."

And she went on with her methodical proceedings. She laid two plates, got the bread, the butter, going to and fro quietly between the table and the cupboard in the peace and silence of her home. On the point of taking out the jam, she reflected practically: "He will be feeling hungry, having been away all day," and she returned to the cupboard once more to get the cold beef. […] It was only when coming back, carving knife and fork in hand, that she spoke again.

"If I hadn't trusted you I wouldn't have married you."

Related Characters: Mr. Adolf Verloc (speaker), Mrs. Winnie Verloc (speaker), Stevie
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

She glanced all round the parlour, from the corner cupboard to the good fire in the grate. Ensconced cosily behind the shop of doubtful wares, with the mysteriously dim window, and its door suspiciously ajar in the obscure and narrow street, it was in all essentials of domestic propriety and domestic comfort a respectable home. […]

This was the boy's home too—the roof, the cupboard, the stoked grate. On this thought Mrs Verloc rose, and walking to the other end of the table, said in the fulness of her heart:

"And you are not tired of me."

Related Characters: Mr. Adolf Verloc (speaker), Mrs. Winnie Verloc (speaker), Stevie
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

"A genuine wife and a genuinely, respectably, marital relation. He told me that after his interview at the Embassy he would have thrown everything up, would have tried to sell his shop, and leave the country, only he felt certain that his wife would not even hear of going abroad. Nothing could be more characteristic of the respectable bond than that," went on, with a touch of grimness, the Assistant Commissioner […] "Yes, a genuine wife. And the victim was a genuine brother-in-law. From a certain point of view we are here in the presence of a domestic drama."

Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Like a peripatetic philosopher, Mr Verloc, strolling along the streets of London, had modified Stevie's view of the police by conversations full of subtle reasonings. Never had a sage a more attentive and admiring disciple. The submission and worship were so apparent that Mr Verloc had come to feel something like a liking for the boy. In any case, he had not foreseen the swift bringing home of his connection. That his wife should hit upon the precaution of sewing the boy's address inside his overcoat was the last thing Mr Verloc would have thought of. […] That was what she meant when she said that he need not worry if he lost Stevie during their walks. She had assured him that the boy would turn up all right. Well, he had turned up with a vengeance!

Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

It was obviously unreasonable, the mere cry of exaggerated grief. He threw over it the mantle of his marital indulgence. The mind of Mr Verloc lacked profundity. Under the mistaken impression that the value of individuals consists in what they are in themselves, he could not possibly comprehend the value of Stevie in the eyes of Mrs Verloc. She was taking it confoundedly hard, he thought to himself. It was all the fault of that damned Heat. What did he want to upset the woman for? But she mustn't be allowed, for her own good, to carry on so till she got quite beside herself.

Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

The lodger was Mr Verloc, indolent, and keeping late hours, sleepily jocular of a morning from under his bedclothes, but with gleams of infatuation in his heavy lidded eyes, and always with some money in his pockets. There was no sparkle of any kind on the lazy stream of his life. […] But his barque seemed a roomy craft, and his taciturn magnanimity accepted as a matter of course the presence of passengers.

Mrs Verloc pursued the visions of seven years' security for Stevie, loyally paid for on her part; of security growing into confidence, into a domestic feeling, stagnant and deep like a placid pool[.]

Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

She started forward at once, as if she were still a loyal woman bound to that man by an unbroken contract. Her right hand skimmed slightly the end of the table, and when she had passed on towards the sofa the carving knife had vanished without the slightest sound from the side of the dish. […] But Mr Verloc did not see that. He was lying on his back and staring upwards. He saw partly on the ceiling and partly on the wall the moving shadow of an arm with a clenched hand holding a carving knife. It flickered up and down. Its movements were leisurely. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to recognise the limb and the weapon.

Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

The vast world created for the glory of man was only a vast blank to Mrs Verloc. She did not know which way to turn. Murderers had friends, relations, helpers—they had knowledge. She had nothing. She was the most lonely of murderers that ever struck a mortal blow. She was alone in London: and the whole town of marvels and mud, with its maze of streets and its mass of lights, was sunk in a hopeless night, rested at the bottom of a black abyss from which no unaided woman could hope to scramble out.

Related Characters: Mrs. Winnie Verloc, Mr. Adolf Verloc
Related Symbols: London
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mr. Adolf Verloc Character Timeline in The Secret Agent

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Adolf Verloc appears in The Secret Agent. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
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Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Mr. Verloc goes out one morning, leaving his small London shop in the care of his brother-in-law,... (full context)
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Usually, when the shop bell rings, Verloc emerges from the back. He is a heavy-eyed man with a rumpled, rather lazy appearance.... (full context)
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After Verloc and Winnie got married, Winnie’s mother gave up the lodging-house, and she moved into their... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Sharply dressed and alert, Mr. Verloc heads out unusually early one morning at about half-past 10. The dull English sun covers... (full context)
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Verloc is well-dressed because he has business at a foreign Embassy. When he arrives at there,... (full context)
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Wurmt decides that Verloc had better see Mr. Vladimir. He steps out, leaving Verloc sweating. Soon Verloc is led... (full context)
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Sulkily, Verloc explains that he has worked for the Embassy for 11 years, first based in Paris... (full context)
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Mr. Vladimir says that Verloc’s title is “agent provocateur,” but that he hasn’t done anything “provocative” for years. It’s not... (full context)
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England, Mr. Vladimir tells Verloc, is far too wedded to ideals of individual liberty. The middle classes must be scared... (full context)
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Verloc points out that such an attack will cost money, but Mr. Vladimir is adamant that... (full context)
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Winnie leaves Verloc alone. As she prepares supper, she tells Stevie, who’s been sweeping and dusting the house,... (full context)
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At dinner, Mr. Verloc is so thoughtfully silent that Winnie and her mother watch Stevie anxiously, not wanting him... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Michaelis, a pale, fat man on parole from prison, is in Verloc’s parlor. He argues that ideals are worthless and that economic conditions are what really move... (full context)
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...the economic forces inexorably shaping history; he’s interrupted only by a harsh laugh from Ossipon. Verloc takes this opportunity to open the kitchen door for some air, revealing Stevie sitting at... (full context)
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...a wandering lecturer on various socialist topics. Citing a writer named Lombroso, he confidently tells Verloc that the shape of Stevie’s ears is a clear marker of “degeneracy.” Verloc blushes faintly... (full context)
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...“cannibalistic,” causing Stevie, out of sight, to gulp and sink to the floor. Soon after, Verloc’s guests say goodnight. (full context)
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As Verloc locks the door behind his friends, he feels dissatisfied. Compared to Mr. Vladimir, they all... (full context)
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As Verloc gets ready for bed, he looks over his shop. He chose his line of work... (full context)
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Verloc wakes up Winnie to deal with Stevie. Then, while undressing, Verloc looks out the window... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...can describe the person to whom he gave his explosives, and The Professor immediately names Verloc. Surprised, Ossipon explains that Verloc wasn’t original or important, but he was nevertheless a useful... (full context)
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...do next—the F.P. revolutionaries must disassociate themselves from the incident. He wants to visit the Verlocs’ shop to find out more details, but he’s afraid the police will be there, hoping... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...Commissioner finds an address, 32 Brett Street, inked onto the fabric. Heat tells him that’s Verloc’s shop. Heat further explains that the department has always been aware of Verloc’s role as... (full context)
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Under the previous ambassador, Heat even met Verloc and acted on intelligence that Verloc passed along. Since then, Heat has occasionally crossed Verloc’s... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...unhurt, but he resists getting back into the carriage until Winnie tells him that Mr. Verloc would be displeased with his behavior. (full context)
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...Winnie’s loyalty to Stevie, she is also realistic, and she believes that over time, Mr. Verloc’s patience with Stevie will wear thin. By retiring to the charity home, Winnie’s mother ensures... (full context)
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...suppressors of evil. Why, then, do they pretend to be good? Winnie, somewhat echoing Mr. Verloc’s revolutionary friends, tells Stevie that the police are there to stop those with nothing from... (full context)
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An hour later, back on Brett Street, Mr. Verloc is sitting at the shop counter, staring at a newspaper, when Winnie and Stevie get... (full context)
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Winnie is awake, lonely and troubled over her mother’s departure. Mr. Verloc silently wonders if Winnie’s mother had sensed disaster and fled, like rats fleeing a sinking... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Mr. Verloc returns from the Continent (mainland Europe) 10 days later, apparently unrefreshed, and Winnie chats with... (full context)
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Later that day, Winnie asks Verloc to take Stevie for a walk—he is moping too much. Verloc objects that Stevie would... (full context)
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When Winnie brings this up, Verloc suggests that it might be time for Stevie to get out of town for a... (full context)
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...Winnie spends more time alone. On the day of the Greenwich bombing, Winnie hasn’t seen Verloc all day. She is sewing at the shop counter when he gets home at dusk,... (full context)
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Winnie questions Verloc about his day. He tells her that he’s been to the bank and withdrawn all... (full context)
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Although this suggestion is unexpected, Winnie attributes it to Verloc’s cold; he isn’t himself. She reminds him that they have a comfortable life. She looks... (full context)
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As Winnie clears the table, she calmly rejects Verloc’s suggestion of moving abroad—she doesn’t think Stevie could handle that. She tells Verloc that he’d... (full context)
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When Verloc returns from the shop, he is pale. Staring at the overcoat thrown across the sofa,... (full context)
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After a while, Winnie goes back into the house to see what’s keeping Verloc. He’s put on his coat, but he’s leaning against the table as if feeling sick.... (full context)
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After Verloc goes out, Winnie looks around the house again: it suddenly seems lonely, remote, and unsafe.... (full context)
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...Winnie idly rummages around the shop, Chief Inspector Heat introduces himself and questions Winnie about Verloc’s whereabouts. From Winnie’s description of Verloc’s present companion, Heat knows it’s the Assistant Commissioner. He... (full context)
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Chief Inspector Heat tells Winnie that he’s here to speak to Verloc about a stolen overcoat. Mindful of the wad of money in her dress, Winnie jumps... (full context)
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...that the details of the case have fallen into place: Stevie was the bomber, and Verloc was the “other man.” He tells Winnie that he thinks she knows more than she’s... (full context)
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Ignoring Winnie, Verloc asks what Inspector Heat is doing there. He and Heat step into the parlor and... (full context)
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Chief Inspector Heat encourages Verloc to get away, and that he doesn’t think the Department will pursue the case further.... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Verloc tells Heat that he plans to make a full confession. Heat reflects on what this... (full context)
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Inspector Heat asks what drove Verloc to get involved with such a plot. In his explanation, Verloc calls Mr. Vladimir a... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 11
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After Chief Inspector Heat leaves, Verloc paces around the house, feeling sympathy for his bereaved wife. As an upside, Inspector Heat... (full context)
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Why, Verloc wonders bitterly, did his wife sew Stevie’s address into his clothes? He decides not to... (full context)
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Verloc isn’t being callous; he’d been so nervous that he’d eaten nothing all day, from the... (full context)
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Finally, Verloc tells Winnie to look at him and, in an unfeeling voice, Winnie says she never... (full context)
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Verloc worries about what will become of his shop while he’s in prison, if Winnie is... (full context)
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Verloc continues his rant. He resents Vladimir toying with him—many high-profile people owe their lives to... (full context)
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The novelty of confiding in Winnie pushes Stevie from Verloc’s mind. Because of this, Verloc is startled when he looks up and sees Winnie’s strange... (full context)
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...thinks of a kind man she’d once loved but rejected because he didn’t accept Stevie; Verloc, on the other hand, quietly tolerated Stevie, though there was nothing otherwise special about him.... (full context)
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Winnie keeps staring at the blank wall. Verloc, meanwhile, nourishes his revenge toward the Embassy. This is in keeping with his personality—he has... (full context)
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Winnie finally looks at Verloc, but he’s looking at the ground. He gives Winnie instructions about running the store while... (full context)
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When she hears Verloc mention escaping abroad, Winnie’s thoughts automatically turn to Stevie’s well-being, only to remember that there’s... (full context)
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Upstairs, Winnie opens the window, and Verloc hears her getting dressed to leave the house. Winnie had thought at first of either... (full context)
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As Verloc makes himself comfortable, he mutters that he wishes he’d never seen Greenwich Park. Winnie pictures... (full context)
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...shocked into action and runs toward the door, knocking the table aside as she goes. Verloc’s hat drifts to the floor. (full context)
Chapter 12
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...not step beyond the front door. After the initial exhilaration, she now feels afraid. For Verloc, she only feels contempt—but she realizes that she is the only living murderer in the... (full context)
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...respectable wife, “till he made me what I am.” But as far as she’s concerned, Verloc stole the last seven years of her life. When they married, Winnie was a tired... (full context)
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Ossipon feels stunned by this ferocious statement; he doesn’t know what Verloc could have done, but he tries to comfort Winnie, assuring her that Verloc is dead... (full context)
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Comrade Ossipon wonders how Winnie came to know about the bombing (he doesn’t believe that Verloc would have told her his plans). She explains that Chief Inspector Heat came, and that... (full context)
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...whole affair is becoming too murky for him, is happy to oblige. But what about Verloc’s money? He tells Winnie there won’t be a train until this, and he doesn’t have... (full context)
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...obliges. When he looks into the parlor, however, he stifles a yell when he sees Verloc resting on the sofa. It suddenly occurs to him that the Verlocs are plotting together... (full context)
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...Ossipon notices the hat upended on the floor. From there, his eyes gradually move toward Verloc’s partially closed eyes and then to his chest, from which a knife handle protrudes. Ossipon... (full context)
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...the tickets and boarding the train separately, in case they are recognized. Winnie gives him Verloc’s money and tells him that Verloc banked under the name of Prozor. (full context)
Chapter 13
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...The Professor tells Ossipon about his recent visit to Michaelis. Michaelis hadn’t heard anything about Verloc’s death. He only focuses on his autobiography, which lacks logical reasoning and talks about planning... (full context)
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...things. The world doesn’t have enough passion to sustain them; it is mediocre. So was Verloc; so is everyone. He gets up to leave and tells Ossipon that the small fortune... (full context)