The Secret Agent

by

Joseph Conrad

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The Professor Character Analysis

The Professor is an independent anarchist and bomb-maker who provides Verloc with the explosives for the attempted Greenwich bombing. Despite his unimposing stature, he is both more confident and more dangerous than the other anarchists: he always carries an explosive detonator in his pocket, protecting him from the authorities, who are afraid to get too close. He is called The Professor because he once served on a chemistry faculty. The Professor prides himself on his freedom from conventional moral categories. The Professor had always dreamed of climbing from poverty to affluence, and when his ambitions were thwarted, he turned to anarchy out of bitter vengeance. He is not invulnerable, however: he most fears being one against many. At the end of the book, The Professor remains devoted to his belief in the destruction of all things.

The Professor Quotes in The Secret Agent

The The Secret Agent quotes below are all either spoken by The Professor or refer to The Professor. 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 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:

"You revolutionists," the other continued, with leisurely self-confidence, "are the slaves of the social convention, which is afraid of you; slaves of it as much as the very police that stands up in the defence of that convention. Clearly you are, since you want to revolutionise it. It governs your thought, of course, and your action too, and thus neither your thought nor your action can ever be conclusive […] The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket. Revolution, legality—counter moves in the same game […] at bottom identical.”

Related Characters: The Professor (speaker), Comrade Alexander Ossipon
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

The way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds. The Professor's indignation found in itself a final cause that absolved him from the sin of turning to destruction as the agent of his ambition. […] By exercising his agency with ruthless defiance he procured for himself the appearances of power and personal prestige. That was undeniable to his vengeful bitterness. It pacified its unrest; and in their own way the most ardent of revolutionaries are perhaps doing no more but seeking for peace in common with the rest of mankind—the peace of soothed vanity, of satisfied appetites, or perhaps of appeased conscience.

Related Characters: The Professor
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

[Inspector Heat] could understand the mind of a burglar, because, as a matter of fact, the mind and the instincts of a burglar are of the same kind as the mind and the instincts of a police officer. Both recognise the same conventions, and have a working knowledge of each other's methods and of the routine of their respective trades. […] Products of the same machine, one classed as useful and the other as noxious, they take the machine for granted in different ways, but with a seriousness essentially the same. The mind of Chief Inspector Heat was inaccessible to ideas of revolt. But his thieves were not rebels.

Related Characters: Chief Inspector Heat, The Professor
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Professor Character Timeline in The Secret Agent

The timeline below shows where the character The Professor appears in The Secret Agent. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
...plays a noisy waltz. Across from Ossipon, a small man with spectacles, who’s known as The Professor , drinks beer. Despite his unimpressive demeanor, the man has an air of calm self-assurance... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Ossipon questions The Professor about his “stuff,” and the man claims that he unhesitatingly gives some to anyone who... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
The Professor says that the key is “force of personality.” Simply having the ability to blow himself... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
The Professor explains that his goal is simply “a perfect detonator.” He notes Ossipon’s wince and says... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Ossipon changes the subject. He tells The Professor that a man was blown up on Greenwich Park this morning, and he shows The... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
...and it’s bound to make revolutionaries’ position more difficult in this country. Staring hard at The Professor , he realizes that some of the other man’s explosives must have been used. The... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
The Professor goes on to say that unlike America, which has a fundamentally anarchistic character, England idealizes... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Ossipon asks The Professor if he can describe the person to whom he gave his explosives, and The Professor... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
...Verloc’s remains were so utterly destroyed that the bombing won’t be traced back to him. The Professor advises Ossipon to attach himself to Winnie Verloc, and then he leaves. The mechanical piano... (full context)
Chapter 5
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
The Professor walks along feeling mildly disappointed by the news of the failed bombing yet hopeful that... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
As The Professor walks among the London crowds, he feels a stab of fear. Occasionally, he doubts that... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
It was under these circumstances that Chief Inspector Heat had come upon The Professor . He hadn’t been thinking about anarchists at the time. Heat used to specialize in... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Caught off guard, Chief Inspector Heat tells The Professor that he is not presently wanted for a crime, and that when the Inspector desires... (full context)
Chapter 9
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
...Heat reflects on what this will mean: the exoneration of Michaelis and the exposure of The Professor ’s bomb-making work, not to mention a departmental shake-up. Heat says that he wouldn’t trust... (full context)
Chapter 12
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
...Greenwich Park as a way of committing suicide, making fools of the police, the press, The Professor , and the revolutionary world over a domestic dispute. He wonders if Winnie is the... (full context)
Chapter 13
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Comrade Ossipon has come to visit The Professor in the ugly, spartan room in East London that The Professor has rented. The Professor... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
...doctors will rule the world, and science will triumph, extending the lives of the strong. The Professor rejects this idea. At the pub, he raises a toast “to the destruction of what... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
As Ossipon and The Professor drink, Ossipon pulls an old newspaper from his pocket and rereads a line he has... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
When The Professor is about to leave, Ossipon asks him what he knows of “madness and despair.” The... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
...been able to think, eat, or sleep; his revolutionary career is at an end. Meanwhile, The Professor wanders too, avoiding the detestable crowds of people. He doesn’t think about his future, instead... (full context)