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The Secret Agent was written by Joseph Conrad and published in 1908. It’s a classic novel based on actual events: the attempt to blow up the Greenwich Observatory in 1984. This fictionalized tale revolves around Mr. Verloc, a spy for his home country of France while living and working in London, Mr.
Verloc’s wife, Winnie, a devoted wife and lives her life caring for her young brother, and Stevie, Winnie’s simple-minded brother who manages to get involved with Mr. Verloc’s dangerous politics. The family relationships in this novel, particularly Winnie’s devotion to her brother Stevie, are quite strong and relevant to the events of the story.
The novel seems to be mostly about Winnie, though she appears to only be a minor character throughout the majority of the story. Winnie is the injured party when the scheme to blow up the Greenwich Observatory goes disastrously wrong, though the plan was engineered to save Mr. Verloc from the possibility of death. In a way, Mr. Verloc and Winnie are almost paralleled to one another in the story, both living behind secrets. While reading the novel, Winnie and Mr. Verloc’s relationship seemed odd and unfamiliar. Chapter VIII in The Secret Agent reveals a passage that makes the reader consider Winnie and Mr.
Verloc to be strangers to one another: [t]his head arranged for the night, those ample shoulders, had an aspect of familiar sacredness—the sacredness of domestic peace.
She moved not, massive and shapeless like a recumbent statue in the rough; he remembered her wide-open eyes looking into the empty room. She was mysterious, with the mysteriousness of living beings. (Conrad 148) The imagery in the passage seems cold, and lacking the passion that a man would use to describe his wife laying in bed next to him. By calling Winnie sacred, Conrad does add a little warmth, because unlike Winnie, Mr.
Verloc does love her, but she is also described as mysterious. Winnie and Mr. Verloc have been married for seven years and the fact that she can still be described as mysterious is unusual. Lying in bed together at night is a very intimate moment between two people, and the passage portrays Winnie as being a statue, not moving at all. When in a comfortable marriage, the husband and wife should be able to move freely and talk because it is their time to be alone with one another, but instead Winnie is compared to a statue that is lying down, the imagery in the passage compares Winnie to a figure made of stone.
There are other images in the novel where Winnie is completely still, and maybe not directly being called a statue, she acts as one, “[s]he remained mysteriously still” (Conrad 215) or: a white-hot iron drawn across her eyes; at the same time her heart, hardened and chilled into a lump of ice, kept her body in an inward shudder, set her features into a frozen, contemplative immobility addressed to a whitewashed wall with no writing on it. (Conrad 199) The passage shows that Mr.
Verloc and Winnie have not completely opened themselves up to one another, hiding behind secrets. Mr. Verloc hides from Winnie that he is a secret agent working for the French Embassy, and Winnie puts on a front for her husband as a devoted wife so she and her brother, Stevie, can live with financial security. The passage shows the reader just how little Winnie is emotionally invested in her marriage. Winnie appears to an outsider, such as Comrade Ossipon, to be a devoted wife to Mr.
Verloc, but in reality she has devoted her entire life to her brother, first protecting the poor boy from his own abusive father, then caring for him when their mother became disabled, and finally marrying Mr. Verloc with the intention that Stevie would always be cared for and not have to work. Winnie has given up freedom and love for her brother and thrown all her trust on to this man, who has a secret life that he has refused to disclose to her. Winnie and Mr. Verloc each hide behind a big secret, which stands in the way of their marriage. They are parallel to one another through their deceit.
Both characters are morally corrupt, Mr. Verloc is in many ways self-deceived, since he does not admit to himself how grimy his methods of making a living are, and it seems that he even wanted to be rid of the mentally deficient Stevie with his lack of sympathy for Winnie, and Winnie allows herself to be sexually exploited by marrying Mr. Verloc, whom she does not love, but does it for the sake of Stevie and her mother, and by so carelessly throwing herself at the feet of Comrade Ossipon near the end of the novel. The excerpt shows the reader that Mr.
Verloc and Winnie are almost strangers in this story by calling her mysterious, but then the narrator takes it a step further by saying she is mysterious, “with the mysteriousness of living beings” (Conrad 148). The description of Winnie from Mr. Verloc’s point of view seems very general and vague, not a loving, meaningful, or even familiar depiction of Winnie. But it is not the only time that Winnie is thought of as being mysterious, “Mrs. Verloc sat still under her black veil, in her own house, like a masked and mysterious visitor of impenetrable intentions” (Conrad 211).
Even in her own house, Winnie is somewhat of a mysterious visitor, and Mr. Verloc is not able to relate to his wife, especially after she finds out the truth of Stevie’s death. It is obvious Mr. Verloc does not know Winnie’s true self by the sheer fact that he thinks he’s doing Winnie a favor by sparing his own life and letting Stevie be in control of the bomb, and this shows through Mr. Verloc’s persistent defense of his actions to his wife Winnie, “‘[d]o be reasonable, Winnie. What would it have been if you had lost me? ’” (Conrad 193). When Mr.
Verloc asks Winnie that question, he must be assuming that Winnie would be more sorrowful had he died instead of Stevie. Mr. Verloc is clearly unaware of Winnie’s intentions for their marriage and just how much she truly cared about Stevie. Mr. Verloc and Winnie’s deceit ultimately brought them to their deaths at the end of the novel. Both suffering from moral corruption and a loveless marriage, Mr. Verloc and Winnie were paralleled through their secrets from one another. Works Cited Conrad, Joseph. The Secret Agent. New York: Signet Classics, 2007.