Joseph Conrad. (1907). The secret agent: a simple tale.

Not a very cheerful tale to read for the very beginning of a new year, but the intricate characters and plot were fascinating all the same. It is indeed a tale of “madness and despair”. The characters’ true intentions and supposedly “rational” behaviors backfired, and finally exploded in a tragedy–the irony of it was more overpowering than any political themes contained in the book. Adolf Verloc wanted to protect order and his domestic peace, and yet he was led to destroy everything. Similarly ended Winnie Verloc’s maternal vigilance and Stevie’s docility and blind trust. Poor people.

Murder is always with us. It is almost an institution.

Jostled, but obstinate, he would remain there, trying to express the view newly opened to his sympathies of the human and equine misery in close association. But it was very difficult. “Poor brute, poor people!” was all he could repeat. It did not seem forcible enough, and he came to a stop with an angry splutter: “Shame!” That little word contained all his sense of indignation and horror at one sort of wretchedness having to feed upon the anguish of the other—at the poor cabman beating the poor horse in the name, as it were, of his poor kids at home.

“You could do anything with that boy, Adolf,” Mrs Verloc said, with her best air of inflexible calmness. “He would go through fire for you. He—”

And this last vision had such plastic relief, such nearness of form, such a fidelity of suggestive detail, that it wrung from Mrs Verloc an anguished and faint murmur, reproducing the supreme illusion of her life, an appalled murmur that died out on her blanched lips. “Might have been father and son.” … She had to love him with a militant love. She had battled for him—even against herself. His loss had the bitterness of defeat, with the anguish of a baffled passion.

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