Secret agent (Joseph Conrad) [1907]

the secret agent

Briljant, finstämd bok som jag läste på flygplatsen vägen hem från Sydostasienresan 2012. London, kring sekelskiftet. Anarkisterna sätter oro i staden. Polisen sätter hårt mot hårt, skickar in provokatörer, m.m.. Jag minns ärligt talat inte alltför mycket såhär i efterhand (2013-11-29).  Butiksägaren Mr Verloc är inblandad – hur? Finstämt som sagt, relationen till frun Winnie och pojken komplex och nyanserad. Grabbens tillit till Verloc används på ett tragiskt av denne. JC beskriver politiska spelet fint, med briljanta motpoler i Mr Vladimir, ambassadör för det stora landet i Öst, samt polisens Assistant Commissioner. Conrad har beskrivits av Sven Lindqvist som en ‘överklassens’ författare, men jag slås av han cynism vad gäller polisens metoder och brist på moral. Språket är magnifikt – en replik kan följas av två sidor reflektion, för att därefter replikeras av den andre, med två sidors introversion från dennes sida! Slutet talande: Winnies monolog och Verlocs monolog – aldrig dialog (be mig inte precisera).

[Steevie ser droskförare slå sin häst; systern förstår inte:]

”Poor! Poor!” he ejaculated, appreciatively. “Cabman poor, too. He told me himself.”

The contemplation of the infirm and lonely steed overcame him. 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!” Steevie was no master of phrases, and perhaps for that very reason his thoughts lacked clearness and precision. But he felt with greater completeness and some profundity. 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. And Steevie knew what it was to be beaten. He knew it from experience. It was a bad world. Bad! Bad! […] “Bad world for poor people.”

They had to be protected; and their horses, carriages, houses, servants had to be protected; and the source of their wealth had to be protected in the heart of the city and the heart of the country; the whole social order favorable to their hygienic idleness had to be protected against the shallow enviousness of unhygienic labor.

[Mr Vladimir, ambassadören:]

“[…] I suppose you agree that the middle classes are stupid?”

Mr. Verloc agreed hoarsely.

“They are.”

“They have no imagination. They are blinded by an idiotic vanity. What they want just now is a jolly good scare. This is the psychological moment to set your friends to work. I have had you called here to develop to you my idea.”

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 causeswith effects more than was excusable; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb-throwers; assumed organization 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, and another, as if it had been the loosest association of desperate brigands that ever camped in a mountain gorge.


“[…] The fetish of to-day is neither royalty nor religion. Therefore the Palace and the Church should be left alone… The sacrosanct fetish of to-day is science. Why don’t you get some of your friends to go for that wooden-faced panjandrum–eh?”

[Och vid ett senare tillfälle:]

“[…] there is learning – science. Any imbecile that has got an income believes in that. He does not know why, but he believes it matters somehow. It is the sacrosanct fetish.”

[Uppenbar hänvisning till Marx (vilket, med den tidens mått mätt, indikerar var sympatierna ligger:]

No one interrupted him now, and he made again the confession of his faith, mastering him, irresistible and complete, like an act of grace: the secret of fate discovered in the material side of life; the economic condition of the world responsible for the past and shaping the future; the source of all history, of all ideas, guiding the mental development of mankind and the very impulses of their passion.


“To break up the superstition and worship of legality should be our aim. Nothing would please me more than to see Inspector Heat and his likes take to shooting us down in broad daylight with the approval of the public. Half our battle would be won then; the disintegration of the old morality would have set in in its very temple.”


They [the crowd] swarmed numerous like locusts, industrious like ants, thoughtless like a natural force, pushing on blind and orderly and absorbed, impervious to sentiment, to logic – to terror, too, perhaps. […] What if nothing could move them? Such moments come to all men whose ambition aims at a direct grasp upon humanity – to artists, politicians, thinkers, reformers, or saints. [senare:] He smiled no longer his enigmatic and mocking smile. The resisting power of numbers, the unattackable stolidity of a great multitude, was the haunting fear of his sinister loneliness.


But Chief Inspector Heat was not very wise – at least, not truly so. True wisdom, which is not certain of anything in this world of contradictions, would have prevented him from attaining his present position. It would have alarmed his superiors, and done away with his chances of promotion. His promotion had been very rapid. [Insinuating Heat was even less than “not very wise”…]

“Come here,” he said in a peculiar tone, which might have been the tone of brutality, but was intimately known to Mrs. Verloc as the note of wooing.

She started forward at once, as if she were still a loyal woman bound to that man by an unbroken contract.


Night, the inevitable reward of men’s faithful labors on this earth – night had fallen on Mr. Verloc, the tried revolutionist – “one of the old lot” – the humble guardian of society; the invaluable Secret Agent Δ of Baron Stott-Wartenheim’s despatches; a servant of law and order, faithful, trusted, accurate, admirable, with perhaps one single amiable weakness: the idealistic belief in being loved for himself.


august = venerable, inspiring admiration (an august performance, or an august person)
Hyperborean = mythical people in Greek mythology, lived in a perfect land where the sun always shone, etc.
panjandrum = pompous, self-important person
somnambulist = sömngångare


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