Sunday, April 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 31.1 (Joseph Conrad)


The Secret Agent
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Conrad, Joseph
The Secret Agent

Purchased for a summer course in college called, "Politics and the Novel." What sticks out now in my memory of the class was how apolitical it actually was. The theme was more about how political processes are depicted in fiction than about the politics of the novels themselves (or the politics of their authors, for that matter). Even when we read novels that have become lightning rods for criticism by post-colonial theorists, like Mr. Johnson, by Joyce Cary, they were dealt with in almost purely novelistic terms. I remember purchasing more of the course books than I actually read, which was almost always the case in school.  I did read this one, as well the Cary, and, I think, July's People, by Nadine Gordimer. Speaking of which, my 72 year old mother is heading to South Africa thursday for a three-week travel stint. Way to go, Mom!

The Secret Agent begins:

Mr Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law. It could be done, because there was very little business at any time, and practically none at all before the evening. Mr Verloc cared but little about his ostensible business. And, moreover, his wife was in charge of his brother-in-law.

The shop was small, and so was the house. It was one of those grimy brick houses which existed in large quantities before the era of reconstruction dawned upon London. The shop was a square box of a place, with the front glazed in small panes. In the daytime the door remained closed; in the evening it stood discreetly but suspiciously ajar.

The window contained photographs of more or less undressed dancing girls; nondescript packages in wrappers like patent medicines; closed yellow paper envelopes, very flimsy, and marked two and six in heavy black figures; a few numbers of ancient French comic publications hung across a string as if to dry; a dingy blue china bowl, a casket of black wood, bottles of marking ink, and rubber stamps; a few books with titles hinting at impropriety; a few apparently old copies of obscure newspapers, badly printed, with titles like the Torch, the Gong--rousing titles. And the two gas-jets inside the panes were always turned low, either for economy's sake or for the sake of the customers.

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