It's been a busy 24 hours at SteynOnline - starting with some Floridian songs to get our Sunshine State listeners through the storms, and continuing with our observances of the fifth anniversary of Benghazi, and a live Clubland Q&A session around the planet. (We'll post the recording of the Q&A later.) We'll round out the day with the 11th episode of our current Tale for Our Time - Joseph Conrad's insightful examination of the psychology of terrorism, as it seemed to him in the London of just over a century ago. On this 16th anniversary of 9/11, it's worth noting that Conrad's novel was one of the most quoted books on the planet in the immediate aftermath of Osama bin Laden's attacks.
I mentioned previously that The Secret Agent was one of the first novels to fracture the conventional chronological narrative and tell its story out of order - ie, all the stuff everyone thought was so cool about Pulp Fiction Joseph Conrad was doing a century before Quentin Tarantino. In tonight's episode, we flash back to before the Greenwich Park bombing - as the identity of the man blown to pieces en route to the Royal Observatory slowly becomes clear. We are back in the Verloc household, with the put-upon London anarchist, his wife Winnie, her simple-minded brother Stevie, and their mother. In this chapter, Mr Verloc's aged and infirm mother-in-law moves out of their Soho home and into an alms house, and accompanying her on her final journey proves unusually stressful for Winnie and Stevie:
Like the rest of mankind, perplexed by the mystery of the universe, he had his moments of consoling trust in the organised powers of the earth.
'Police,' he suggested confidently.
'The police aren't for that,' observed Mrs Verloc cursorily, hurrying on her way.
Stevie's face lengthened considerably. He was thinking. The more intense his thinking, the slacker was the droop of his lower jaw...'Not for that?' he mumbled, resigned but surprised. 'Not for that?' He had formed for himself an ideal conception of the metropolitan police as a sort of benevolent institution for the suppression of evil... 'What for are they then, Winn? What are they for? Tell me.'
Winnie disliked controversy. But fearing most a fit of black depression consequent on Stevie missing his mother very much at first, she did not altogether decline the discussion. Guiltless of all irony, she answered yet in a form which was not perhaps unnatural in the wife of Mr Verloc, Delegate of the Central Red Committee, personal friend of certain anarchists, and a votary of social revolution.
'Don't you know what the police are for, Stevie? They are there so that them as have nothing shouldn't take anything away from them who have.'
The susceptibility of Stevie will prove tragic, as he seeks elsewhere a means for "the suppression of evil". Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Part 11 of The Secret Agent simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.
If you've yet to hear any of our Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. For more details, see here - and don't forget our new Gift Membership. Please join me tomorrow evening for Part 12.