A Surprising Parallel

Austin BaySmall Dead Animals) has a long post on the Human Relations side of al Qaeda, that is, the generous fringe benefits and not-so-generous salaries listed in a captured document. I was as surprised as everyone else to hear that terrorists have paid vacations, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, since I’ve read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. In one of my favorite passages, around four-fifths of the way through Chapter II, small-time terrorist and shop-owner Adolph Verloc is meeting with his contact Mr. Vladimir at what is obviously intended to be the Russian embassy in London. Mr. Vladimir is the first speaker:

“You’ll get your screw every month, and no more until something happens. And if nothing happens very soon you won’t get even that. What’s your ostensible occupation? What are you supposed to live by?”

“I keep a shop,” answered Mr. Verloc.

“A shop! What sort of shop?”

“Stationery, newspapers. My wife—”

“Your what?” interrupted Mr. Vladimir in his guttural Central Asian tones.

“My wife.” Mr. Verloc raised his husky voice slightly. “I am married.”

“That be damned for a yarn,” exclaimed the other in unfeigned astonishment. “Married! And you a professed anarchist, too! What is this confounded nonsense? But I suppose it’s merely a manner of speaking. Anarchists don’t marry. It’s well known. They can’t. It would be apostasy.”

“My wife isn’t one,” Mr. Verloc mumbled, sulkily. “Moreover, it’s no concern of yours.”

“Oh yes, it is,” snapped Mr. Vladimir. “I am beginning to be convinced that you are not at all the man for the work you’ve been employed on. Why you must have discredited yourself completely in your own world by your marriage. Couldn’t you have managed without? This is your virtuous attachment-eh? What with one sort of attachment and another you are doing away with your usefulness.”

Mr. Vladimir seems almost as surprised by the shop as by the wife, no doubt because keeping a shop is such a stereotypically bourgeois (not to mention English) occupation. Perhaps it would have helped if Verloc had told him that he sells pornography as well as stationery and newspapers.

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