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The Secret Agent

In response to:

Conrad's Darkness from the October 17, 1974 issue

To the Editors:

In your issue of October 17, 1974, there appears a “critical” article on “Conrad’s Darkness” by V.S. Naipaul, who, in commenting on Conrad’s obscurity, seems guilty of a certain opacity of his own, the inability to read what Conrad wrote.

The long descriptive passage quoted on your page 18, beginning “The all but moribund veteran of dynamite wars had been a great actor in his time,” and ending, “The shadow of his evil gift clung to him yet like the smell of a deadly drug in an old vial of poison, emptied now, useless, ready to be thrown away upon the rubbish-heap of things that had served their time,” (Doubleday Anchor ed., p. 51, my italics) is said by Naipaul to refer to Ossipon (“This is Ossipon.”), Conrad’s young and superstitious ex-medical student who believes in the modish quack “scientific” phrenologist Lombroso. The hell it does. Clearly, from the context, the passage describes his adversary in their discussion of revolutionary theory, the fraudulent old “terrorist,” Yundt, who scoffs at the idealist Lombroso, but has never thrown a real bomb in his prolonged and futile life….

Charles O. McDonald

University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

V. S Naipaul replies:

Mr. McDonald is right. The error is unforgivable.

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