To the villagers in Tuscany, where he makes a failed attempt to write a novel, Jerry Westerby is “the schoolboy”; as the son of a titled press baron, he merits the designation “honourable”: thus the novel’s ironic, oxymoronic title. It is a title which gains in suggestive power as the action unfolds. Like a schoolboy, Westerby quite often carries a booksack, invariably stocked with works by T. E. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and Graham Greene—all writers who knew the heart of darkness within man and the failures of romantic idealism. Westerby is a schoolboy also in the sense that he is a product of Sarratt, the Circus’ training school for field agents. Throughout the novel, Westerby is simply a “Sarratt man,” obediently carrying out orders, always reviewing in his mind what he was taught at Sarratt before taking action. His schooling covers all contingencies until the final scenes, when his sense of remorse for the deaths he has inadvertently caused conflicts with his feelings of loyalty toward Smiley.
Smiley, on the other hand, is rather professorial: eccentric, unfathomable, solitary. He appears in control of the entire operation until he learns that he has been betrayed. Ironically, Smiley does not realize the degree to which Westerby suffers precisely because their despair stems from the same root: loneliness.
In some ways, George Smiley, in his sixties, and Jerry Westerby, fifty-three, the protagonists of...
(The entire section is 530 words.)