Chapter 1 Summary

One morning Mr. Verloc steps out of the front door of the shop he owns. Although he has left his brother-in-law Stephen nominally in charge of the shop, he has actually left his wife to run things, as Stephen is mentally handicapped and his wife Winnie is his caretaker.

At his shop, located in a small brick building in London, Mr. Verloc sells a wide variety of items, all at prices much higher than the going rate. His daytime customers are suspicious-looking young men who often hang around the shop window before coming inside to make a purchase. In the evenings older men enter the shop, nod at Winnie, and go behind the counter through to the back of the store.

Mr. and Mrs. Verloc have been married for some time now. They met when Mr. Verloc was a tenant of Winnie’s mother. After the death of her husband, who owned a liquor store, Mrs. Verloc’s mother rented out apartments for traveling gentlemen. Young and beautiful, Winnie often engaged these men in conversation, including Mr. Verloc, who often came in from the Continent, arriving late at night and staying in bed until the middle of the next day.

Mr. Verloc and Winnie become engaged, and they ask her mother and Stephen to come live with them. They also take all the furniture from Winnie’s house and move it into the rooms behind the shop.

Despite his previously nocturnal existence, once they are married Mr. Verloc shifts to a more normal routine, waking up early and working in the shop all day. At night he goes out alone, saying only to Winnie that his work is political. He warns Winnie that she will have to be nice to his political friends.

Winnie’s mother has no idea what Mr. Verloc is doing during his nightly excursions, and it appears to her that her daughter doesn’t either. Although the Verlocs do not have any children, Winnie’s mother is at least happy that Mr. Verloc is willing to offer his home to Stephen, who appears incapable of holding down a steady job or supporting himself. In a way Winnie treats her brother as if he is her child, doting on him like a mother. Stephen lives in one of the rooms at the back of the store and spends his days using a compass to draw circles on a piece of paper.