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The Secret Agent (1907)

by Joseph Conrad

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,005961,372 (3.64)262
(Book Jacket Status: Not Jacketed) The Secret Agent is the unsurpassed ancestor of a long series of twentieth-century novels and films which explore the confused motives that lie at the heart of political terrorism. In its use of powerful psychological insight to intensify narrative suspense, it set the terms by which subsequent works in its genre were created. Conrad was the first novelist to discover the strange in-between territory of the political exile, and his genius was such that we still have no truer map of that region's moral terrain than his story of a terrorist plot and its tragic consequences for the guilty and innocent alike. Introduction by Paul Theroux… (more)
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» See also 262 mentions

English (90)  Dutch (3)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (95)
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
Some aspects of this novel seemed lamentably contemporary. A bomb goes off. A terrorist attack? On the surface, apparently so. But the man who carried it off was the secret agent of a foreign government. That country is never named, but the agent’s handler is named Vladimir, so we probably can’t go too far wrong were we to guess its identity. That government despises the nonchalant way the British government deals with its domestic anarchists, who, in turn, are dreamily ineffectual. The aim of the foreign government: to shock the British into a repressive stance. If the public is alarmed, so the reasoning goes, it will more readily accept a reduction in its civil liberties.
Sound familiar?
This novel is not as well known as Conrad’s works with colonial or maritime settings, and it met with a mixed reception when it came out. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though. The characters are well-drawn and the plot is well-constructed, departing from a strictly linear account to allow the narration to follow first this person, then that. This allows Conrad to show them pursuing individual agendas, often at cross-purposes. There is even a good dose of humor, particularly the hilarious portrayal of an imperious state secretary of venerable lineage.
Adepts of spy fiction will not fail to read this, said to be the book that created the genre, but I believe this would appeal to general readers as well. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
I can't say I liked this book. The prose was overly descriptive and oddly repetitive. The story was dreary and only got darker as it progressed. The narrative - and the fact that there was a narrative - had me confused. I could not get invested in any of the characters.

Perhaps those interested older English works might be interested in this. But only if they're also interested in anarchism, politics, Marxist arguments, and societal discussions. ( )
  sraazad | Jul 1, 2021 |
A classic novel of terrorism, I picked it up on a high school friend's recommendation. I hadn't read any Conrad since our 12th grade English class had included Heart of Darkness. You're guaranteed to hate most books you're forced to read for school, having to wring all sorts of contrived themes and subtexts out of your mandatory tomes, but I enjoyed Heart of Darkness, and of course the movie Apocalypse Now, which we also watched because why not.

I didn't really dig The Secret Agent quite as much though, a least at first. The main terrorism plot is the highlight: Conrad is very adept at creating a terrorist group, the Future of the Proletariat, which is both plausible in its aims and actions, and ridiculous in how cartoonish the individual members Verloc, Yundt, Ossipon, and Michaelis are. I'm positive real terrorist groups have their members who strongly resemble the buffoons in the FOP, and I'm sure that their meetings are just as full of irritating speeches. Achmed, stop clowning around, we're trying to finish Phase XVII of Operation Death to the Great Satan! Similarly, the police working against them also have their own personalities and personal issues, and real counter-terrorism work is probably just as full of politicking and feuding.

However, Conrad put in an annoying subplot about Stevie, the main character Verloc's wife's brother, who is autistic and does nothing interesting for the entire first half of the book. It was only later that he became important, and even though his only real relevant action happened offscreen, the way the Verloc "family" dealt with it was pretty interesting. Though Conrad is a little too verbose sometimes, the psychological interaction between Verloc and his wife Winnie was great, as was the ending part with Winnie and Comrade Ossipon. Very satisfying ending overall. Since the book was based on a very similar real-life attempted act of terrorism, it's only fitting in a way that it ended up being a favorite of Ted Kaczynski. Ted was smart though - wives will only mess you up! Conrad knew best all along. ( )
1 vote aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
The story-telling is masterly. I was totally gripped in the chapter where Verloc wanted to console his wife after Stevie was accidentally killed but he misunderstood her totally. The perspective shifts subtly from Verloc to Winnie, so subtly you hardly realized it. This chapter by itself added another star to my rating of the book. Also note-worthy is the politicking in the police force, which can still ring true even in today's context. ( )
1 vote siok | May 9, 2021 |
Grew on me - first half hard to get in to but gripping in the last part
  MiriamL | Apr 27, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (54 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Conrad, JosephAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adell, AlbertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Adlerberth, RolandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Affinati, Eraldosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ambrosini, Richardsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bassi, AnnagraziaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danehl, GüntherÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Logu, PietroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doctorow, E. L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eisler, GeorgIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Epstein, HughIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freißler, Ernst W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giacobelli, FrancescoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grimshaw, John AtkinsonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hibbert, A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karl, Frederick R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kivivuori, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mallios, Peter LancelotEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mauro, WalterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mosley, FrancisIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Newton, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saraval, LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serpieri, AlessandroEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seymour-Smith, MartinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Silva, HéctorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
South, AnnaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Theroux, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Threlfall, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tittle, WalterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, ColinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waterfield, Robinsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watts, CedricEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilde, Barbara deCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zanzotto, AndreaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To H. G. Wells

The chronicler of Mr Lewisham's love
the biographer of Kipps and the
historian of the ages to come
this simple tale of the nineteenth century
is affectionately offered
First words
Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law. It could be done, because there was very little business at any time, and practically none at all before the evening. Mr. Verloc cared but little about his ostensible business. And, moreover, his wife was in charge of his brother-in-law.
Quotations
He talked to himself, indifferent to the sympathy or hostility of his hearers, indifferent indeed to their presence, from the habit he had acquired of thinking aloud hopefully in the solitude of the four whitewashed walls of his cell, in the sepuchral silence of the great blind pile of bricks near the river, sinister and ugly like a colossal mortuary for the socially drowned.
We can never cease to be ourselves.
With a more subtle intention, he took the part of an insolent and venemous evoker of sinister impulses which lurk in the blind envy and exasperated vanity of ignorance, in the suffering and misery of poverty, in all the hopeful and noble illusions of righteous anger, pity, and revolt. 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.
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(Book Jacket Status: Not Jacketed) The Secret Agent is the unsurpassed ancestor of a long series of twentieth-century novels and films which explore the confused motives that lie at the heart of political terrorism. In its use of powerful psychological insight to intensify narrative suspense, it set the terms by which subsequent works in its genre were created. Conrad was the first novelist to discover the strange in-between territory of the political exile, and his genius was such that we still have no truer map of that region's moral terrain than his story of a terrorist plot and its tragic consequences for the guilty and innocent alike. Introduction by Paul Theroux

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441585, 0141199555

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

» Publisher information page

Urban Romantics

2 editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909175994, 1909438006

 

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