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The Secret Agent




In the only novel Conrad set in London, The Secret Agent communicates a profoundly ironic view of human affairs. The story is woven around an attack on the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 masterminded by Verlac, a Russian spy working for the police, and ostensibly a member of an anarchist group in Soho. His masters instruct him to discredit the anarchists in a humiliating fashion, and when his evil plan goes horribly awry, Verlac must deal with the repercussions of his actions.


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. The shop was small, and so was the house. It was one of those grimy brick houses which existed in large quantities before the era of reconstruction dawned upon London. The shop was a square box of a place, with the front glazed in small panes. In the daytime the door remained closed; in the evening it stood discreetly but suspiciously ajar.--Submitted by Anonymous


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Recent Forum Posts on The Secret Agent

No Subject

'The Secret Agent' is overwritten at times. Conrad seems to have relied too much on adjectives to do the work. So, sometimes, one finds five or more adjectives in a single sentence as if a noun could not be forceful enough to convey the meaning the author intended.

Chapter 11 is the crucial one because it reveals that Mr.Verloc and Winnie never managed to communicate. But I find this chpter is unnecessarily prolonged and repetitive. Conrad seems to have run out of steam here and in try to explore this relationship he places all his hopes in convincing us through Verloc's interior monologue. This may sway us as readers into sympathising with him but we have never condemned this character outright. We are aware that he is acting under strain - the infernal orders of Valdimir; and we know that he never imagined that Stevie would be blown up. But how can one expect further empathy with him when he starts discussing the immediate future with Winnie when the latter is so overwhelmed with grief? It is time for silence rather than to expect a character who has been sorely hurt to think about solving practical problems : escape or running the shop while Verloc is in prison.

In my view, chapter 11 needs drastic cutting.

Moreover, some the anarchists neraly evaporate. We have along chapter to see what they think but then some of them reappear only towards the end. For long stretches we never hear about them.


I find the book boring and suggestive. And since there are several versions of it, everybody seems to be talking about different matters. All that matters to me is that some guy blew him self up and cause a massive explotion of anti-anachist tension. Or not.

No Subject

I wonder if the reviewer has even read this book?
The railway station was not bombed,it was an attempt to bomb the greenwich observatory.

Help needed!

I have to read this book for my history class and I'm afraid I haven't had the time at all to even look at it. I have 6 other novels that need to be read in just one other class alone.

To the point.. I need to find some site or paper with just a plain summary of the entire book.

If anyone of you might have one, or know of somewhere i can get one, please please write back to my hotmail address.

Thank you!

-a poor/time starved college student

Humor and Despair

A strong impression of the novel didn't really hit me until near the end - from Chapt. XII, just after Winnie killed Verloc. I thought the depiction of Winnie's encounter with Ossipon (P*ss on? P*ss Upon?) was fabulously drawn - this cheap, weak, sorry excuse of a man who Winnie suddenly turns to for a chance of salvation - all the time his mind is on sex with her. But when they arrive at the shop and the truth of what Winnie did to Verloc slowly starts dawning in his idiotic mind, the description of Ossipon's growing horror and fright is one of the funniest things I've ever read in literature. I wonder if anyone else noticed or agrees with how amazingly this is portrayed by Conrad. I'm especially impressed by the contrast between the macabre humor (all the growing cowardice so hysterically portrayed) and the very sorry and sad end for Winnie.
Someone mentioned the growing suffragette movement in England at the time The Secret Agent was written, and it is interesting to think of how we come to think of Winnie as such a shallow nonentity, but then she really starts to come alive as a person once someone has taken away her maternal object and her sole reason for living (in her mind), her brother Stevie. And then Comrade Ossipon's final indignity can't help but make me think that this is an early feminist critique of the mistreatment of women.
Conrad had a lot of heart and empathy.
Also at the end of the novel there seems to be a kind of word play at work in Conrad's constant reiteration of the newspaper account of Winnie's end: "An impenetrable mystery seems destined to hang forever." This echoes off of Winnie's fixation in the same chapter of another newspaper account "The drop given was fourteen feet." Maybe someone else can clarify this better.

No Subject

"The Secret Agent" is a great work. It nice to see it appreciated by some of you in here. Most people I have spoken find boring or try to pick it to pieces.

I loved the book for its humor and candid portrayal of people. It just seems to poke fun an the whole 'spy' scene.

Conrad works his art with Mr. Verloc, a spineless pathetic "man."
And you can't help and be moved by Stevie and how sympathetic he is to the poor horse.

A Contemporarily Relevant Classic

Conrad's The Secret Agent (Don't get excited, I can't underline from my browser...) is the brilliantly written story of the life of an anarchist in England at the turn of the century. Mr. Verlock is an agent for the French embassy in London, yet, at the same time, an activist for an anarchist revolution. Verlock lives with his young wife Winnie and her slightly disabled kid brother Stevie, atop a store on a run down street in London. The plot takes place around 1895, a time when anarchists in England carried out terrorist acts for their cause. Around 1895, Britain considered Anarchists common terrorists. Though most believe that Conrad portrays Verlock as a terrible person, one finds that by following both Verlock, and the investigation into a failed plot to destroy a London observatory, Conrad really displays the ease with which one's beliefs can change into terrorist plots. Thus, Verlock is not really portrayed as such a bad person. This book, especially relevant in today's age of terrorism, a wonderful read, and full of symbolism, will make you

No Subject

i believe the novel was rather dull unexciting and quite how to say it put me to sleep.

No Subject

I was confused about the date as well. It's understandable that the site got the date wrong. The Penguin edition of the book says, on the back, that the attempt on the Greenwich Observatory was in 1894. But in the story itself it was a completely different date. The site probably just read it off the back.


The orchestral music of Philip Glass "The secret Agent" for the movie "Joseph Conrad's 'The sercret Agent' " deeply introduces ourselves in this very ambivalent world of obsession between trust and lies. It is a great pseudo minimalistic music, maybe the only where P.Glass took the liberty to stray from his usual duolets essays for the piano.

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