The Secret Agent is Joseph Conrad’s dark satire on English society, edited with an introduction and notes by Michael Newton in Penguin Classics.
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 Verloc, 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, Verloc must deal with the repercussions of his actions. While rooted in the Edwardian period, Conrad’s tale remains strikingly contemporary, with its depiction of Londoners gripped by fear of the terrorists living in their midst.
This edition of The Secret Agent contains a chronology, further reading, notes and maps of London and Greenwich. In his introduction, Michael Newton discusses London’s real-life world of political anarchy, and Conrad’s portrayal of the Verlocs’ marriage.
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was born in the Ukraine and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. After spending years in the French, and later the British Merchant Navy, Conrad left the sea to devote himself to writing. In 1896 he settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes.
If you enjoyed The Secret Agent, you might like Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons, also available in Penguin Classics.
‘A brilliant book, one of the greatest works of modern irony’