Patrick McCoy's Reviews > The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
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Oct 13, 11

bookshelves: classics

Ever since 9/11 there have been many a reference to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, which has piqued my interest. I saw a cheap copy and picked it up recently and read it. I've read a couple of Conrad novels before (The Hear of Darkness and Lord Jim), but it has been a long time. The 19th century pacing that requires time to introduce and flesh out the main characters and set up the action. In this novel it takes almost 2/3 of the novel to achieve this goal, despite the fact that the novel is based on a simple newspaper clipping about a bombing gone bad. After that the plot runs much more smoothly and quickly. However, most of the characters are largely unsympathetic from the diplomats to the police and anarchists. There's a good comic scene at the embassy where Mr. Valdmir gives it to his spy Mr. Verloc. The menacing Professor is the character that has been most referred to in these dangerous times due to his steadfast fanaticism. He goes about with an explosive device attached to him just in case of an emergency:

And the incorruptible Professor walked too, averting his eyes from the odious multitude of mankind. He had no future. He disdained it . He was a force. His thoughts ceased the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable- and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world. Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men.

Espionage gives way to domestic tragedy in the end. But the most interesting aspect of this novel for me lies in the origin the fact that the west has been dealing with terrorists for more than 100 years. In the after word, Conrad refers to the dynamite crisis of the 1880s. It's hard to imagine that this novel was shocking in its day. It is also well-known that Graham Green was a admirer of Conrad and was influenced by this novel when writing his own espionage novels and has been said to have used the Assistant Police Chief as a model for some of his own characters. It wasn't an easy read, but there were some excellent passages.

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