The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale is a novel by Joseph Conrad, first published in 1907. The story is set in London in 1886 and deals with Mr. Adolf Verloc and his work as a spy for an unnamed country (presumably Russia). The Secret Agent is one of Conrad's later political novels in which he moved away from his former tales of seafaring.
- Joseph Conrad
- September 1907
This tangled web of diplomacy forms the general background to The Secret Agent, in which Adolf Verloc, the secret agent of the title, ultimately takes his orders from a high-level diplomat in the Russian Embassy in London.
Joseph Conrad (originally Józef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski) was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. 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.
- Penguin Classics
- Joseph Conrad
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London in The Secret Agent is like a dank, foetid aquarium, where very odd fish are going about their furtive business. Conrad’s manipulation of the timeframe of his narrative is a stunning achievement that maximises tension and emotional impact; I am not aware of any novel before The Secret Agent that attempts this chronological sleight of hand.
Theatre O’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel ‘The Secret Agent’ starts with an explosion. In slow motion, the actors cascade about the stage having been thrown by an invisible force.
- Chapter I
- Chapter II
- Chapter III
- Chapter IV
- Chapter V
- Chapter Vi
- Chapter VII
- Chapter VIII
- Chapter IX
- Chapter X
Mr Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominallyin charge of his brother-in-law. It could be done, becausethere was very little business at any time, and practically noneat all before the evening. Mr Verloc cared but little abouthis ostensible business. And, moreover, his wife was incharge of his brother-in-law. The shop was small, and so was the house. It was one ofthose grimy brick houses which existed in large quantities beforethe era of reconstruction dawned upon London. The shop wasa square box of a place, with the front glazed in smallpanes. In the daytime the door remained closed; in theevening it stood discreetly but suspiciously ajar. The window contained photographs of more or less undresseddancing girls; nondescript packages in wrappers like patentmedicines; closed yellow paper envelopes, very flimsy, and markedtwo-and-six in heavy black figures; a few numbers of ancientFrench comic publications hung across a string as if to dry; adingy blue china bowl, a cask...
Such was the house, the household, and the business Mr Verlocleft behind him on his way westward at the hour of half-past tenin the morning. It was unusually early for him; his wholeperson exhaled the charm of almost dewy freshness; he wore hisblue cloth overcoat unbuttoned; his boots were shiny; his cheeks,freshly shaven, had a sort of gloss; and even his heavy-liddedeyes, refreshed by a night of peaceful slumber, sent out glancesof comparative alertness. Through the park railings theseglances beheld men and women riding in the Row, couples canteringpast harmoniously, others advancing sedately at a walk, loiteringgroups of three or four, solitary horsemen looking unsociable,and solitary women followed at a long distance by a groom with acockade to his hat and a leather belt over his tight-fittingcoat. Carriages went bowling by, mostly two-horsebroughams, with here and there a victoria with the skin of somewild beast inside and a woman’s face and hat emerging abovethe folded hood. A...
“ . . . All idealisation makes life poorer. Tobeautify it is to take away its character of complexity—itis to destroy it. Leave that to the moralists, myboy. History is made by men, but they do not make it intheir heads. The ideas that are born in their consciousnessplay an insignificant part in the march of events. Historyis dominated and determined by the tool and theproduction—by the force of economic conditions. Capitalism has made socialism, and the laws made by thecapitalism for the protection of property are responsible foranarchism. No one can tell what form the socialorganisation may take in the future. Then why indulge inprophetic phantasies? At best they can only interpret themind of the prophet, and can have no objective value. Leavethat pastime to the moralists, my boy.” Michaelis, the ticket-of-leave apostle, was speaking in aneven voice, a voice that wheezed as if deadened and oppressed bythe layer of fat on his chest. He had come out of a highlyhygienic prison round...
Most of the thirty or so little tables covered by red clothswith a white design stood ranged at right angles to the deepbrown wainscoting of the underground hall. Bronzechandeliers with many globes depended from the low, slightlyvaulted ceiling, and the fresco paintings ran flat and dull allround the walls without windows, representing scenes of the chaseand of outdoor revelry in mediæval costumes. Varletsin green jerkins brandished hunting knives and raised on hightankards of foaming beer. “Unless I am very much mistaken, you are the man whowould know the inside of this confounded affair,” said therobust Ossipon, leaning over, his elbows far out on the table andhis feet tucked back completely under his chair. His eyesstared with wild eagerness. An upright semi-grand piano near the door, flanked by twopalms in pots, executed suddenly all by itself a valse tune withaggressive virtuosity. The din it raised wasdeafening. When it ceased, as abruptly as it had started,the be-spectacled,...
The Professor had turned into a street to the left, and walkedalong, with his head carried rigidly erect, in a crowd whoseevery individual almost overtopped his stunted stature. Itwas vain to pretend to himself that he was notdisappointed. But that was mere feeling; the stoicism ofhis thought could not be disturbed by this or any otherfailure. Next time, or the time after next, a tellingstroke would be delivered—something really startling—a blowfit to open the first crack in the imposing front of the greatedifice of legal conceptions sheltering the atrocious injusticeof society. Of humble origin, and with an appearance reallyso mean as to stand in the way of his considerable naturalabilities, his imagination had been fired early by the tales ofmen rising from the depths of poverty to positions of authorityand affluence. The extreme, almost ascetic purity of histhought, combined with an astounding ignorance of worldlyconditions, had set before him a goal of power and prestige to beat...
The lady patroness of Michaelis, the ticket-of-leave apostleof humanitarian hopes, was one of the most influential anddistinguished connections of the Assistant Commissioner’swife, whom she called Annie, and treated still rather as a notvery wise and utterly inexperienced young girl. But she hadconsented to accept him on a friendly footing, which was by nomeans the case with all of his wife’s influentialconnections. Married young and splendidly at some remoteepoch of the past, she had had for a time a close view of greataffairs and even of some great men. She herself was a greatlady. Old now in the number of her years, she had that sortof exceptional temperament which defies time with scornfuldisregard, as if it were a rather vulgar convention submitted toby the mass of inferior mankind. Many other conventionseasier to set aside, alas! failed to obtain her recognition, alsoon temperamental grounds—either because they bored her, orelse because they stood in the way of her scorns ands...
The Assistant Commissioner walked along a short and narrowstreet like a wet, muddy trench, then crossing a very broadthoroughfare entered a public edifice, and sought speech with ayoung private secretary (unpaid) of a great personage. This fair, smooth-faced young man, whose symmetricallyarranged hair gave him the air of a large and neat schoolboy, metthe Assistant Commissioner’s request with a doubtful look,and spoke with bated breath. “Would he see you? I don’t know aboutthat. He has walked over from the House an hour ago to talkwith the permanent Under-Secretary, and now he’s ready towalk back again. He might have sent for him; but he does itfor the sake of a little exercise, I suppose. It’sall the exercise he can find time for while this sessionlasts. I don’t complain; I rather enjoy these littlestrolls. He leans on my arm, and doesn’t open hislips. But, I say, he’s very tired,and—well—not in the sweetest of tempers justnow.” “It’s in connection with that Greenwichaffair.” “Oh!...
Having infused by persistent importunities some sort of heatinto the chilly interest of several licensed victuallers (theacquaintances once upon a time of her late unlucky husband), MrsVerloc’s mother had at last secured her admission tocertain almshouses founded by a wealthy innkeeper for thedestitute widows of the trade. This end, conceived in the astuteness of her uneasy heart, theold woman had pursued with secrecy and determination. Thatwas the time when her daughter Winnie could not help passing aremark to Mr Verloc that “mother has been spendinghalf-crowns and five shillings almost every day this last week incab fares.” But the remark was not madegrudgingly. Winnie respected her mother’sinfirmities. She was only a little surprised at this suddenmania for locomotion. Mr Verloc, who was sufficientlymagnificent in his way, had grunted the remark impatiently asideas interfering with his meditations. These were frequent,deep, and prolonged; they bore upon a matter more important th...
Mr Verloc returning from the Continent at the end of ten days,brought back a mind evidently unrefreshed by the wonders offoreign travel and a countenance unlighted by the joys ofhome-coming. He entered in the clatter of the shop bellwith an air of sombre and vexed exhaustion. His bag inhand, his head lowered, he strode straight behind the counter,and let himself fall into the chair, as though he had tramped allthe way from Dover. It was early morning. Stevie,dusting various objects displayed in the front windows, turned togape at him with reverence and awe. “Here!” said Mr Verloc, giving a slight kick tothe gladstone bag on the floor; and Stevie flung himself upon it,seized it, bore it off with triumphant devotion. He was soprompt that Mr Verloc was distinctly surprised. Already at the clatter of the shop bell Mrs Neale,blackleading the parlour grate, had looked through the door, andrising from her knees had gone, aproned, and grimy witheverlasting toil, to tell Mrs Verloc in the ki...
The Assistant Commissioner, driven rapidly in a hansom fromthe neighbourhood of Soho in the direction of Westminster, gotout at the very centre of the Empire on which the sun neversets. Some stalwart constables, who did not seemparticularly impressed by the duty of watching the august spot,saluted him. Penetrating through a portal by no means loftyinto the precincts of the House which is the House, parexcellencein the minds of many millions of men, he was metat last by the volatile and revolutionary Toodles. That neat and nice young man concealed his astonishment at theearly appearance of the Assistant Commissioner, whom he had beentold to look out for some time about midnight. His turningup so early he concluded to be the sign that things, whateverthey were, had gone wrong. With an extremely readysympathy, which in nice youngsters goes often with a joyoustemperament, he felt sorry for the great Presence he called“The Chief,” and also for the Assistant Commissioner,whose face appear...
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.
Adolf Verloc, a secret agent in the employ of the Embassy, has been embedded in the socialist Red Committee in London.
The Secret Agent – plot summary The novel is set in London in 1886. Adolf Verloc runs a shop which sells pornographic material, stationery, and contraceptives. This is a cover for his activity as a secret agent.