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The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 11 Mar 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New edition edition (11 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192801694
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192801692
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 1.8 x 12.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,144,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joseph Conrad (originally Józef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski) was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. His parents, ardent Polish patriots, died when he was a child, following their exile for anti-Russian activities, and he came under the protection of his tradition-conscious uncle, Thaddeus Bobrowski, who watched over him for the next twenty-five years.

In 1874 Bobrowski conceded to his nephew's passionate desire to go to sea, and Conrad travelled to Marseilles, where he served in French merchant vessels before joining a British ship in 1878 as an apprentice.

In 1886 he obtained British nationality and his Master's certificate in the British Merchant Service. Eight years later he left the sea to devote himself to writing, publishing his first novel, Almayer's Folly, in 1895. The following year he married Jessie George and eventually 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.

He continued to write until his death in 1924. Today Conrad is generally regarded as one of the greatest writers of fiction in English - his third language.

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Review

"An outstanding edition. First-time readers will welcome the eloquent introductory essay, which places The Secret Agent in the context of both Victorianism and modernism, as well as the very useful supplementary materials on anarchism and degeneration. And those already familiar with the novel will be prompted to re-read it in light of Agathocleous's claim that Conrad, along with his New Woman contemporaries, is exploring marriage and the condition of women as well." Amanda Claybaugh, Columbia University" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

'Spookily topical' - Guardian --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 16 May 2001
Format: Paperback
E.M. Forster apparently said something to the effect that Conrad's London in 'The Secret Agent' was too dark a place: a foreigners projection of European anxieties onto, in reality, a far more benevolent scene. It's true, Conrad's vision of England's capital is dark, but you'd have to say that it is no darker than, say, moments in Dickens', or even T.S. Eliot's 'Wasteland'. Developments in both the world of Crime Thrillers, and in the reality of terrorism and espionage suggest that Conrad was certainly onto something. Indeed, many now current clichés of the genre can be seen to originate from Conrad's book: mainly that the criminal and the policeman; the terrorist and the 'keeper of the peace' are not worlds apart. Few contemporary writers, however, are quite as keen and scrupulous as Conrad, who is never shy of taking us into the deepest and darkest places in the modern political psyche. Conrad's prose is as intensely atmospheric, as psychologically penetrating, and as layered with ironies as anything you will read in English. Sometimes it takes an 'outsider view' to tell you hard things about your beloved little Island. You won't get Merchant Ivory touching Conrad.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By LORD BEAU on 29 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The plot is as follows: Mr Verloc lives with his wife and her backward brother above a `stationery shop' in seedy Soho in the early 20th century. Make of that what you will but there are many fronts and shades of deception right from the start of this novel; the actual nature of the goings-on at the shop thus play a very small role. Our Mr Verloc visits a foreign embassy in chapter 2 (probably the Russians) and reluctantly agrees to carry out an `anarchist' act at Greenwich.

This is a story about how to mess up and how one sad man's foolishness and weak will have a devastating impact on a family. It takes a light-hearted but mocking look at human nature and weakness yet the subject matter is serious and does not let up.

It is quite densely written but you need to get to the end of chapter 3 as things become clearer after that. Do not be put off by the long conversation between Verloc and Vladimir in chapter 2 as this difficult meeting with the embassy official does sow the seed for the carnage that follows (and `carnage' is the correct word here).
It's an early example of a political thriller with some melodrama thrown in but don't expect a light read to start with. There is no instant gratification in tomes of this stature. However, it is a properly-crafted book by an author who knows how to manipulate the reader mercilessly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Dowden HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 May 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is part of the Penguin series that is helping to support fighting AIDs in Africa. Part of the proceeds from this will be going to charity, so while you are settled down reading this you are helping a worthwhile cause.

The great Conrad actually used a real event to write this tale, and what he describes can be seen how things used to be in this country. If you wondered why there was such a worldwide condemnation of 7/7, even greater than that for 9/11 reading this you will soon realise why. Basically if you weren't up to anything that would disrupt British policy abroad the security services may monitor you, but wouldn't necessarily get involved. The Communist Manifesto was written here, revolutions were planned from here for all over the world, and people were more or less left to get on with it, after all we were the bastion of democracy.

That out of the way I will get to the story. Verloc runs a shop but is also a secret agent, having meetings with dissidents and anarchists above the shop in his home. Verloc is really living a quite settled life, after all he has married and has taken on the responsibility of supporting his wife, her mother, and his retarded brother in law. Verloc's life isn't some rich playboy existence, but he seems happy enough scraping thorugh like everyone else. Things are about to change though, as his paymasters want to see some results.

Taking in politics, terrorism and espionage this is a very dark black comedy that has always sold well. Not a bestseller in its day, this has always had a steady market and really it should be more widely read than it is now. Unlike the spy novels that came later, there are no gadgets and loads of derring-do.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By annastam on 20 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read this for the second time, after about 6 years. Conrad definitely improves with a second (and third) reading, becomes less dense: one begins to see and savour details in description and/or characterisation which probably were missed first time round in one's desire to get on with the story (never a good tactic with Conrad). Taken slowly and benefitting from going back and re-reading passages this is a wonderful book!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Birch VINE VOICE on 10 Jan. 2007
Format: Paperback
Conrad's prose is dense, difficult and gorgeous. Before you pick up a book like this, you need to prepare yourself for an author who will happily write eight pages or so of prose between two lines in a conversation and not apologise (in fact there is, as is customary for Conrad, a self-justifying foreword). Patience will reward you with a surprising and darkly humorous tale of anarchists learning that real sources of chaos, anarchy and violence have little to do with abstract ideas.

It's not much like Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness is perhaps more important in the history of literature, but this is bigger, richer and more enjoyable. Read both.
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