The Secret Agent: by Joseph Conrad - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

      The Secret Agent novel by Joseph Conrad, published in 1907. Revolutionary anarchists, senior Police officers, the Home Secretary, and the mind of a half-idiot are a few of the ingredients of this 'simple tale' (as the novel is ironically sub-titled) set in contemporary London.

      Mr. Verloc's run-down Soho shop and his marriage to Winnie (which entails responsibility for her brother, the simpleton Stevie) provide cover for his secret life as a double agent. He supplies information to the Russian Agent provocateur, Vladimir, to Inspector Heat of Scotland Yard, and colludes with an underworld of anarchists. Vladimir conspires to upset the tolerant status quo between the Liberal Establishment and the revolutionary groups. Acting on his orders, Verloc provides himself with explosives from the sinister American 'professor' and enlists Stevie as helpless accomplice for an attack on the Greenwich Observatory.

      Stevie's horrifying death in Greenwich Park destroys Verloc's dependence upon both extremism and the banal domesticity which Winnie has selflessly provided. In an ironic and mocking manner, the novel depicts contradictory and self-seeking motives within the police force as well as in the anarchist world. At the Verloc's home, it is Winnie who breaks apart tlie circle of collusion: when her husband confesses to his role in Stevie's death, she stabs him with a carving knife. Winnie has been drawn into the insane world of violence. She plans to leave the country with the anarchist Ossipon, but he deserts her on learning of Wlroc’s murder. Driven to madness, Winnie jumps over board from a Channel ferry.

Analysis

      There is terrific imaginative force in The Secret Agent. It is the first novel in which Conrad has transmuted London into literature. Many novelists like Dickens have failed to perform this task but Conrad has done it so amazingly as he caught the magic of the Malay forest and the sea. The characters are alien anarchists. The most internal dramatic murder is the murder of Verloc in the whole fiction. The novelist's pictorial gift seems to be diabolical. Conrad makes us see everything that happened in the novel. The murder of Verloc is presented so precisely that it seems to be real. Nowhere is absolute truth, or profound and comprehensive Knowledge of human nature given.

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