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The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Oxford World's Classics) Reprint Edition

127 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199536351
ISBN-10: 019953635X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

One of Conrad's supreme masterpieces. . . .one of the unquestioned classics of the first order that he added to the English novel. --F. R. Leavis --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

Book Description

The Secret Agent (1907) is a compelling tale of espionage and terrorism set in Edwardian London. This new edition is based on a painstaking comparison of the original manuscript of the work. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (August 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019953635X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199536351
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.9 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Bill R. Moore on February 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
The Secret Agent was a major risk for Joseph Conrad, a London tale of international political intrigue far removed from the symbolic sea adventures he had previously written. That it is not only one of his greatest triumphs but also one of the best novels of its kind testifies to his greatness. The diversity it introduced to his canon is truly remarkable; very few writers have works so different in nearly every respect. It is thus essential not only for those who like his other work but also for those who do not.

The immediate subjects are terrorism and anarchism, and I know of no work that uses them with more brilliance or verisimilitude. Conrad's Preface says that he thought it a high compliment when terrorists and anarchists praised its realism, and he indeed deserved it. He brings this truly underground world vividly to life, depicting everything from speech to customs to dress in believable detail. The vast majority of course want nothing to do with such a world, but the peek is undeniably fascinating. Conrad's psychological insight is particularly intriguing and valuable. All this brings up the important - some would say central - point of how Conrad views these characters. That terrorists and other unsavory personages have been sympathetic to it - particularly the Unabomber's obsession with it - seems to strongly suggest that Conrad leans toward them, but a close reading of the text or mere glance at his Preface shows otherwise. He clearly has nothing but contempt for them; this comes across forcefully in the narrator's ironic mockery and Conrad's noting that Winnie Verloc is the only true anarchist - a terrorist jab if ever one existed. In his view, they were pretentious, portentous, and above all, simply ineffectual with greatly exaggerated self-importance.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By mp on June 2, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel, "The Secret Agent," is a difficult little book. It's story is difficult and its characters are largely unpleasant. By difficult and unpleasant, I don't mean to say the novel isn't any good. Far from it. These terms I mean to denote the impenetrability of motive, of sense. The story of a group of anarchists, police, and a family caught in the middle in late Victorian England, "The Secret Agent" is far from Conrad's subtitle, "A Simple Tale". The novel, for me, is about hatred, mistrust, and breakdowns in communication.
"The Secret Agent" begins early one morning in 1886. Mr. Verloc, a secret agent for a foreign embassy, who lives in a small apartment with his wife Winnie, her mentally ill brother, Stevie, and their mother. Keeping an eye on a particularly ineffectual anarchist community in London, Verloc pretends to be an anarchist revolutionary himself. As the novel opens, Verloc is called in by his new employer Mr. Vladimir. Vladimir, discontented with the apparent lack of production out of his secret agent, and even further with the lackadaisical English police, wants Verloc to act as an agent provocateur, and arrange for a bomb to spur the English government to crack down on the legal system. As religion and royalty are, according to Vladimir, no longer strong enough emotional ties to the people, an attack must be made upon "Science," and he selects the Greenwich Observatory as the appropriate site for action.
The novel introduces us to a range of wholly unsympathetic characters.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By TheIrrationalMan on November 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
The major event of the plot is an anarchist conspiracy to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. An "agent provocateur", Verloc, is the man caught in the middle, a pawn in a game played by a high-ranking Russian diplomat, a leading police inspector and, on the other side, the sometimes clumsy and ineffectual anarchists. One example of the characterisation immediately sticks in the mind of the reader, long after completing the novel. It is the character of the mysterious Professor, a misanthrope and angel of destruction, who supplies Verloc with the explosives needed to carry out the plot and who embodies nihilism at its most extreme. Joseph Conrad is known for his dense and sometimes contorted prose, and the style of "The Secret Agent" is no exception. Though no great storyteller, he nevertheless demonstrates that he is a psychologist of the first order, in his searching analyses of character and motive. The novel is partly a domestic tragedy, a highly innovative and experimental early Modernist work, a darkly humorous tale with lashings of "schadenfreude" and an esponage thriller that anticipates, in many ways, the best and most recent examples of the genre.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Jordan on October 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
At the end of the novel Comrade Ossipon says, "An impenetrable mystery...this act of madness or despair." He is thinking about what Winnie has done. He cannot fathom it. The novel is unfathomable too; dense, twisting, sordid, ironic. There are some great scenes in this book. At the end, Verloc thinks Winnie truly loves him when in fact she doesn't, and never has; she had always loved the butcher. The horse scene where Stevie pets the old mistreated horse also comes to mind.

The only character Conrad has sympathy for is Stevie, and he gets blown to bits. Stevie is the only one who can truly show love. Ironically, he's mentally retarded. Everyone else is manipulative and calculating.

The book was published in 1906, some 50 or so years after Das Capital, The Communist Manifesto, etc. were published. Europe was swarming with "revolutionists" and "anarchists." Journalists were writing about "the people" and "the masses" and "social justice." Conrad was no dummy. He analyzed what was going on around him in England, France, Germany, etc., then he wrote this book as an "answer" to the socialists, anarchists. This is probably one of the most supremely ironical novels ever written. Stevie's demise is meaningless; there is absolutely no sense or purpose to it. The anarchist world in the novel is meaningless, peopled by sordid, parasitic rabble-rousers and journalists. Even Heat, the Assistant Commissioner, Sir Ethelred, the Assistant Commissioner's wife, the lady patroness, the "good side"--none of them without guilt. They too are schemers, calculating their social advancement. Like a coin, they are just the flip side of the socialits'. The whole society is corrupt, socialist and police alike. In repugnance, Conrad just blows up the whole damn mess.
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