2011: 18. The Secret Agent

“Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in the charge of his brother-in-law.”

The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad

        The last time I read this was in college, in my modern British fiction class, and the memory I had was that I had really liked it (or at least, found it surprisingly accessibly to read).  And now that I’ve read more Conrad, I guess I agree that it’s easy to read - I found it easier than Nostromo, and also Lord Jim (which, ugh, I guess I need to re-read, since I guess I didn’t blog about it), but, you know, I don’t really think of Conrad as obtuse anymore, having recently re-read Heart of Darkness (spoiler - it is every bit as awesome as they say), and also read a looooot of Henry James.  

       The point of that digression is that The Secret Agent feels very different from the other Conrad I’ve read.  It’s set in London, for one thing, not some far-flung colonial outpost.  And it’s a prototypical spy novel, concerned with secret agents and anarchists and all that jazz.  But not really - since it’s never meant to be a thriller (we know who and how dunnit right from the start), but rather, an examination of how an act of terror spreads outwards and effects everyone who is tangentially involved with it with rot and destruction.  It’s a good story - I particularly was interested in Winnie Verloc, the (SPOILER) secret agent’s wife.  Winnie is a woman woman who made the best choice she could, marrying a man who could offer her the security she needed (i.e., the ability to care for her “simple” brother), and I loved how Conrad wrote about her husband - so sure that he she married him for love, and so obtuse about what was really going on.  What happens as a result of his blindness is so psychologically apt - and really that relationship, more than any spy stuff, is what makes The Secret Agent for me (oh-ho! are we to see that she is the Secret Agent is his own home? Heady stuff!)

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100, Re-Read


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017