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Joseph Conrad

The Secret Agent

The place is London, and the time is the late 1800s. Mr. Verloc appears to be an unassuming owner of a bric-a-brac store, but he’s actually a spy for an unnamed country. When he’s summoned by his superiors and ordered to plant a bomb to foment unrest in English politics and society, he finds himself stuck in a more-than-uncomfortable situation.
Conrad’s novel is set against the background of the Greenwich Observatory bombing, in which an anarchist unsuccessfully tried to detonate a bomb near the building. Terrorist activity was on the rise, and Conrad uses the fear and uncertainty of the time to explore the meanings of duty and of evil, along with the influence politics and political movements have on terrorist violence.
The Secret Agent is widely considered one of Conrad’s finest novels, with modern critics praising its prescient forecast of 20th century politics and society.
355 printed pages
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Quotes

  • Ali Alizadehhas quoted7 months ago
    The shop was a square box of a place, with the front glazed in small panes.
  • Suwitri Novita Sanjiwanihas quoted9 years ago
    George Ramsay
    Rachel Daniels
  • Ilias Aitkalievhas quoted9 years ago
    their overcoats turned right up to their moustaches, and traces of mud on the bottom of their nether garments, which had the appearance of being much worn and not very valuable. And the legs inside them did not, as a general rule, seem of much account either. With their hands plunged deep in the side pockets of their coats, they dodged in sideways, one shoulder first, as if afraid to start the bell going.

    The bell, hung on the door by means of a curved ribbon of steel, was difficult to circumvent. It was hopelessly cracked; but of an evening, at the slightest provocation, it clattered behind the customer with impudent virulence.

    It clattered; and at that signal, through the dusty glass door behind the painted deal counter, Mr Verloc would issue hastily from the parlour at the back. His eyes were naturally heavy; he had an air of having wallowed, fully dressed, all day on an unmade bed. Another man would have felt such an appearance a distinct disadvantage. In a commercial transaction of the retail order much depends on the seller's engaging and amiable aspect. But Mr Verloc knew his business, and remained undisturbed by any sort of aesthetic doubt about his appearance. With a firm, steady-eyed impudence, which seemed to hold back the threat of some abominable menace, he would proceed to sell over the counter some object looking obviously and scandalously not worth the money which passed in the transaction: a small cardboard box with apparently nothing inside, for instance, or one of those carefully closed yellow flimsy envelopes, or a soiled volume in paper covers with a promising title. Now and then it happened that one of the faded, yellow dancing girls would get sold to an amateur, as though she had been alive and young.

    Sometimes it was Mrs Verloc who would appear at the call of the cracked bell. Winnie Verloc was a young woman with a full bust, in a tight bodice, and with broad hips. Her hair was very tidy. Steady-eyed like her husband, she preserved an air of unfathomable indifference behind the rampart of the counter. Then the customer of comparatively tender years would get suddenly disconcerted at having to deal with a woman, and with rage in his heart would proffer a request for a bottle of marking ink, retail value sixpence (price in Verloc's shop one-and-sixpence), which, once outside, he would drop stealthily into the gutter.

    The evening visitors--the men with collars turned up and soft hats rammed down--nodded familiarly to Mrs Verloc, and with a muttered greeting, lifted up the flap at the end of the counter in order to pass into the back parlour, which gave access to a passage and to a steep flight of stairs. The door of the shop was the only means of entrance to the house in which Mr Verloc carried on his business of a seller of shady wares, exercised his vocation of a protector of society, and cultivated his domestic virtues. These last were pronounced. He was thoroughly domesticated. Neither his spiritual, nor his mental, nor his physical needs were of the kind to take him much abroad. He found at home the ease of his body and the peace of his conscience, together with Mrs Verloc's wifel

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