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The Secret Agent - A Year In The Life

This is not a diary to aid his memory, but a tool for his bosses to know who his contacts. In fact, thanks to this list, the Central can evaluate the quality of the ongoing contacts, can provide information on the people in the list, or warn in case of dangerous relations.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

But, above all, the list will be extremely useful if an agent is compromised. In which case, the agent not only endangers himself, but also compromises a long work, a number of other people and exposes facts that should have been concealed. Along with the agent, also a number of procedures that are followed while carrying out an operation are compromised.

During his public meetings, he might meet agents or sources from other intelligence agencies. They are like him: And when they pretend they do so, they could be spreading disinformation. In the myriad of work-related contacts, some are accidental, while others are not. They can range from the stability of a regime, to some illegal traffic, to the production of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, armed forces and so forth. There are people who hang out where our informational target lies and through them it is possible to obtain details and information.

The process is pretty straightforward: This requires a good dose of groundwork in order to plan your moves. In both cases — and this is where the ability of an agent comes into play — it is crucial to establish a certain degree of intimacy or familiarity with these people. The fact that their social status might differ requires some flexibility in our behavior.

And this is not always an easy task because the people an agent meets are usually foreigners, with different behavioral stereotypes, different cultures, different scusceptibilities and relational patterns. In most cases it is hard to discuss certain topics because of prejudices, shyness, surliness or confidentiality. The intelligence operative has to be both a sociologist and a psychologist, and has to be capable of overcoming any character trait or behavior to become close to that one person.

He will be able to use the passions and weaknesses we all have, or could exploit vanity, pride, family relations. A small gift here and there, a favor at the right time, an act of courtesy to wife or children, sharing a common hobby or the same opinions and prejudices.

He usually does so without realizing he is revealing a secret that is of interest to us. He does so unconsciously, while keeping up with the discussion, or during an argument. Or to show off what he knows, to fuel his ego and narcissism. Either way, everything has to happen spontaneously. There are no direct questions on the topic the agent is after, because this could arouse suspicion. Two people talk about a number of things, and yet, at some point, you end up talking about a certain topic.

And when this happens, the agent never gives away his interest, but behaves as if this was a futile or secondary part of the discussion. Furthermore, he ought to discredit the information in order to stimulate the counterpart to add more details. In the role-playing, it is not the agent who wants to know, but rather his interlocutor who feels the need to speak out. It is the technique of maieutics. This is a story of love, hate, betrayal, insanity, and a peculiar misanthropy that seems a ubiquitous theme to Conrad's work.

View all 4 comments. In the aftermath of a tragedy people often look towards artists, towards novelists, musicians and poets also, for comfort, the kind of comfort one finds when someone is able to capture an event, or feelings, that you yourself find incomprehensible or unfathomable or inexpressible. Yet, there is something about the The Secret Agent, something about the particular brand of terrorism that it deals with, that people often choose to ignore or simply misunderstand; or perhaps, if one was being especially cynical, which I almost always am, one might wonder if a lot of the journalists who put the book forward have actually read it.

Adolf [yes, Adolf] Verloc has two jobs. One is to run a seedy shop in London with his wife and her simple-minded brother, and the other is as the secret agent of the title. However, Verloc is no James Bond; he is an observer, and informer; that is, until one day he is told, by the shady Mr. Vladimir, who is some kind of foreign ambassador, that observation is not enough. He must, says Vladimir, prove to be indispensable if he wants to remain on the payroll.

And they have the political power still, if they only had the sense to use it for their preservation. I suppose you agree the middle-classes are stupid? They are blinded by an idiotic vanity. What they want just now is a jolly good scare. So, far from providing balm for the masses, The Secret Agent is actually more likely to fuel conspiracy theories; its take on the political world is, in fact, far closer to the popular conspiracy theory that the World Trade Centre attacks were an inside job, that they were brought down in order to give the US government a reason to wage war in the Middle East.

One of the first things you will notice about The Secret Agent is that although the novel is purported to be set in London, there is not a great deal that is recognisably English about it. All of the revolutionaries, for example, have continental-sounding names — Ossipon, Verloc, Michaelis, etc — despite it being the case that they are meant to be British citizens. For a novel so obviously, relentlessly, political and satirical it would be easy to see the characters as mere symbols, or representations, or one-dimensional puppets. Yet there is also a strong human aspect to the work.

First of all, there is the conflict resulting from the task given to Verloc, by which I mean that of the observer who is forced to be an active participant. As one would imagine, if you force someone to act who is more suited to observing the consequences are likely to be disastrous. Secondly, there is the relationship between the simple-minded Stevie and the Verlocs. Stevie does have a representative or symbolic function in the novel: Verloc himself [as well as perhaps all revolutionaries].

Yet he also provides the most tender moments in the book, such as his sympathy for the whipped horse and the poor driver of the horse, and all of the tragedy. Stevie is a tragic figure because he is a wholly trusting and loving brother and brother-in-law. Verloc sacrifices herself in order to provide a safe and comfortable home for him, while Mr. Verloc ultimately takes advantage of him in an apparently mindless, yet cruel manner. Indeed, if you were to be brutally honest, this over-reliance on certain words, and excessive number of adverbs, is the kind of thing you would expect from the most amateur of YA authors, not one of the most renowned novelists of the 20th century.

So, does this mean that Conrad was a bad writer? Or that The Secret Agent is a badly written book? That is certainly one way to look at it. One might say that as Conrad was a Pole writing in English it is understandable that his vocabulary would be limited and his sentences idiosyncratic. All of his novels are dense and difficult but, unless my memory is faulty, this is the only one written in this particular way. This suggests that these flaws were perhaps intentional, that it was a style choice. However, one is then, of course, faced with coming up with some way of justifying that style choice.

The repetition, the overall strange writing style, to some extent makes the reader feel how the characters themselves feel; it is, whether one likes it or not, disorientating, and that does not strike me as a coincidence. In the early part of the novel each new chapter deals with a different character, often introducing a previously unknown one.

Rather than follow Verloc as he carries out his assigned task, the narrative moves around, shifts perspective; and during each of these shifts characters will discuss both past and present events, thereby only gradually revealing what is going on.

A Day In The Life Of A Secret Agent

For example, one finds out during an early chapter featuring Ossipon and the Professor that someone has blown themselves up, and that it is assumed that it is Verloc. There is, therefore, no linear timeline of events; much like a detective, you have to piece together the timeline yourself, and this is particularly satisfying. However, towards the end of the novel the focus narrows, and in the last 50 or so pages Mrs. Verloc comes to the fore. There is a long passage between her and her husband that is difficult to discuss without spoilers, but it is a truly brilliant piece of writing.

Conrad manages to show grief and shock in a way that is more accurate and moving than I thought possible in a novel. For me, it is worth reading The Secret Agent for this long passage alone. It may not be The Great Terrorism Novel, it may not comfort the masses the next time a bomb explodes, scattering far and wide the flesh of hundreds or thousands of destroyed bodies, but it is a fucking great book.

View all 51 comments. Mar 23, Piyangie rated it liked it Shelves: The Secret Agent is by far the most complex classic I read for this year.

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It is a classic which is conceptually modern. Built on the themes of espionage, double agents, government policies, politics, terrorism and revolutionaries, it is a dark and tragic tale, and even brutal at times. In the heart of the story is a secret agent, his double life and his unsuspecting family. The whole story is knitted around them. The story is presented in an episodic manner and each episode did keep the reader's The Secret Agent is by far the most complex classic I read for this year.

The story is presented in an episodic manner and each episode did keep the reader's interest. However, this episodic structure at times produced confusion and hindered the understanding of the story as a whole. The characters were cold and self centered and didn't interest me much, except perhaps the Chief Inspector and the Assistant commissioner of police. But even though I didn't like them, I enjoyed the character descriptions and psychological portrayals marvelously done by the author. I especially enjoyed the character description and the psychological portrayal of the secret agent, Mr.

His mind set up, the dangerous extent to which he was driven, his capacity to betray the trust so dearly placed on him and his willingness to sacrifice anyone to achieve his own goals and to secure his pay role is brilliantly presented. And how his actions ultimately affected his wife, her devastation and the catastrophe that befell on them too is truly and sincerely portrayed. The story was a slow start and the read took more time than usual for a short classic. But what made me take the time and read it through to the end was Conrad's excellent writing.

It was clever and witty. This is my first read of Joseph Conrad. And perhaps, this is not the right book for me to begin him with. But a glimpse in to his writing is well worth my time and effort. View all 17 comments. London muddy, rain and soot, mist and fog. In a one-eyed street in Soho, Mr. Verloc runs his small business, a very discreet shop for male customers, confidentially selling a heterogeneous set of newspapers with revolutionary tendencies and discreetly sealed shady merchandise, which are conducive to satisfying and flattering instincts of his gentlemen. The worthy trader took charge of his wife's family, wife of erased, family composed of a simple-minded and influential brother-in-law as well as London muddy, rain and soot, mist and fog.

The worthy trader took charge of his wife's family, wife of erased, family composed of a simple-minded and influential brother-in-law as well as an almost impotent mother-in-law. But under this patchy and patched blanket, Verloc became a double agent in the service of a foreign power as well as an indic of the police, while his back shop was the benchmark of a composite breed of low-level anarchists floor.

The Secret Agent

This political novel, urban, glaucous, occupies a special place in the Conradian work by the frame of its narrative and its purpose. The author's intention was to use irony as the universal mode of expression of the narrator, to treat the conspiracy subject of the instrumentalisation of the political bombing under the parodic prism. As such, it is a great success. I can appreciate this novel is pretty wonderful.

And as I read more and more I was fascinated, but I did find it hard going at the start. I think the plot is horrific, and it made me want to research the Greenwich Bomb in more detail. I think it was a pretty daring book for Conrad to release at such a time with such detailed observations on spying and terrorism.

It's still an incredibly relevant work even now in the current climate. My ratings are very moody and just generally not to be trusted. Having gotten that fact out in the open for the umpteenth time, I will say that I thought this was a very good book. Like very much, yes. I especially hearted the last-ish part with the wife and the train and ole dude's stop, drop, and roll in mid-air move because ACTION!

In fact, most of my favorite scenes involved Winnie V, while some other sections, particularly some of the more beat My ratings are very moody and just generally not to be trusted. In fact, most of my favorite scenes involved Winnie V, while some other sections, particularly some of the more beat-you-over-the-head-with-symbolism conversational scenes with BadMeanyPoliticianMens, made it an occasional slog. If I wanted to really be a cranky-puss, I would also point out how some descriptive words e. Also, I finished a book I more enjoyed reading a couple of days before this, so that definitely influenced things, and you totally, understandably care about that and must be so glad that I told you.

All in the gut, baby. Just bloody, stinkin' guts. View all 11 comments. A Simple Tale is a novel by Joseph Conrad, published in The story is set in London in and deals with Mr Adolf Verloc and his work as a spy for an unnamed country presumably Russia. The Secret Agent is one of Conrad's later political novels in which he moved away from his former tales of seafaring.

Mar 25, Sketchbook rated it it was amazing. Victorian London, amid a nest of spies and terrorists. Classic stuff fr a non-stylist who is, nonetheless, a great writer Conrad's first language was Polish, his 2d French, he wrote in English. A strong influence on Graham Greene, Conrad rips open a marital horror bet a scuzzy anarchist and his simple wife after her teen brud is killed x his bomb.

Their marriage was legalized prostitution and, in her outrage, the shattered sister becomes a murderer. Murderers had friends, relatives, helpers. A modern, psychological vein-cutter without galumphy twists, turns, surprises -- just the truthfulness of character. I spent a week poring over the last 80 pages wherein Conrad digs into the appalling madness of humanity.

View all 10 comments. If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. May 18, Jonfaith rated it it was amazing. My best friend Joel has a friend Bob who teaches at Rutgers. Nearly a decade ago, before becoming a scholarly expert on Borat, he stated that in terms of literature he wasn't going to bother with anything written later than ; what was the point, he'd quip? I admired his pluck. While I'm not sure he still ascribes to such. Well, for a couple of weeks in I adhered to the goal.

There have been many goals with a similar history and such a sad conclusion: This was my first effort towar My best friend Joel has a friend Bob who teaches at Rutgers. This was my first effort towards that goal and what an amazing novel it is. The devices employed are grim and effective. A first time read of the author and perhaps this might not have been the novel to start with.

Found the first half of the novel confusing and convoluted although the story did gain some momentum in the second half and become engrossing. A novel of spies, espionage and terrorism in the late 's. One of those novels that you have an inkling early on that won't end well for the characters involved. View all 3 comments. Descubra nessa novela magistral: I think this is one of the finest novels of the 20th Century for the following reasons: For a reader such as myself, who likes to get lost in tangential thoughts mid-sentence, Conrad offers a warm bath we can soak in.

I often just let the sentences flow over me in waves of color and music I usually read Faulkner this way too , but if I want to stop and extract all the meaning from one of his dense little beauties I just pull the golden ribbon and what appears to b I think this is one of the finest novels of the 20th Century for the following reasons: I often just let the sentences flow over me in waves of color and music I usually read Faulkner this way too , but if I want to stop and extract all the meaning from one of his dense little beauties I just pull the golden ribbon and what appears to be a knot of words opens up nicely.

I have tried unraveling some of Faulkner's and McCarthy's sentences this way and found myself baffled. Conrad's style reminds me a lot of the elegance, albeit to a far lesser degree, that Nabokov wrote with. Maybe those who approach English from the outside can see and do things we who grew up with it can't. For Conrad, I believe, what goes on inside a person's head is at least as important as how they act in the world. Perhaps more important, because understanding motive is the key. With out understanding motive all action, even terrorist acts, are random.

I believe Conrad is correct when he exposes characters as being at the whim of their own emotional needs; he gets deep in the heads of anarchists, spies, policemen and quiet little housewives and shows that they all pretty much are driven by the need to feel secure, or to be protectors, or have their egos stroked. Many characters believe they are acting in selfless support of a cause be it anarchy or rule of law but ultimately all are driven by impulses they are probably unaware of. And so, dear reader, are you and me. Conrad was not the first to make this observation but he presents it in such a way as to make it really strike home.

I'm sure there is a lot of other important stuff in the book too, but this was just the main one that I felt. I love Chapter Six, in which a Chief Inspector of the police is conversing with his superior. Between each line of dialogue Conrad gives us paragraphs of internal thought - in short he makes a mockery of that "show, don't tell" rule that is supposed to apply to good writing. Conrad tells everything , and it works! This should bore me to death, but it actually stimulates my thinking. Later in the novel Chapter Eleven , this dragging out of the action by all the interior stuff raises an already tense scene to an almost unbearable level of tension.

It is incredibly effective, but I fear too many busy modern readers just don't have the patience for it. That's one sign of a great book, isn't it? This isn't some dusty classic that explores issues only related to historical events. It speaks to us, now, in a voice that is urgent and vital. Nov 11, Ivana Books Are Magic rated it it was amazing.

When I saw it referenced in a book I was reading, I decided that it was going to be the next novel I was going to read. Well, it is not a common theme in literature period. How many really good novels were written about terrorism? There are plenty of books written about terrorism mostly by journalists and political analyst , but in the literary world it still seems to be somewhat of a taboo.

Interesting that today when terrorism is so wide spread - it not as a common theme in literature as one might expect. So, it was certainly fascinating seeing that someone explored this subject a while back. Having read it, I can say that it does more than just create a plot around a terrorist act. I would say Conrad handled the subject matter very well. By creating a protagonist who becomes a terrorist only to keep his job as a secret agent that he desperately needs so he would be able to support his family , he added an ironic twist to the narrative.

Verloc is by no means a likeable character. Yet, there is something very tragic about his life. Supposedly, Mata Hari was killed not because she spied for the Germans but because she failed to supply her employers with any kind of valuable information so they decided to use her as a scapegoat and let her take the fall, correctly figuring out that nobody will miss an aging dancer turned prostitute. Verloc reminded me of her. He is an easy pray for someone like Mr. The blending of domestic and personal tragedies with political schemes and madness was done particularly well.

Secret agents are supposed to fight off terrorists, not become terrorists themselves- or are they? Unemployment, lack of money, poverty- those are the motifs behind many actions. There is no place for romanticism here. How much does an average person hide? How much do we hide from ourselves and others? What are our secrets? A reminder that- both as individuals and society, we all seem to hide a lot. The atmosphere of isolation seemed to be particularly strong in this one. There is a lot of irony written in dialogues, it is very present in the discourse between characters and it only strengthens this feeling.

The sinister side of organized power appears as potentially horrifying as the violent madness of anarchism. The conversations between anarchists chilled my blood.

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The fact that many of them in this novel are pathetic figures who prefer talking to doing, doesn't make them less scary. The fascination with death, the desire to end it all- these things are very real. Moreover, these feelings 'of wanting it all to end' can be found in present days as well. The sort of moral ambiguity that is so prevalent today is a slippery ground.

Anarchism flourishes easily on the fertile land of moral ambiguity. When it comes to describing every physical and psychological aspect of his time, this writer really takes his time- to the point it can be distracting to the narrative. It did take me a long time to read it, but to be fair- it was no fault of this novel. The only fault I could find with the novel is a bit of unbalance. Conrad is amazing when it comes to drawing incredibly detailed portraits of all of his characters, but there was a point when the combination of profound soul searching and the succession of characters felt overwhelming.

I did enjoy reading this one and for the most part the plot seemed well developed. I only struggled a bit when it came to the middle of the novel. At times I even struggled with keeping my focus, but in the end it was more than worth it. The ending was immensely powerful. The actions of one female character and her complete transformation caught me completely by surprise, but all the same- it made perfect sense in the context of this sad story.


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I felt like I saw another side to Conrad, another style of writing that is more bitter and naturalistic than poetic, but equally brilliant. Would I recommend it? It is an original and a though-provoking novel, albeit a rather depressive one. May 13, J.


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First published in , this spy fiction might be a literary adventure to those unfamiliar with Joseph Conrad's writing style enriched by apt, scholarly words and idioms admirable for his writing as his third language. From its 13 chapters, I found reading its first three fourths confusing due to its plot; however, I kept reading and gradually saw the light around Chapters onwards. Then I enjoyed reading Chapter 11 in which I christened by noting as a tragic chapter since all episodes horr First published in , this spy fiction might be a literary adventure to those unfamiliar with Joseph Conrad's writing style enriched by apt, scholarly words and idioms admirable for his writing as his third language.

Then I enjoyed reading Chapter 11 in which I christened by noting as a tragic chapter since all episodes horribly and unimaginably reached the climax. Interestingly, in Chapter 2 alone, Conrad has repeatedly kept using the words 'husky', 'huskily' to reveal how Mr. Verloc responds to his employers p. Verloc said, with convinced modulations in his conversational husky tone. What were you pleased to say? Verloc stated huskily that he did. Verloc's husky conversational voice was heard speaking of youth, Verloc tried to exculpate himself huskily.

Verloc defended himself huskily, Verloc raised his husky voice slightly. So I could not help thinking if the novelist enjoys word-playing or, with my respect, he possibly runs out of their synonyms which is unthinkable for his admiring readers. That's my humble statement and, I'm sure, we still enjoy reading him with such a unique style.

Just a few pages after the beginning of Chapter 9, Mrs. Verloc surprisingly encourages her husband to let Stevie her brother go with him and we can see how he reacts from this excerpt: In the afternoon of the same day, as Mr. Verloc, coming with a start out of the last of a long series of dozes before the parlour fire, declared his intention of going out for a walk, Winnie said from the shop: He stared stupidly at his wife.

She continued in her steady manner. The boy, whenever he was not doing anything, moped in the house. Verloc shook her head competently. You don't know him. That boy just worships you. But if you should miss him -- ' Mrs. Verloc paused for a moment, but only for a moment. He''ll be all right. He's sure to turn up safe here before very long.

Verloc his fourth surprise of the day. Winnie, at the shop door, did not see this fatal attendant upon Mr. She watched the two figures down the squalid street, one tall and burly, the other slight and short, with a thin neck, and the peaked shoulders raised slightly under the large semi-transparent ears. The material of their overcoats was the same, their hats were black and round in shape. Inspired by the similarity of wearing apparel, Mrs.

Verloc gave rein to her fancy. Verloc's death from which Conrad has narrated subtly till his readers hardly know or realize when it is done horribly. I'm not sure to give a verdict, that should be left to the authority of the Ministry of Justice or those in charge. We may agree that the prime motive is concerned with Stevie killed by "the premature explosion" p.

Verloc, as well as inexplicably shattered her life. Equally grief-stricken by the accident, Mr. Verloc tries his best to console his wife whose robot-like response saddens us, a few excerpts from Chapter 11 cited as follows: Verloc walked behind the counter of the shop. His intention was not to overwhelm his wife with bitter reproaches. Verloc felt no bitterness. Nothing could be helped now. Verloc felt the need of talking to his wife. He's a brute, blurting it out like this to a woman.

I made myself ill thinking how to break it to you. I sat for hours in the little parlour of Cheshire Cheese thinking over the best way. You understand I never meant any harm to come to that boy. Verloc, turning her head slowly, transferred her stare from the wall to her husband's person.