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The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent is a classic tale of political espionage, anarchism, and family secrets. Conrad published the book in 1907. It was a major shift from his usual seafaring adventure novels. The novel is seemingly about terrorism and the exploits of terrorists and the people who try to bring them down. The novel was inspired by an 1894 attempt to blow up London’s Greenwich Observatory.
The story follows Mr. Verloc, a secret agent who is also the owner of an establishment that sells pornography and other sexually-themed merchandise in London. He lives with his wife, his wife’s mother, and her brother, a mentally disabled man who requires a lot of attention. Verloc has close ties to a group of anarchists with communist leanings. They publish anarchist pamphlets and are monitored closely by the authorities. Throughout the novel, Verloc becomes increasingly entangled with the anarchist’s groups. Unbeknownst to him, his unstable brother-in-law, Stevie, hears some of the group’s agenda, and becomes increasingly disturbed by the violent plans of the group. The group’s ultimate goal is to destroy Greenwich with a bomb. Verloc’s family and his political links become inextricably entwined, culminating in a dramatic and shocking ending.
The Secret Agent has long been considered one of the great modern pieces of literature in the English language. It has been adapted into several films and television series. A 1996 film adaptation stars Gerard Depardieu and Bob Hoskins.