Inspired by an attempt in 1894 to blow up London’s Greenwich Observatory, The Secret Agent is the unsurpassed original of the long tradition of espionage thrillers that explore the confused motives at the heart of terrorism. Published in 1907, Joseph Conrad’s novel was remarkably prescient, anticipating the political contours of the next century, as well as the classic spy novels of such later writers as Graham Greene and John Le Carré.
Conrad’s double agent, Verloc, is a Russian spy tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group in London. His mission to discredit the ineffectual radicals and their cause goes awry, and involves his unsuspecting wife and her vulnerable younger brother in disastrous ways. In its use of powerful psychological insight to intensify narrative suspense, The Secret Agent broke new literary ground. Conrad was the first novelist to discover the strange, in-between territory of the political exile, and his genius was such that we still have no truer map of that region’s moral terrain than his story of a terrorist plot and its tragic consequences for both the guilty and the innocent.
Introduction by Paul Theroux