Inspired by an actual terrorist attack on Greenwich Laboratory in 1894 ‘The Secret Agent’ is arguably Conrad’s greatest work. Mr. Verloc, the spy, is roused to action by his masters. He is to instigate an act ‘of destructive ferocity so absurd as to be incomprehensible, inexplicable, almost unthinkable; in fact, mad’. All does not run smoothly however and leads to Mr Verloc’s wife, Winnie, demonstrating how quickly rational equilibrium can change to frenzied destruction. Setting his story in a subterranean grimy London peopled by deceptive, dishonourable characters, Conrad not only reminds us of the futility of mindless aggression but also of how near it is to the surface of human behaviour.
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