By: Joaquin M-L
Mr. Verloc, a secret agent, has been told to make an attack on science, but in doing so
he will destroy something much more valuable. The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad, has and
will continue to stand the test of time. It has “served an important role in the history of literature
and/or human understanding.” The Secret Agent is still very relevant today especially here in the
United States. It is an excellent read based on the fact that people enjoy realistic fiction and that
Conrad’s writing style is extremely engaging.
The Secret Agent is an A-list book because it is still very relevant today, even
though it was written in 1907. The Secret Agent gives a possible backstory to a real life event,
the Greenwich Observatory bombing. On February 15, 1894 at 4:45 p.m., Martial Bourdin, a 26
year-old Frenchman entered Greenwich Park carrying a package. Moments later a bomb
exploded in his hands killing him. Investigators don’t know why Bourdin had a bomb or who/
what his target was. Investigators think the bomb went off due to “some mischance or
miscalculation or some clumsy bungling”. In the book, Mr. Verloc believes the Greenwich
bombing is justified and doesn’t question his superiors when they tell him to carry out the
bombing. In the past twenty years there have been more and more terrorist bombings on U.S.
soil; such as, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing in
1995, the Unabomber from 1995-1998, the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, and the Boston
Marathon bombing in 2013. These bombings were carried out by people who either believed
they were justified or were blindly following someone else’s orders.
The Greenwich Observatory Bombing was possibly the first international terrorist
incident in Great Britain which is why in 1907 people were still very interested in it. Although
The Secret Agent is fiction it gave people insight as to why Martial Bourdin might have bombed
the park on that day in 1894. In general, people enjoy reading about real life events because they
are intrigued not just by the events themselves but by the people who were involved. When so
little is known about why someone did something a book can either calm a person’s fears or
incite paranoia. Back then, The Secret Agent was a means of transportation of information to the
people in Great Britain. Nowadays, even though people have the internet they would still want
to read a book about a real life incident, especially if it provided insight about the people that
were involved in the incident. For example, many people would want to know why the Boston
Marathon bombers bombed the marathon. If there was a book written about it that included a
backstory, then people would want to read it.
The Secret Agent could be compared to The Missing series. They both provide a
backstory to real life people and events. The Missing offers an interesting backstory to numerous
missing children throughout history attributing their absences to time travel tampering. Because
these books have just enough historical facts woven into their fiction, people are willing to
accept the fiction as fact making the books that much more enjoyable.
The Secret Agent is an interesting read because Conrad’s writing style is nontraditional.
Instead of telling the story in chronological order he skips to after the bombing then to before the
bombing then to the day of the bombing without ever fully explaining the actual bombing. He
also bounces around from character to character explaining each person’s points of view. While
Conrad’s writing style may be confusing it keeps the reader’s attention. Conrad’s characters are also thoroughly developed. The first time you meet a character, Conrad describes their personality, their physical features, and their mindset. The reader can almost empathize with Mr. Verloc because Conrad’s character development is so thorough.
Even though The Secret Agent was written in 1907 it is still very relevant considering the
events of the past twenty years. Its relevancy coupled with Conrad’s writing style and engaging
backstory into the Greenwich Observatory bombing all add up as to why so many people like
this book. This book has definitely withstood the test of time and will continue to do so as long
as people search for understanding and meaning behind historical events.