They were discussing Conrad on Radio 4’s Front Row programme tonight pointing out the similarities between his wiring and Henry James. Have to confess I have never read any of the latter’s work but there is still time to sneak on in this year.
The more you read The Secret Agent the more there are similarities with Under Western Eyes, which is set in St Petersburg.
But where that book was a relatively straightforward narrative this one moves backwards and forwards with the bomb going off in Greenwich before the back-story is filled out. There are two stories running in parallel with the police officers trying to crack the case both having different views of who is to blame and meanwhile it emerges that it was Verloc’s brother-in-law the simpleton Stevie who tripped over a root and blew himself up.
For Verloc’s wife the news is all too much as she is still getting over the fact her mother has moved out begging a charity to put her into an alms house. She overhears her husband not only admitting to being the second man in Greenwich Park but also admitting to coming clean about his involvement as a secret agent.
Although the bombing has been a failure it still managed to cause an outrage as demanded by the Embassy paying Verloc but there is no sense of victory just disaster back at the shop. For Mrs Verloc, the really innocent party, there is a sense of blame because she suggested that her excitable brother Stevie went out for walks with her husband and then suggested that he go and stay with a well known anarchist.
Quite what will happen now the details of the bombing are starting to become clear is nowhere certain and that is because Conrad has already made things far from clear with the movement back and forth in time.