Quotes from 'The Secret Agent'

Spy novel was based on real events

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Google Images/shortlist.com

The Secret Agent is a famous novel by Joseph Conrad. Set in London in 1886, it tells the story of Mr. Verloc, a secret agent, who carries out a terrorist bombing against the Greenwich Observatory, using his mentally disabled brother-in-law Stevie. The novel is based on a real incident from history: An anarchist named Martial Bourdin was killed in Greenwich Park in 1894, when the bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely.

In The Secret Agent, Conrad explores several themes, including terrorism, politics, and exploitation of the vulnerable. The novel is said to have resonated strongly with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who reportedly identified with the Professor character.

Here are some notable quotes from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent:

"Every trace of huskiness disappeared from Verloc's voice. The nape of his gross neck became crimson above the velvet collar of his overcoat. His lips quivered before they came widely open."

—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 2

"Mr. Verloc, getting off the sofa with ponderous reluctance, opened the door leading into the kitchen to get more air, and thus disclosed the innocent Stevie, seated very good and quiet at a deal table, drawing circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable."
— Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch.


"They swarmed numerous like locust, industrious like ants, thoughtless like a natural force, pushing on blind and orderly and absorbed, impervious to sentiment, to logic, to terror, too perhaps."
—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 5

"With all his healthy contempt for the spirit dictating such speeches, the atrocious allusiveness of the words had its effect of Chief Inspector Heat."
—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch.


"Michaelis had been the object of a revulsion of popular sentiment, the same sentiment which years ago had applauded the ferocity of the life sentence passed upon him for complicity in a rather mad attempt to rescue some prisoners from a police van."
—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 6

"Don't you know what the police are for, Stevie? They are there so that them as have nothing shouldn't take anything away from them who have.'"

—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 8

"The Chief Inspector snatched across the counter the cloth out of her hands, and she sat heavily on the chair. He thought: identification's perfect. And in that moment he had a glimpse into the whole amazing truth. Verloc was the 'other man'."
—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 9

"A prison was a place as safe from certain unlawful vengeances as the grave, with this advantage, that in prison there is room for hope."
—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 11

"He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men."

—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Ch. 13

More About the Works of Joseph Conrad

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    Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes from 'The Secret Agent'." ThoughtCo, Dec. 2, 2015, thoughtco.com/the-secret-agent-quotes-741361. Lombardi, Esther. (2015, December 2). Quotes from 'The Secret Agent'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-secret-agent-quotes-741361 Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes from 'The Secret Agent'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-secret-agent-quotes-741361 (accessed December 18, 2017).