Tag Archives: The Secret Agent


The Anarchism of Joseph Conrad

In his 1961 novel, Mother Night, author Kurt Vonnegut famously paraphrased Nietszche, writing: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Vonnegut’s American protagonist, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., opens Mother Night by describing himself as a Nazi “by reputation.” During World War II, he has served […]


Friends with Words

Just after the turn of the century, Joseph Conrad partnered with Ford Madox Ford to write three novels, beginning with The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story. They’re not great novels, nor were they received as such on publication. Conrad would later dub the partnership the “fatal collaboration.” The friendship would flame out by 1909, and both […]


Stolen Lives

It should be clear by now that Henry James and Upton Sinclair are hardly the only 20th century authors to enjoy generous, wide-ranging afterlives in contemporary works. On the spectrum of life-to-lit authenticity, author Lawrence Thornton’s fictional treatment of Joseph Conrad falls somewhere between Chris Bachelder’s wildly imaginative rumpus with Sinclair, U.S.!, and two relatively […]


Friday Fun: Hit by a Bus

In 2009, Slate’s Explainer asked and answered: “When did getting “hit by a bus” become the standard image of unexpected catastrophe?” They credit Joseph Conrad, more specifically his protagonist (of sorts), Mr. Verloc, with the earliest accident-related usage: But just try to understand that it was a pure accident; as much an accident as if […]


Conrad on Writing

From Conrad’s short 1905 essay on Books: To be hopeful in an artistic sense it is not necessary to think that the world is good. It is enough to believe that there is no impossibility of its being made so. If the flight of imaginative thought may be allowed to rise superior to many moralities […]


Life in Brief: Joseph Conrad

3 Dec. 1857:         Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski born in Berdichev, Ukraine to a Polish family 1861:                      His father Apollo is arrested by Russian authorities in Warsaw and exiled to Vologda 1865:                      His mother Ewelina dies of tuberculosis 1869:                  … becomes an orphan at age 11 when Apollo dies in Kraków, Poland 1874:                  … travels to Marseilles to sail after failing […]


Friday Fun: Sabotage

Alfred Hitchcock (liberally) adapted Conrad’s novel in 1936 as Sabotage. It’s an entertaining, concise and sometimes chilling variation on the novel. Hard to imagine, though, that there are many other suspense films that open with a close-up of a dictionary page… Quentin Tarantino incorporated one clip from the film into his 2009 movie Inglorious Basterds. […]

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Quotable: Joseph Conrad

Troubled thoughts from a stormy mind, venting itself in an 1894 letter to distant cousin, fellow writer and confidant Marguerite Poradowska: But you are afraid of yourself; of the inseparable being forever at your side – master and slave, victim and executioner – who suffers and causes suffering. That’s how it is! One must drag […]


1907: The Secret Agent

Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent may have begun as “a simple tale,” words incorporated into the novel’s full title, but in less than a year it grew into something more complex and enduring, because of its Ukrainian-born, Polish author’s unusual, circuitous literary talents – English was his third language – and a topic that continues […]