Contemporary Reactions

One of the first reviews of The Secret Agent was in "Country Life" magazine in September 1907. Although Conrad was dissatisfied with the negative response of the review as a whole, he was nonetheless impressed when they recognised his debt to the French novelist Zola's employment of irony:

"In portraying him [Verloc] the author appears to have taken M. Zola as a model, for he introduces him with a certain kind of respectability, making him decent in his indecency, and honest in his dishonesty."

Irony is indeed all- pervasive in the novel. The title itself is tongue-in-cheek, as Alan Hunter recognises when he says that we expect the eponymous secret agent to be a James Bond figure but in the tradition of bathos Conrad gives us an indolent and incompetent character. F. R. Leavis describes the targets of Conrad's cynicism as follows: "His irony bears on the egocentric naiveties of moral conviction, the conventionality of conventional moral attitudes, and the obtuse assurance with which habit and self-interest assert absolute rights and wrongs."
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