The Secret Agent

(Fiction; Signet Classics, 1983)


The seafarer Joseph Conrad came late to English, after his native Polish and then French. This fact goes some way toward explaining the craftsmanlike relationship to language in his novels. Before he wrote full-time, Conrad worked on French ships and then on English ones, where he rose quickly through the ranks and gained the captaincy of a ship. From his travels in Africa and South America came his most well-known novels, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, and Nostromo. Heart of Darkness famously begins on the ship Nellie as it rests on the Thames; the narrative then moves downriver into the Congo. It is interesting to see what a novelist, so accustomed to setting his novels outside his chosen English homeland, does when he decides in the writing to stay home and linger on the Thames for a little longer.

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