Anarchy and Apocalypse

  • Andrew Wright


To go from the world of Howards End to that of The Secret Agent is to walk from the drawing room into the streets, from a genteel and protected atmosphere to a world that is immediately rather than distantly dangerous. It is to go from the ultimately resolved threat of personal disaster to a turgidly public realm, where disintegration is not an individual but a social possibility. To consider that these two novels were written in the second half of the same decade, and also that they are both laid in Edwardian London, to think of these novels as contemporaneous is to begin to understand the gulf that lay between the much-privileged persons that made up Bloomsbury and the emigrant Pole who made London his own, and yet remained in an important sense an outsider. Certainly Conrad’s ability to treat persons beyond the range of Forster’s experience, to penetrate to the lower edges of the middle class and beneath, and to make credible the actions in which these classes engage, gives a sense of the gloomy atmosphere of a London in which the cult of personal relations would be an unthinkable luxury. While it is just possible to imagine Conrad’s lady patron at a luncheon given by the Schlegel sisters — perhaps the Assistant Commissioner’s wife would also be invited — it is impossible to suppose that any of the other characters of The Secret Agent would be permitted to darken the doors of the house in Wickham Place, without having lost an umbrella in the Queen’s Hall.


Human Factor Double Agent Secret Agent Historical Space Personal Favour 
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I The Secret Agent: The Beginning of the End

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II The Human Factor and Hope Without Hope

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Copyright information

© Andrew Wright 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Wright
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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