The Secret Agent

by

Joseph Conrad

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London Symbol Icon

London symbolizes the inhospitality and profound alienation that Conrad implies is characteristic of modern life. Its drab physical environment mirrors the loneliness, malaise, and sometimes overt hostility that people experience in industrialized society. In the novel, London is most often described as dark, muddy, rain-soaked, and bleak; it’s an invariable landscape of brick and stone. The city’s misty gloom tends to envelop people as they go about their lives, blurring their identities and thereby separating people from one another. This represents the idea that modern life, particularly in urban environments, is inherently isolating and largely devoid of meaningful experiences or interpersonal connections. Sometimes, London’s murky atmosphere is also portrayed as a home in which dangerous “foreign fish” can swim, an image reflecting Victorian anxieties about foreign-born political dissidents.

London Quotes in The Secret Agent

The The Secret Agent quotes below all refer to the symbol of London. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Secret Agent published in 1907.
Chapter 7 Quotes

His descent into the street was like the descent into a slimy aquarium from which the water had been run off. A murky, gloomy dampness enveloped him. The walls of the houses were wet, the mud of the roadway glistened with an effect of phosphorescence, and when he emerged into the Strand out of a narrow street by the side of Charing Cross Station the genius of the locality assimilated him. He might have been but one more of the queer foreign fish that can be seen of an evening about there flitting round the dark corners.

Related Characters: The Assistant Commissioner
Related Symbols: London
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

And he himself had become unplaced. It would have been impossible for anybody to guess his occupation. […] A pleasurable feeling of independence possessed him when he heard the glass doors swing to behind his back with a sort of imperfect baffled thud. He advanced at once into an immensity of greasy slime and damp plaster interspersed with lamps, and enveloped, oppressed, penetrated, choked, and suffocated by the blackness of a wet London night[.]

Related Characters: The Assistant Commissioner
Related Symbols: London
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

The vast world created for the glory of man was only a vast blank to Mrs Verloc. She did not know which way to turn. Murderers had friends, relations, helpers—they had knowledge. She had nothing. She was the most lonely of murderers that ever struck a mortal blow. She was alone in London: and the whole town of marvels and mud, with its maze of streets and its mass of lights, was sunk in a hopeless night, rested at the bottom of a black abyss from which no unaided woman could hope to scramble out.

Related Characters: Mrs. Winnie Verloc, Mr. Adolf Verloc
Related Symbols: London
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
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London Symbol Timeline in The Secret Agent

The timeline below shows where the symbol London appears in The Secret Agent. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Mr. Verloc goes out one morning, leaving his small London shop in the care of his brother-in-law, Stevie. Verloc’s wife, Winnie, supervises Stevie in turn.... (full context)
Chapter 2
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
...out unusually early one morning at about half-past 10. The dull English sun covers the city with a rusty light. As Verloc watches well-to-do people enjoying themselves in Hyde Park, he... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
...has worked for the Embassy for 11 years, first based in Paris and now in London. (He is a British-born subject, but his father was French.) Mr. Vladimir says that Verloc... (full context)
Chapter 3
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
...to deal with Stevie. Then, while undressing, Verloc looks out the window at the “inhospitable” city, a dark and muddy mass of brick and stone. The view matches his foreboding. For... (full context)
Chapter 5
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
As The Professor walks among the London crowds, he feels a stab of fear. Occasionally, he doubts that humankind can truly be... (full context)
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
The Assistant Commissioner considers this as he looks out at the miserable London rain. The Assistant Commissioner dislikes his job because he is so reliant on subordinates and... (full context)
Chapter 7
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
A short time later, the Assistant Commissioner heads out into the dank, gloomy city. He catches a cab and is soon deposited in front of a small Italian restaurant.... (full context)
Chapter 9
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
...into the shop and finds a man with a twisted moustache, looking damp from the city streets. To Winnie, he looks foreign. After a while, she asks him if he’s from... (full context)
Chapter 12
Foreigners and the Modern City Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Loyalty, Conventionality, and Rebellion Theme Icon
...herself outside, where the damp air feels suffocating, and the atmosphere of the dark, misty city envelops her. She feels friendless and tries to forget about her mother. Winnie keeps dragging... (full context)
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
...the banknotes in his pocket. He walks all the way home through the misty, sleeping city until he reaches his flat, where he lies awake until dawn. (full context)
Chapter 13
Anarchy, Terrorism, and Corruption Theme Icon
Weakness, Vulnerability, and Abuse Theme Icon
Comrade Ossipon has come to visit The Professor in the ugly, spartan room in East London that The Professor has rented. The Professor tells Ossipon about his recent visit to Michaelis.... (full context)