Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

Terrorism for the sake of counterterrorism: undercover policing and the specter of the agent provocateur in Joseph Conrad's "The secret agent"


Frank, Michael C (2014). Terrorism for the sake of counterterrorism: undercover policing and the specter of the agent provocateur in Joseph Conrad's "The secret agent". Conradiana, 46(3):151-177.

Abstract

This historically informed reading of "The Secret Agent" wishes to complement previous contextual analyses. Thanks mainly to the historical detective work of Norman Sherry, there is wide agreement among critics today that while "The Secret Agent" tells a fictitious story, Conrad closely studied newspaper articles and other printed material on the Greenwich Bomb Outrage of 1894, and that he additionally received oral information from friends familiar with the socialist and anarchist scenes. In "Conrad's Western World," Sherry did Conrad scholars the great service of citing extensively from contemporary press reports as well as reproducing, in unabridged form, an obscure pamphlet by the anarchist newspaper publisher David Nicoll claiming that the whole incident had been a police plot. While ample attention has been given to the parallels and differences between "The Secret Agent" and the conspiracy theory propounded by Nicoll, however, the historical circumstances that gave rise to that theory are usually not dealt with in great depth. As the present article demonstrates, "The Secret Agent" is a response to the emergence of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch as much as it is a response to the Greenwich Bomb Outrage and its surrounding media discourse. This is indicated by the fact that the only written source mentioned in Conrad's "Author’s Preface" to the 1920 edition of "The Secret Agent" is a memoir by Sir Robert Anderson. A Home Office advisor on political crime during the Fenian dynamite campaign, Anderson had been the handler of the British government’s most valuable spy in the Fenian ranks, Henri Le Caron, from 1867 to 1889. Conrad's interest in such undercover police practices is clearly reflected in his novel, which depicts the explosion at Greenwich Park not as a simple act of political violence perpetrated by a single group, but as the result of an interaction of various factors. Individual fanaticism and scrupulousness (embodied by the bomb-making Professor) is just one of these factors. The others are state-sponsored espionage and incitement to violence in the name of counterterrorism as well as a system of secret policing in which an endemic lack of transparency first allows the bombing to happen and then hampers the investigation. My article considesr each of these three factors in a separate chapter, considering Conrad’s characters and plot alongside their historical counterparts.

Abstract

This historically informed reading of "The Secret Agent" wishes to complement previous contextual analyses. Thanks mainly to the historical detective work of Norman Sherry, there is wide agreement among critics today that while "The Secret Agent" tells a fictitious story, Conrad closely studied newspaper articles and other printed material on the Greenwich Bomb Outrage of 1894, and that he additionally received oral information from friends familiar with the socialist and anarchist scenes. In "Conrad's Western World," Sherry did Conrad scholars the great service of citing extensively from contemporary press reports as well as reproducing, in unabridged form, an obscure pamphlet by the anarchist newspaper publisher David Nicoll claiming that the whole incident had been a police plot. While ample attention has been given to the parallels and differences between "The Secret Agent" and the conspiracy theory propounded by Nicoll, however, the historical circumstances that gave rise to that theory are usually not dealt with in great depth. As the present article demonstrates, "The Secret Agent" is a response to the emergence of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch as much as it is a response to the Greenwich Bomb Outrage and its surrounding media discourse. This is indicated by the fact that the only written source mentioned in Conrad's "Author’s Preface" to the 1920 edition of "The Secret Agent" is a memoir by Sir Robert Anderson. A Home Office advisor on political crime during the Fenian dynamite campaign, Anderson had been the handler of the British government’s most valuable spy in the Fenian ranks, Henri Le Caron, from 1867 to 1889. Conrad's interest in such undercover police practices is clearly reflected in his novel, which depicts the explosion at Greenwich Park not as a simple act of political violence perpetrated by a single group, but as the result of an interaction of various factors. Individual fanaticism and scrupulousness (embodied by the bomb-making Professor) is just one of these factors. The others are state-sponsored espionage and incitement to violence in the name of counterterrorism as well as a system of secret policing in which an endemic lack of transparency first allows the bombing to happen and then hampers the investigation. My article considesr each of these three factors in a separate chapter, considering Conrad’s characters and plot alongside their historical counterparts.

Statistics

Citations

Dimensions.ai Metrics

Altmetrics

Downloads

2 downloads since deposited on 11 Feb 2019
2 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2014
Deposited On:11 Feb 2019 09:23
Last Modified:30 Apr 2019 07:24
Publisher:Texas Tech University Press im Project MUSE
ISSN:0010-6356
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1353/cnd.2014.0012
Related URLs:https://muse.jhu.edu/article/631879 (Publisher)

Download