The Secret Agent

by Pericles Lewis

Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) explicitly thematizes the transformation of time that Conrad and other modernist novelists explore by departing from strict chronology, making extensive use of flashbacks and foreshadowing, and demonstrating the disjuncture between private and public time. The novel imagines an anarchist plot to blow up Greenwich Observatory, where standard time was measured, as a symbol of a more general attack on publicly shared standards. In Conrad’s novel, time itself is out of joint; after relating the explosion, the narrative flashes back without warning to an earlier timeframe, leaving the reader uncertain of the sequence of crucial events.[1]
Title page of The Secret Agent with manuscript note by Conrad (click to enlarge). Source: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Bibliographic Record Number: 39002036137967.


  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 31