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In the only novel Conrad set in London, The Secret Agent communicates a profoundly ironic view of human affairs. The story is woven around an attack on the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 masterminded by Verlac, a Russian spy working for the police, and ostensibly a member of an anarchist group in Soho. His masters instruct him to discredit the anarchists in a humiliating fashion, and when his evil plan goes horribly awry, Verlac must deal with the repercussions of his actions.
Joseph Conrad was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. In 1874 Conrad travelled to Marseilles, where he served in French merchant vessels before joining a British ship in 1878 as an apprentice. In 1886 he obtained British nationality. Eight years later he left the sea to devote himself to writing, publishing his first novel, Almayer's Folly, in 1895. The following year he settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. He continued to write until his death in 1924. J. H. Stape is the author of The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad (1996) and Conrad's Notes on Life and Letters (2004).