The Russian Influenza as Extended Metaphor in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent


  • Jennifer Rideout MTSU PhD candidate


In The Secret Agent,oseph Conrad introduces anarchist Adolf Verloc and links his arrival in London to the unseen yet deadly viral arrival of the influenza. I argue that, in so doing, Conrad creates the character descriptions of Verloc and his family as metaphorically representative of the virus and its symptoms. Conrad complicates the story by setting it in 1886, inviting the reader to recall the terrifying events of the 1889 Russian Pandemic and the 1894 attempted bombing of the Greenwich Observatory and to envision a Britain whose innocence is shattered by destructive forces unseen with the naked eye. By expanding on the connection between the progression of time and the notion of fluid borders, both of which feed the rush of 20th-century modern technology, Conrad’s characters represent the emergence into a world over which Britons perceived that they had little control.