The Secret Agent

Joseph Conrad

Illustrated by Ben Jones

Introduced by Will Self

Will Self’s provocative introduction and Ben Jones’s perturbing portraits complete the Folio edition of The Secret Agent; Joseph Conrad’s startling terror-attack fiction set in Edwardian London.


The Secret Agent remains the most brilliant novelistic study of terrorism as viewed from the blood-spattered outside’ 

  1. New York Times

Amongst the greatest English-language writers, Conrad dives into the seething heart of a city on the edge of terror. In a novel inspired by a failed London terror attack in 1894, Conrad lays bare the seedy heart of the city’s anarchist element, its human flotsam and jetsam relentlessly derided through his scathing and often comic descriptions.

The shady characters are captured in mesmerising portraits by award-winning illustrator Ben Jones, his work an electrifying hybrid of print-making and graphic drawing that is perfectly suited to Conrad’s Edwardian London. His lifelike portraits stare right through the viewer; the illusion of texture and the stark graphic shapes framing the eerily realistic expressions of the characters. This cast of fanatics and grotesques is further scrutinised by award-winning novelist and essayist Will Self in a newly commissioned introduction which examines the disturbing parallels between Conrad’s setting and today’s world.

Production details

Bound in blocked cloth

Set in Sabon with Clarendon display

296 pages

Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations

Slipcase blocked with UV spot varnish

9˝ x 5¾˝

An unprepossessing figure with a dark secret

‘Those searching for a novel with anarchists, espionage, betrayal and Victorian smut on the streets of Soho, look no further’ 

  1. The Times

Mr Verloc routinely rises mid-morning in his family’s living quarters. They are sited behind the Soho shop where he makes his specious living purveying overpriced, erotic publications. The cover suits him well; his comings and goings seem part and parcel of his business dealings and he is able freely to operate as a secret agent without resorting to disguise or clandestine rendezvous. Verloc’s assignment is to stir anarchist confusion and heighten insecurities through an act of terror. The premise reminds us that terrorist attacks are no recent phenomena; the UK’s capital has long been a magnet for the reactionary politics of extreme causes, and Londoners past and present live with the place of gunpowder in political gambits.

A terror tale with historical clout

The inspiration for Conrad’s novel was taken from a failed plot to bomb the same London target, the Greenwich Observatory, in 1894. And, as Will Self notes in an introduction of depth and subtlety, Conrad wrote his novel against the backdrop of an increasingly direct-action suffragette movement, so the city existed in a state of perpetual alert. As well as analysing the plot, Self is unapologetic in his dissection of Conrad’s use of the English language and ‘the text’s stylistic oddity’. Writing in his third language, Conrad’s turn of phrase is discernibly idiosyncratic and Self concludes that the sum of the book must therefore work harder for the credibility of its component parts.

‘To read Conrad … is to find oneself, while apparently making clear headway, in fact, with all sails trimmed, beating hard against the wind’

There is never any doubt that Self is discussing one of the great works of a truly talented storyteller; a prescient thriller that delves deep into the mind-set of fanaticism.

About Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857 in Berdyczów, in Russian-occupied Ukraine, to Polish parents. Following his parents’ deaths after the family returned from exile in northern Russia (owing to his father’s political sympathies) he began a career as a sailor in the 1870s by joining the French merchant marine and, eventually, the British merchant marine. After 20 years at sea, including his formative time in the Belgian Congo, he became a British subject and settled in England to devote himself to writing fiction in English, his third language. His works include Almayer’s Folly (1895), An Outcast of the Islands (1896), Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Typhoon (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), Chance (1913), The Rescue (1920) and The Rover (1923). The Folio Society edition of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was published in 2014. 



Will Self is the author of 11 novels, 6 collections of shorter fiction and 6 non-fiction works. A prolific journalist and broadcaster, his fiction has won various awards – as has his journalism. His fiction has been translated into over 22 languages, and he contributes to publications in Europe and the US as well as the UK. He holds the chair in Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. He lives in South London.


Ben Jones is an illustrator based in Manchester, UK. He has completed numerous commissions for the New York Times, Penguin Books, the New Yorker, BBC History magazine, Hermès, Johns Hopkins Magazine, The Lancet, Pushkin Press, Editions Gallimard and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, amongst others. His work is an amalgamation of graphic shape, drawing and found imagery brought together through collage and print-making techniques. He won the 50 Watts competition in 2011 to illustrate the cover for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and was a finalist in the 2012 Book Illustration Competition. He illustrated Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange for The Folio Society in 2014.


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