WiSe 13/14: S-Surveying English Literatures II:Joseph Conrad's Spy Fiction
Conrad was a remarkably flexible writer, who experimented with such different genres as the adventure romance, the historical novel, science fiction, autobiography and also the espionage novel. The ... read more
Conrad was a remarkably flexible writer, who experimented with such different genres as the adventure romance, the historical novel, science fiction, autobiography and also the espionage novel. The espionage genre was relatively new at that time and it enabled Conrad to situate his narratives (which before had largely taken place in the British colonies) in European cities such as London, Saint Petersburg, Paris and Zurich. The plots of his spy fiction comprise bomb-throwing anarchists, terrorism, political protest, police surveillance, treason, murder, jailbreak and torture. Yet despite this illustrious list of action-packed plot elements, it is likely that first-time readers of Conrad's highly ironic novel, The Secret Agent, will be disappointed by the portrayal of Verloc, the eponymous secret agent, who hardly resembles today's common images of spies in the style of James Bond.
In the seminar, we will trace this basic tension between generic conventions and Conrad's rendering of spies and secret agents, by investigating his two spy novels, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, as well as some of his shorter fiction (e.g. "An Anarchist" and "The Informer"). We will also consider one spy novel by a writer other than Conrad, in order to compare his very particular presentation with more straightforward examples of espionage fiction. Some possible authors are John Buchan, Ian Fleming or John le Carré; we will decide together on this novel in the first session of the seminar - all participants are invited to suggest a 'typical' British spy novel. Finally, we will critically watch and discuss Sabotage (1936), Alfred Hitchcock's film version of Conrad's The Secret Agent.
Students should purchase paperback editions (preferably Penguin or Oxford) of both novels, Under Western Eyes and The Secret Agent. The short stories are contained in the inexpensive Wordsworth Classics edition, Selected Short Stories by Joseph Conrad.
Language: The course will be taught in English (level C1).