The War on Terror

THE PRESCIENCE OF JOSEPH CONRAD

Tom Reiss’s article on Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes (1911) in the New York Times Book Review (“The True Classic of Terrorism,” September 11) criticizes the stock figures and cartoon characters of Conrad’s earlier novel, The Secret Agent (1907), and claims that it is “not especially prescient about terrorism.” But Reiss also concedes that the “tightly constructed” earlier novel “seems stunningly up-to-date” and “remains the most brilliant novelistic study of terrorism as viewed from the blood-splattered outside.” In fact, the more ambitious Under Western Eyes builds on and complements The Secret Agent.

In his first novel on terrorism Conrad describes seedy London neighborhoods; a cell of refugees and immigrants who plot revolution behind a dingy storefront; a fanatical expert in explosives who rides the bus clutching his detonator and threatening to blow himself up; an explosion that terrifies the public and makes quite ordinary people seem sinister and menacing; a wife who knows nothing about her husband’s activities and a shocking event that reveals the truth; a secret agent in the pay of a foreign government...

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About the Author

Jeffrey Meyers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, has published Hemingway: The Critical Heritage (1982), Hemingway: A Biography (1985), and Hemingway: Life and Art (2000), as well as Samuel Johnson: The Struggle (2008), The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (2009), George Orwell: Life and Art (2010), and John Huston: Courage and Art (2011).