Conrad's The Secret Agent is a world away from 007 and Bourne. It concerns a deeply unattractive supposed anarchist living a mean life as a shopkeeper in Victorian England, who is commissioned by a shadowy foreign power to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. A forerunner of Islamic radicalists like Hassan, rather than a glamorous international spy.
Following the death of his parents, Conrad (or Józef Korzeniowski as he was at the time) was sent to Marseille to begin a maritime career, aged 16. After more than 20 years at sea, he settled in England to write. Contrary to R. Tranter's insinuation, he achieved an extraordinary mastery of the English language.