Page 51. " the Green Park railings "

Covering 19 hectares, Green Park borders Piccadilly, Queen’s Walk and Constitution Hill.

Page 53. " fallen asleep with the lamp (no gas was laid upstairs) turned up full "

Argand Oil Lamp
Public DomainArgand Oil Lamp
In the days before electricity, light came from candles, oil lamps and gas-burners. As Conrad tells us there was no gas upstairs, Winnie Verloc would have had an oil lamp by her bed. 


Page 58. " Varlets in green jerkins "

Medieval servants in green, sleeveless jackets. Conrad’s description of the anachronistic art on the walls of the café points up his own disruption of the chronology of the novel. Here, instead of sticking to the conventional timeline he has established, he catapults the reader forward in time without giving any hints about what he has done. The effect is disorientating and has led some critics to claim that The Secret Agent is itself an anarchic text.

Page 58. " executed suddenly all by itself a valse tune "

This is an automated piano containing a piano roll that enables it to play a set number of pre-programmed tunes automatically. Its presence in a café in 1886 is in itself an anachronism as the first automated pianos weren’t widely available until after 1896. A valse is a waltz.

Page 59. " He lived far away in Islington "

Islington Crescent
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeIslington Crescent - Credit: Stephen McKay
Now a wealthy district of London, Islington was a poor area in the late nineteenth century. In fact it isn’t far from central London at all, suggesting that Conrad is really referring to the mental distance between Comrade Ossipon and the Professor.

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Page 62. " actuates a detonator inside the flask "

Extract from the Ilford Manual of Photography showing a pneumatic camera shutter
Public DomainExtract from the Ilford Manual of Photography showing a pneumatic camera shutter
An India-rubber ball is a hollow ball connected to a tube which pumps air when squeezed. The detonator which the Professor carries about with him to set off his personal bomb is a chemical detonator, which works by mingling explosive substances which react on contact with one another. He likens it to the pneumatic camera shutter, which came in in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This worked by pressure from a rubber ball triggering a piston, which tripped the shutter, taking the photograph.


Page 64. " at the corner of Tottenham Court Road "

Tottenham Court Road in 1904
Creative Commons AttributionTottenham Court Road in 1904 - Credit: camdenphotos

The intersection between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street is a major crossroads on the edge of Soho. At his first mention, Chief Inspector Heat is already just round the corner from the Verlocs. 

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Page 66. " try to sand-bag you from behind "

To sand-bag someone is to hit them over the head with a heavy, blunt object, like a sand-bag.

Page 67. " Capua! "

Creative Commons AttributionCapua - Credit: Shadowgate, Flickr
A city in southern Italy. Once an independent state, Capua voted to join the Kingdom of Italy after the Battle of Volturnus in 1860, compromising its identity but securing peace. 

Page 72. " to the tune of ‘The Blue Bells of Scotland’ "

A Scottish folk song about a lover living in the highlands, often performed with solo trombone and orchestra.

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Page 75. " Caligula "

A marble bust of Caligua restored to its original colours
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA marble bust of Caligua restored to its original colours - Credit: Marsyas
The third emperor of the Roman empire, Caligula’s full name was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. He was renowned as a cruel and sexually rapacious tyrant and was assassinated in AD 41.