Henry James's and Ford Madox Ford's leisured and privileged observers, distanced by foreignness and wealth, are the means of articulating an ironic vision which announces the dominant mode of modernist fiction. Conrad's The Secret Agent, with its symbiosis of squalid, lounging revolutionaries and purposeful policemen, presents an ironic and sceptical vision operating at the level of the streets. The irony is at the same time subversive and self-reflexive, for Conrad both engages closely with the street-life of the metropolis and displays a characteristically modernist preoccupation with the problem of form. Conrad's walkers are versions of the realist flaneur, but ones whose seeing openly mocks, rather than implicitly questions, the sense-making activity of the realist novelist. Conrad's ponderous ironic prose, which dwells on darknesses physical, mental, and metaphysical, is to lift momentarily now and then to give brilliant glimpses of urban life.