Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer. The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story. 1901. Amazon.com. 17 May 2012. Kindle e-book. [N.B.: References are Kindle locations, not page numbers.]
One note on this book: The co-author used his real name in this novel, but he is better known by his pen name, Ford Madox Ford.
I was curious when I heard that these two famous writers co-authored a book. Both are very pointed writers whom I have appreciated. What would they accomplish together?
The Inheritors originally came out around the same time as Heart of Darkness, a work I consider secularly prophetic of the twentieth century. Like Heart of Darkness, The Inheritors raises questions about imperialism. But, perhaps with more of a contribution from Ford, there is a touch of humor in the plotting.
The plot of The Inheritors is political. But, curiously, the overall politics and political machinations are vague or in the background. The Duc de Mersch, a French duke with English ties, is planning to turn Greenland into a British protectorate. He is doing this according to an unnamed utopian scheme. Like most other such schemes, the official reports are glowing, but the reality we get from a few journalists on the scene is much more questionable. Like the Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs in Heart of Darkness, the Greenland experiment is said to “advance the cause of the System for the Regeneration of the Arctic Regions.” (333)
The twist in the story is that Etchingham Granger, the narrator and journalist, learns that the main character of the story is visitor from the Fourth Dimension. Magical realism? Science fiction? In a way. It is then, truly, an extravagant story; extravagant literally means “wandering beyond.” So our visitor has wandered beyond her dimension into ours.
We meet the narrator’s editor, a “sinister” Chancellor of the Exchequer named Gurnard, the Duc, various members of Parliament. We have a vague idea of their politics, but we mostly see them as they relate to the narrator. Because he is a well-known journalist, it seems everyone wants him to plead their own special cause.
Granger confesses his love for this attractive but mysterious visitor and ends up doing some things to help her. These articles he writes will have a devastating effect on some of the political figures: One ends up committing suicide. Granger goes along with the pretense that she is his sister—he had a sister who died young, and his one remaining relative, an estranged aunt, accepts her as her niece.
Neither Conrad nor Ford were especially religious (though The Good Soldier has religious themes), but this tale has an element of what we would call supernatural. The woman visits from another dimension and gets normal three-dimensional humans to do things. This is not unlike Hamlet‘s ghost that appears from another world and sets some political forces in motion. The greater sense of perception that the people of the fourth dimension have might also suggest something like the intrusion of the intergalactic highway in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that disrupts life on earth. (Is Ford Prefect’s name an homage to Ford Madox Ford?)
Granger is manipulated—or motivated?—as Hamlet is motivated to act. Not that Granger kills anyone, but the extra-dimensional visitor gets him to do things he might otherwise not do.
As the Duc de Mersch and his associates try to impose their will on the uncivilized Eskimos, so “Miss Granger” has her way with the inferior three-dimensionalists of England and France: Imperialism with the shoe on the other foot. And though the agnostic authors might deny it, one perhaps cannot help but think of the novels of Frank Peretti or Shakespeare plays—that some of the things that happen in our three dimensions have a spiritual dimension operating in the background.