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Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford: The Inheritors

The Inheritors was the first collaboration between Conrad and Ford. They were introduced by Edward Garnett. The initial collaboration was to be on Ford’s unpublishable novel Seraphina but other projects kept them from it. Finally, they collaborated on this novel. Ford wrote most of it, with Conrad doing the editing. Conrad did not think very highly of it – I set myself to look upon the thing as a sort of skit upon the political (?!) novel. Unlike much of Conrad’s writing but like much of Ford’s it seems somewhat unfocussed, skipping about, rather than concentrating on a specific plot.

It starts off with a long dialogue – Conrad would customarily start off by setting the scene or by introducing the characters. We do not know who the two characters are – one is a woman of indeterminate origin and another the narrator – an author. The narrator goes on to the house of Callan, a great novelist, where he is engaged to write a kind of series of studies of celebrities chez eux for Fox, who runs a journal“. The woman, of course, turns up at Callan’s house – her name is the improbable Miss Etchingham Granger – and she pretends to be the sister of our narrator (also called Etchingham Granger). She, like other characters, is a Fourth Dimensionist, the young trendies Ford is eager to attack. Her portrait is far from flattering and is a clear indication of the misogyny of both Ford and Conrad. We start to get in a complicated and not very convincing plot, involving Gurnard, the”coming man” in politics, a foreign financier called Duc de Mersch and Greenland (the country). Our hero – a political naïve, like both Ford and Conrad – somehow gets involved in this plot. Political and financial corruption in high places are attacked by Ford and Conrad, using only thinly disguised characters. Gurnard is clearly Joseph Chamberlain, his political companion, Churchill, is not Churchill but Balfour, while Fox is Lord Northcliffe and the Duc de Mersch Leopold II of Belgium. The influence of Conrad can be seen in the attack on Leopold for the atrocities in the Congo. Frankly, the plot is uninteresting as neither author knows much about either politics or finance, none of the characters is particularly sympathetic and, by the time, we get to the end, we really do not care for the fate of Churchill, Fox, Gurnard and Co. Both men would write far better novels.

Publishing history

First published 1901 by Heinemann