Read The Inheritors by Joseph Conrad Free Online
Book Title: The Inheritors|
The author of the book: Joseph Conrad
ISBN 13: 9780839823506
Edition: Gregg Press
Date of issue: 1976
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 18.63 MB
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Reader ratings: 4.9
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In 1901 Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford, two of the greatest literary writers of the 20th Century, pooled their talents to write a novel about interdimensional terrorism. Almost no one has read it, and those who have do not seem to think much of it.
To critics, it is a mere curiosity, only of any possible interest to completists of Ford or Conrad's works--so, to any of you who have been looking for reasons to dismiss my opinions and paint me as incoherent, here is the gift: I found this book perfectly fascinating. But then, I have come at it from a much different direction than any critic I have seen.
In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien gave a speech on Beowulf that completely changed the way scholarship on the poem was approached. Prior to this, the poem was studied for almost purely historical reasons: as a portrait of a time in history of which we have very little documentation. However, Tolkien argued that the critics were missing much of the meaning and subtext of the work by ignoring the symbolism of the fantastical elements: the monster Grendel, his mother, and the dragon.
The same oversight seems to have taken place in the approach to this book: critics talk about common themes of Ford's and Conrad's, such as the obsolescence of nobility and the class system, or the foul cruelties of colonialism. They talk about how the book represents the politics of the times, how certain events mirror and comment on history. Yet they completely ignore the central symbolic thrust of the work, the extended conceit which ties the whole thing together.
Unlike most critics, I was primed to look for the meaning behind the fantastical elements, coming to this book not from the context of Conrad's and Ford's more famous works, but from the works of Lovecraft, Chambers, Hodgson, and Blackwood--here, once more, is the tale of that sensitive man, the artist plagued by an otherworldliness that draws him on inexorably to the forfeiture of his very humanity--as well as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Moorcock, and Griffith, of powerful revolutionaries set to topple the order of the world.
Since magic is the physical representation of an idea, a metaphor sprung to life, it behooves us to ask: what does the magic in this tale represent, and how does it operate within the work? Most intriguing for analyzing the tale is the fact that--unlike what some critics claim--the supernatural element is not merely 'tacked-on', but is a vital part of both Conrad's and Ford's presentation.
To Ford, these alien beings infesting our world--long before the 'Body Snatchers' and 'Pod People' of the 50's Communist scare--are the very spirit of the changing Zeitgeist. It is their arrival (and their insidious effect on society) that will inevitably destroy a thousand years of hereditary rule, plunging the whole world into a war from which it will emerge reborn, a new land of fresh ideas which leaves the old powers amongst the ash.
To Conrad, it represents the subtle treachery of colonial influence, the ability of the ruling power to seduce, use, and abuse its subjects, to make them doubt, to reshape their minds from within, all without their recognizing it, to cause them to betray and subjugate themselves through art, ideal, faith, and symbol. And all of this meaning is wrapped up in a single character, a woman, who with the protagonist creates a rather odd romance: a romance of the colonized mind, a romance of personal obsolescence--but then, perhaps it really isn't so odd, after all.
The subtle turns in the way her alienness is explored would do credit to any of the classic authors of Supernatural Horror. Firstly there is the fact that as we're looking at it, we can't be quite certain if it's even real, or if perhaps the girl is simply mad, or playing a trick on our hero--an idea he clings to desperately.
Additionally, it is implied that somehow, we are descended from these beings, that they are our source, but that we have since forgotten, ceased to see the wonder of other realms, and grown petty (and a bit unhinged)--and that they periodically return to recolonize us. Of course, there is a sort of hint of Dunsany's Elfland in this: the mystical, untouchable realm which fades away from our reality, but which makes us dream, and which we constantly recall through potent images and feelings, without ever realizing what it is these memories represent.
Then there is the impression that, not only are the thoughts of these outsiders infectious and transformational, but that they must be careful not to be changed, themselves, by their interactions with humanity--it is a more delicate way of playing with the notion that 'man himself is the monster'--he is not so in a physical, violent sense, but in the cosmic, Lovecraftian one: that perhaps in this universe, man is the incomprehensible, insane force, not the merely the staid victim--the notion of idea as a disease, of the infection of the meme, recalling the absurd yet seductive theory of Julian Jaynes.
Of course, there is also a colonial commentary here: that even as the colonizer forces her will upon the other, she in turn is changed by their biases and values, no matter how carefully she guards herself against that influence, the natural tendency is for both sides, conqueror and conquered, to draw ever closer together, and even to bind.
In that sense, there is a deep parallel between this story and Kipling's famous representation of a love affair between overseer and vassal: Without Benefit of Clergy--and an even closer similarity to Tagore's less-romanticized reversal, The Postmaster--excepting that in this case, it is the woman who possesses the power of standing and knowledge.
It is also interesting to see Ford and Conrad, not yet successful authors when they collaborated, write about the life of the struggling author: the hopelessness of it, the sense that one is always 'selling one's self' to do work that is little more than propaganda for the state, contrasted with the intense desire to do something worthwhile.
There is also a great deal of clever drawing-room humor, which I expect is Ford's, as Conrad's humor tends to be less that of the wit and more the ironic and morbid cynic. From Conrad, we instead get those utterly characteristic digressions, a sentence here or there where some fundamental aspect of human life is encapsulated in a few profound phrases.
Of course, there are some problems, as well: both authors are young, trying to find their way, and the whole project was, to them, an attempt to make a bit of money--meaning there is some deprecating cleverness to the fact that it is about a writer who gives up his artistry in order to write things that will pay. The most prominent issue is Ford's constant use of the word 'infinite' in his metaphors. Of course, we understand that he is trying to touch on matters of the sublime 'Fourth Dimension', but it could have been done with more variety instead of simple repetition.
The 'Fourth Dimension' itself was coined by H.G. Wells, a friend of both writers, whose success with The Time Machine inspired them to write this fantastical political tale. Wells tried to publish an essay on the topic, exploring the concept that time (like heighth, width, and length), might be seen as traversable, or at least as a coordinate for describing matter, but it went over the head of his editor, who told him to put it in a story, which he did.
In that sense, The Inheritors can also be read as a time-travel story, and that it is not a more perfect place which colonizes us, but a more perfect time. To put it briefly: there are so many fantastical and speculative threads coming together in this story that it would be quite dizzying, if it weren't all performed by subtle implication. Really, we never know just what is going on--all we can do is take in clues and surmise as best we can.
But of course, that's the whole nature of the fantastical: that even when it touches us, we are unable to explain it, to make sense of it, to wrap our minds around it. We tell ourselves that it is an impossibility, we try to ignore it, to concentrate on art or love--on those mad human passions that always draw us away--and yet the fantastical has a way of getting inside of us, no matter how we try to fight it off, of changing us, in such a way that we can never quite go back to the way it was before.
We are left suffused with a feeling of strange nostalgia, and a kind of bitterness--that now we are worldly, we have seen, and cannot be simple again. But then, the true searcher in the dark would never choose simplicity--for if the world has broken one's heart, at least it can be said you loved it--and in the end, that is the true message of Ford's and Conrad's strange little book, too long unknown, ignored, dismissed, but no longer lost to me, or to you.
Lovecraft once said:
"Conrad's reputation is deserved -- he has the sense of ultimate nothingness and the evanescence of illusions which only a master and an aristocrat can have; and he mirrors it forth with that uniqueness and individuality which are genuine art. No other artist I have yet encountered has so keen an appreciation of the essential solitude of the high grade personality -- that solitude whose projected overtones form the mental world of each sensitively organised individual"
And it seems such a shame not to know what he might have made of this book.
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Read information about the authorJoseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski ) was a Polish-born English novelist who today is most famous for Heart of Darkness, his fictionalized account of Colonial Africa.
Conrad left his native Poland in his middle teens to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. He joined the French Merchant Marine and briefly employed himself as a wartime gunrunner. He then began to work aboard British ships, learning English from his shipmates. He was made a Master Mariner, and served more than sixteen years before an event inspired him to try his hand at writing.
He was hired to take a steamship into Africa, and according to Conrad, the experience of seeing firsthand the horrors of colonial rule left him a changed man.
Joseph Conrad settled in England in 1894, the year before he published his first novel. He was deeply interested in a small number of writers both in French and English whose work he studied carefully. This was useful when, because a need to come to terms with his experience, lead him to write Heart of Darkness, in 1899, which was followed by other fictionalized explorations of his life.
He has been lauded as one of the most powerful, insightful, and disturbing novelists in the English canon despite coming to English later in life, which allowed him to combine it with the sensibilities of French, Russian, and Polish literature.
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