First published in 1927 and now reprinted as part of the Science Fiction Classics range of the British Library, The Man with Six Senses was the second novel in the brief literary career of Muriel Jaeger, her next works her first move into the realms of non-fiction which would dominate her later output, biographies and essays, with only two more novels and a play among them.
Written the year after her debut The Question Mark, also available from the British Library, it is again what might be termed “a scientific romance” in that there is a thematic principle within it which shifts it into the realm of genre, but the work itself is principally concerned with the relationships of the three people who are directly affected by it, and though there is an attempt at romance by the narrator it is doomed almost from the outset.
That narrator is Ralph Standring, a writer recently returned from Italy where he spent time after the war who is fully under the presumption that he will propose marriage to university graduate and Bloomsbury resident Hilda Torrington and that she will accept, only to find to his chagrin that she is preoccupied with the company of Michael Bristowe, a socially awkward youth of nervous disposition whose persistent presence Standring feels is to the detriment of Hilda’s social standing.
Bristowe a man of “unusual gifts,” they are not so much applicable to gainful employment as an invitation to mockery, especially by those who are closed-minded, as businessmen accustomed to a certain way of operating may be, with the result that attempts to demonstrate the abilities of “the man with six senses” have so far failed.
Hilda already a pragmatic believer who has found herself financially supporting the orphan Bristowe, the sceptical Standring has faith in her and thus in his slow but grudging acceptance so does the reader become convinced, but even with this additional support the surly Bristowe is too unpredictable in his powers to be reliable, his hoped-for ability to divine the presence of valuable minerals and metals beneath the earth dependent upon his moods and so unproven.
There is, presumably intentionally, an undercurrent of comedy as Jaeger depicts Standring’s manly ego fixating on how he will woo and overwhelm Miss Torrington to win her attention and affection from his presumed rival, regarding her fascination with Bristowe as a childish fixation which she will outgrow in order to take her rightful place as his wife, but ultimately The Man with Six Senses is a tragedy for all the principal players.
Like The Question Mark and its protagonist displaced to a strange time, much of the novel is not so much about Michael Bristowe as who he is thought to be, the perception of him in the public eye as shaped by sensationalist journalism more interested in growing circulation than spreading truth, and with no part of the novel told from his point of view the reader never comes to know “the man with six senses” other than through his observed tantrums and depressions.
His powers described as “supernatural” in the cover blurb, in fact Jaeger refutes that in her consideration of how Bristowe responds to the presence of alloys and crystals, his fascination with a snowfall such that it overwhelms good sense and he rushes outside underdressed, leading to his descent to poor health which is his downfall, but like her first novel the ideas set in motion are never satisfactorily resolved, left instead to dwindle and fade as a burned out candle.