The Machine Stops // E.M. Forster

1928 // 1911 // Short Stories

FIRST LINES

The Machine Stops

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee.

The Celestial Omnibus

The boy who resided at Agathox Lodge, 28, Buckingham Park Road, Surbiton, had often been puzzled by the old sign-post that stood almost opposite.

FROM THE BLURB

E.M. Forster is best known for his exquisite novels, but these two affecting short stories brilliantly combine the fantastical with the allegorical.

EXCERPTS

1. The Machine

You talk as if a god had made the Machine,’ cried the other. ‘I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you.

2. Irritation — a growing quality

To most of these questions she replied with irritation — a growing quality in that accelerated age.

3. The ages of litter

By her side, on the little reading-desk, was a survival from the ages of litter — one book.

4. The earth was exactly alike all over

Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Pekin when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would be just like Pekin?

5. A generation beyond facts

And in time’ — his voice rose — ‘there will come a generation that has got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless’

6. However unimportant, however superfluous

They described the strange feeling of peace that came over them when they handled the Book of the Machine, the pleasure that it was to repeat certain numerals out of it, however little meaning those numerals conveyed to the outward ear, the ecstasy of touching a button however unimportant, or of ringing an electric bell however superfluously.

7. Increased efficiency and decreased intelligence

The Central Committee announced the developments, it is true, but they were no more the cause of them than were the kings of the imperialistic period the cause of war. Rather did they yield to some invincible pressure, which came no one knew wither, and which, when gratified, was succeeded by some new pressure equally invincible. To such a state of affairs it is convenient to give the name of progress. No one confessed the Machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence.

8. The world, as they understood it, ended

But there came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended.

9. Strangled in the garments that he had woven

Man, the flower of all flesh, the noblest of all creatures visible, man who had once made god in his image, and had mirrored his strength on the constellations, beautiful naked man was dying, strangled in the garments that he had woven. Century after century had he toiled, and here was his reward. Truly the garment had seemed heavenly at first, shot with the colours of culture, sewn with the threads of self-denial. And heavenly it had been so long as it was a garment and no more, so long as man could shed it at will and live by the essence that is his soul, and the essence, equally divine, that is his body.

NEW WORDS

Mancipiary

Sir Thomas Browne replied: ‘They sport in the mancipiary possession of their gold’; and the omnibus arrived.

Purchase or slave. From the Latin mancipation — the acquisition or transference of rights over property.

LAST LINES

The Machine Stops

For a moment they saw the nations of the dead, and, before they joined them, scraps of the untainted sky.

The Celestial Omnibus

Foul play is suspected, and a thorough investigation is pending by the authorities.

END MATTER

The Machine Stops was found while shelf-sitting in Bristol. It caught my eye thanks to a recommendation from D.R.L.

83 pages, ~21,000 words

Read: 5 February 2020 to 9 February 2020 (5 days)