E. M. Forster

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Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 1879–1970

Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic. His concept of humanism, reflected in all of his novels, was forged through an understanding and acceptance of both traditional and modern interpretations of the term. That is, he was concerned with both the study of classical texts and with the philosophy of human relationships and values. He rejected the precepts of Christianity, as is evidenced in his most famous work, A Passage to India, where the central principle of Hinduism, that of total acceptance, is posited as the greatest unifying force for mankind. A Passage to India, published in 1924, was Forster's last major work, followed only by essays and small minor pieces. Critics speculate that his inner struggle with his homosexuality (revealed only after his death) prevented Forster from adding to a collection of work that marks him as a major twentieth-century author. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)

Frank Kermode

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Mr. Forster is a kind of Symbolist. He declares for the autonomy of the work of art; for co-essence of form and meaning; for art as "organic and free from dead matter"; for music as a criterion of formal purity; for the work's essential anonymity. Like all art, he thinks, the novel must fuse differentiation into unity, in order to provide meaning we can experience; art is "the one orderly product that our muddling race has produced," the only unity and therefore the only meaning. This is Symbolist. But there are interesting qualifications to be made; they bear on the question of differentiation, of stresses within the unity…. (pp. 90-1)

The first qualification arises from Mr. Forster's celebrated insistence on the point that the novel tells a story…. In the novel, the matter which seeks pure form is itself impure. This sounds like the old Symbolist envy of music; but we soon learn that Mr. Forster really values this impurity…. He agrees with [H. G. Wells] that "life should be given the preference, and must not be whittled or distended for a pattern's sake." If "life" in this sense is pattern-resisting, impure, nevertheless our direct revelation of reality, pure as it is, must somehow include it. One thinks of Valéry, who said that no poem could be pure poetry and still be a poem. Unity implies the inclusion of impurity.

The second qualification again brings the French Symbolist to mind. "Organic unity"—art's kind of unity—has to be produced by a process coarsely characterised by Mr. Forster himself as "faking." "All a writer's faculties," he says, "including the valuable faculty of faking, do conspire together … for the creative act." "Faking" is the power he so greatly admired in Virginia Woolf. (p. 91)

In this sense of the word, a novel not only fakes human relationships but also, working against muddle and chance, fakes an idea of order without which those relationships could have no significance. The fraud committed is, in fact, a general benefaction of significance…. I must have some sort of a shot at the task of illustrating how, in A Passage to India, where it is almost inconceivably elaborate, the faking is done. The events it describes include the coming of Krishna, which makes the world whole by love; and the novel's own analogous unity is achieved by faking.

One can start at the opening chapter, indeed the opening sentence. "Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary." Easy, colloquial, if with a touch of the guide-book, the words set...

(This entire section contains 1769 words.)

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a scene. But they will reach out and shape the organic whole. Or, to put it another way, they lie there, lacking all rhetorical emphasis, waiting for the relations which will give them significance to the eye of "love." But they are prepared for these relations. The order of principal and subordinate clauses, for instance, is inverted, so that the exception may be mentioned first—"except for the Marabar Caves." The excepted is what must be included if there is to be meaning; first things first. First, then, the extraordinary which governs and limits significance; then, secondly, we may consider the city. It keeps the caves at a distance; it is free of mystery till night-fall, when the caves close in to question its fragile appearance of order—an appearance that depends upon a social conspiracy to ignore the extraordinary. Henceforth, in this novel, the word "extraordinary" is never used without reference to the opening sentence. It belongs to the caves. The last words of the first chapter speak once more of "the extraordinary caves." Miss Quested's behaviour in relation to the caves is "extraordinary."

It is a characteristically brilliant device; the word occurs so naturally in conversation that its faked significance cannot disturb the story. The characters say "extraordinary" but the novelist means "extra-ordinary."… The caves are the exception that menaces the city, the city of gardens and geometrical roads made by the English, the Indian city of unholy muddle. And sometimes it is possible to exclude them, to ignore them like the distance beyond distance in the sky, because, like God in the song of the beautiful ecstatic girl, they are without attributes.

In a sense, they are God without attributes; because his absence implies his presence. Therefore, says the Professor, we are entitled to repeat to Krishna, "Come, come, come." Without them there is no whole by which we may understand the parts. Fielding rejects them, and will never understand; he believes in "thought." Mrs. Moore accepts them, seeing a whole, but one in which love is absent; all distinctions obliterated not by meaning but by meaninglessness, the roar of the Marabar echo. Including the excepted does not necessarily result in felicity. But when we know the worst of Marabar—that it is of the very stuff of life, flesh of the sun, thrusting up into the holy soil of Ganges—we still have to observe that the last explicit mention of Marabar in the book, at the end of a petulant remark of Aziz, is drowned in the noise of rejoicing at Krishna's coming. An ordinary conversational remark, of course, with its place in the story, bears the weight of this piece of faking. Similarly, in the last pages, the rocks which, as in a parable, separate the friends Aziz and Fielding, are thrust up from the Indian earth like the fists and fingers of Marabar. Story, parable, coexist in the wholeness of the revelation.

Privation, the want of wholeness, may entitle us in life to say "Come, come, come"; but in the novel this appeal has also to be faked. Godbole first uses the words at the tea-party, after his statement concerning Marabar. In his song, the milkmaid asks Krishna to come; but he neglects to come. At Marabar the need of him is absolute; and even the road to the caves, where everything calls out "Come, come," remains what it is because "there is not enough god to go around." Resonant with the absence of Krishna, it confuses distinctions like that between love and animal feeling; so Miss Quested discovers. But it is not only Marabar; nothing is proof against the god's neglect…. The lack of this coming is felt by the guests at the party who heard Godbole's song; they are unwell, with some malaise of privation; they are suffering from a deficiency of meaning, which cannot be cured until Love takes upon itself the form of Krishna and saves the world in the rain. The unity he makes is an image of art; for a moment at least all is one, apprehensible by love; nothing is excepted or extraordinary. The novel itself assumes a similar unity, becomes a mystery, a revelation of wholeness; and does so without disturbing the story or the parable.

But after this, does it, like the rejoicing at Krishna's coming, "become history and fall under the rule of time"? Like the birth of the god, the novel is contrived as a direct revelation of reality, of meaning conferred by a unifying and thought-excluding love; as—leaving gods out of it—the one orderly product. But does it still fall under the rule of time? Perhaps this mystical conception of order in art was more accessible to Mr. Forster than to his younger contemporaries. (pp. 91-4)

The feeling that a work of art, a novel for instance, must be in this exalted sense orderly, survives; but, for whatever reasons, it seems less potent now. Perhaps you cannot have it very fully unless you have that "conviction of harmony" of which the Cambridge philosopher McTaggart used to speak in Mr. Forster's youth. For him, too, all meaning depended upon oneness. He had an argument to prove that it could never inhere in inductive thought; on the contrary, it depended upon what he called "love," meaning not sexual love nor benevolence nor saintliness nor even the love of God, but something like full knowledge and the justice and harmony this entails. McTaggart even allows the possibility of one's experiencing a mystic unity which is not benevolent, not indeed anything but "perfectly simple Being"—without attributes—"difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish from Nothing." He is thinking of Indian mysticism. Marabar is perhaps Being under that aspect; however, Godbole can distinguish between presence and absence, and it is Mrs. Moore who cannot, and who therefore becomes a saint of Nothingness.

These remarks about the intellectual climate at the relevant period are meant to be suggestive, but not to suggest that Mr. Forster as a novelist is a conscious disciple of any philosopher. I do think, though, that the wonderful years at Cambridge enabled him to prepare the ground for a creation of order—gave him the secure sense of organic unity that made possible those feats of faking, and allowed him to see that, properly viewed, the human muddle could itself be mystery. Only in some such way can I account for the marvellous ease with which story, parable and image here coexist. There was a "conviction of harmony," a belief in order. Perhaps that has fallen under the rule of time.

We, in our time, are, I think, incapable of genuinely supposing a work of art to be something quite different from A Passage to India; it is, in this sense, contemporary and exemplary. In another sense, though, it does fall under the rule of time, because any conviction of harmony we may have will be differently grounded. Of these two facts, the first seems to me of incomparably greater importance. It is a consequence that we cannot know too much about the remarkable inclusiveness of the book. We continue to have our illusions of order, and clever faking; but this book reminds us how vast the effort for totality must be; nothing is excepted, the extraordinary is essential to order. The cities of muddle, the echoes of disorder, the excepting and the excepted, are all to be made meaningful in being made one. This will not happen without the truth of imagination which Mr. Forster calls "love"; love cheats, and muddle turns into mystery: into art, our one orderly product. (pp. 94-5)

Frank Kermode, "The One Orderly Product (E. M. Forster)" (1958), in his Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews, 1958–1961 (copyright © 1962 by Frank Kermode; reprinted by permission of the Chilmark Press and Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd.), Chilmark, 1962, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962 (and reprinted as "Mr. E. M. Forster as a Symbolist," in Forster: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Malcolm Bradbury, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966, pp. 90-5).

Malcolm Bradbury

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Recent criticism of Forster has tended to take a different approach [from earlier commentaries]; in a variety of ways it has demonstrated that Forster's intellectual and technical character is a good deal more complex and more modern than the earlier view allows. What has been shown to us clearly over recent years is—among other things—the complexity and resource of Forster's fictional method, particularly in Howards End and A Passage to India, his last two novels…. On the other hand, the balance of criticism has now turned so far in favour of regarding Forster as a modern symbolist that we are sometimes in danger of forgetting the important fact about him that many earlier critics never got beyond—that he is a comic social novelist, a writer of comedy of manners, a man who manifests and is attentive to the social and historical context out of which he derives. This is not the whole Forster, but it is a Forster who never ceases to be present in all the novels, short stories, travel books, and essays.

There is another view of Forster—associated with the opinion that his fictional manner is Victorian—which has also tended to fade. This is the view that he is intellectually a Victorian, that he is visibly the child of English middle-class liberalism, a liberalism that has an evident historical location in the heyday of the advanced, but wealthy, intellectual bourgeoisie. To locate a writer like this is often an effective means of limiting him, a means of suggesting that his work has not transcended its determining situation, that it is not universal…. Certainly Forster does derive much from the Victorian intellectual tradition…. And this means that he derives substantially from the Romantic debate which continued through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Forster himself has made such debts quite plain; and he clearly does espouse many of the attitudes of nineteenth century romantic and political liberalism. But he also confronts an essentially modern disquiet; the generous and positive optimism about the future that one finds in the nineteenth century is already uneasy in Forster before the First World War, which challenged that optimism so very radically. Forster, in Howards End, is one of the first novelists who portrayed in depth the struggle of the modern intelligentsia to define its alliances, who depicted both its disquiet about its independence and the principles that determine that independence…. When we call him a liberal humanist, then, we must be aware of his impulse to mysticism, on the one hand, and his sense of the difficulties of liberalism and openness of view on the other. He is prepared to assert a reconciling, enlarging, invisible quality in the "unseen," and thus to challenge his classical rationalism; at the same time, his visions, though they may suggest an order or unity in the universe, are defined in terms of the anarchy that they must comprehend, and therefore they are never fully redemptive; there is always something they may not account for. In A Passage to India, for instance, the novel moves toward but never achieves a visionary resolution.

Forster, I am suggesting, is much closer to Bloomsbury than to nineteenth century liberal optimism; but we cannot quite take him as fully representative of that group either…. That Forster is, in a positive way, a "representative" of a culture, or of several cultures, that he is a novelist much fed by his place and circumstances, is evident enough; what recent criticism has shown is the complexity of his position. (pp. 2-5)

The early books, though social comedies, lack the social dimension of the two last novels; they are also much more overtly comic, in the sense that the author's whimsy and his interest in the conduct of particular persons in particular situations of manners are more directly engaged. In all his novels, but particularly in the two last, one is aware of an urgent attempt to achieve some kind of reconciling and poetic vision, to approach through emotion, through the developed heart, those sensations of body and spirit that not only create a full life in the living but give a meaning to life, afford a visionary understanding of it. Forster's distinctive mixture of social comedy and "poetic" writing—his concern on the one hand with domestic comedy and quirks of character, and on the other with the unseen and the overarching—make him a difficult writer to read and to define. The modern emphasis on Forster as a symbolist has, as noted earlier, caused critics to overlook some of his distinctive features. The emphasis upon technical experimentalism and symbolist procedure has tended to obscure both the presence and the value of an interesting balancing of traditional and modern elements within his work. By asking aesthetic and technical questions, critics have been able to define him as a deeply modern writer; but this means that some of his particular and distinctive excellencies are not always recognised in their quality and centrality—I mean, for instance, the way he has developed the English tradition of the socio-moral novel into a world of experience not usually found within its capacities; his positive sense of culture, and his awareness of its significance for the individual, and for individualism; his concern with the social dimension on a national or a world scale; and his sense of scrupulous integrity which drives him beyond any simple or conventional account of an event or experience toward scepticism and irony. Because these qualities do involve him in paradoxes and ambiguities, it is not surprising that much of the early criticism of Forster was concerned with trying to reconcile two apparently disparate elements—the novelist of society and manners, and the mystic. It is around this issue that much of the uncertainty about Forster's reputation and literary character has turned. (p. 6)

[Though] Forster must be recognised as a major novelist, we must accept that his difficulties are often due to ambiguities within himself…. Nobody has yet resolved even the divergent accounts available of the meaning of A Passage to India. Is it—the case may be simply put—a novel which, after attempting to reconcile the differences between races, religions, social creeds, nature and man, asserts failure?—or is it a novel which, reaching beyond accepted faiths and accepted interpretations of the mysterious, the unseen, asserts a positive vision of unity? Is Forster in his last two—best two—books a spiritual and social optimist; or are his conclusions those of pessimism and defeat? It is, perhaps, because of the difficulty of estimating these last two books that Forster's reputation is less fully achieved, even now, than those of some of the early twentieth century novelists…. Howards End … is a remarkable and complex work; and A Passage to India is surely a major novel by any measure. (pp. 13-14)

Malcolm Bradbury, in his introduction to Forster: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Malcolm Bradbury (copyright © 1966 by Prentice-Hall, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), Prentice-Hall, 1966, pp. 1-14.


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Forster's chief failure in Maurice is his conception of his protagonist. It is not that Maurice Hall does not possess life; rather, it is the kind of life he possesses that is disconcerting. In order for him to illustrate the difficulties that an average man would face if he were to express homosexual urges, Forster drastically limits Maurice as a human being. He never expands, therefore, to the point that he threatens Forster's austere control of him, never expands to the point that he runs away with his author as Forster's best characters tend to do. In order to keep his homosexual subject matter in full prominence, Forster seems to have felt that he must downplay his central character, that he must conceive someone "completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad business man and rather a snob."… To establish Maurice's mediocrity, Forster is, on the one hand, excessively tolerant of a type of individual that he does not like and, on the other hand, he is unnaturally condescending toward him and hypercritical of him. It is difficult, then, for us to feel much empathy with someone so lackluster as Maurice Hall. (p. 46)

The character fails to support the author's projected values because the author has not supported the character fully enough in the first place. Can an exceptional problem be accorded compelling literary treatment when the protagonist is so unexceptional as Maurice? Forster only too conclusively demonstrates, I think, that it is not possible to do so. Perhaps he was still fearful of adverse reaction and did not dare envisage as protagonist a man for whom most readers would care greatly, no matter what his sexual preferences might be. This fearfulness of arousing reader hostility dates the novel more than the details of social and intellectual milieu which act, as in other Forster novels, to give them a charm and authority of their own….

It is curious that Forster describes Maurice as "obscene" when he indulges in sexual fantasies and auto-erotic activity, as though Forster shared Victorian hysteria about "self-pollution." There is something cringing, too, in Maurice (or in Forster) in his references to himself as "one of the unspeakables of the Oscar Wilde sort." The phrase, it seems to me, implies an unconscious concurrence with the prejudices against which Maurice and Forster are personally aligned. (p. 47)

A tepid, vacuous, complacent Maurice prevents our sympathizing to the full with him as he encounters his trials upon entering the Valley of the Shadow of Life (which is for him, really, the Valley of the Shadow of Death until he can renounce his class). We are not likely, either, to accept Forster's evaluation of Maurice's situation and his conflicts after Clive breaks with him and he must reorient his whole existence…. [It] is rather difficult to shake off the consistently nurtured impression that Maurice is pretty pallid or to believe in his moral strength any more than in his intelligence. He doesn't do much in his spare time even, except play games or do settlement work in London…. It seems to me, however, that Maurice's principal deficiency is a failure of insight and of intelligence …, until late in the novel anyway. Maurice is only sympathetic when he is completely denuded, when in the loss of Clive's love he has lost everything, when he is overwhelmed by absolute loneliness, when, but for a sense that love does somewhere exist, he would have ended his life, "a lamp that would have blown out, were materialism true." There is much poignancy and justified despair, when after the affair with Clive, Maurice seeks help from others and finds only dead silence…. (pp. 48-9)

As for Maurice's adventures and disappointments in love, Forster is as greatly indulgent as he is critical of his spiritual nature and intellectual equipment. To the extent that Forster as homosexual expresses too directly his own predilections and frustrations in Maurice, he is guilty of emotional overemphasis. We are informed, though hardly convinced, that Maurice has fused his brutality and idealism and found love—for Clive—as a result. Forster is overly anxious about Maurice's private life. Only occasionally does he treat Maurice and his problems humorously or recognize that homosexuality or any other form of human emotion may be no great matter under the eye of eternity. The element of distance is lacking between Forster and Maurice, as it is admirably preserved, say, between himself and Rickie Elliot in The Longest Journey. Then, too, the descriptions of feeling between himself and Clive are overwrought, because, for one reason, Maurice has been presented all along as a man insensitive to poetry…. (pp. 49-50)

There are other defects in Forster's novel. Too much is told to us instead of being dramatized, especially in the early chapters; and rather too much time in Maurice's life passes perfunctorily in too few pages. Too few of the early situations induce the later reverberations which such situations induce in other Forster novels. Maurice's lament for the dismissal of George, the garden boy from the lower class, while Maurice is still innocent of his own nature is meant to prefigure his involvement with the primitive and low-born Alec Scudder but it does not do so with unmistakable authority….

But Maurice is finally not inconsiderable. Its strength lies in Forster's conception of Clive Durham and Maurice's relationship with him, and, to a lesser extent, in Forster's conception of Alec Scudder, Clive's gamekeeper, and Maurice's involvement with him. Clive Durham is interesting as the type of man who, in literature and in life, sublimates homosexual love….

The affair with Clive is certainly the deepest (or the only deep) experience in Maurice's life, at least until he meets Alec Scudder. For this reason, of course, Maurice is shattered when Clive discovers that he no longer covets Maurice and has become oriented toward women. Forster arbitrarily motivates this change, I feel, and presents Clive's development as a volte-face rather than as a displacement in emotional focus. Clive may not realize the truth of his situation, but Forster ought to have done so, in order to make Clive's deconversion as credible as it ought to be…. Clive's absolute renunciation of Maurice and his complete physical revulsion from him are just possible; but, as it is, the change is too entire for the greatest possible number of elements of conflict to be effectively present. The relationship between Maurice and Clive ought to have been as absorbing in its termination as it was in its inception and growth, but it does not turn out to be so. Forster seems to have undergone, as he admits, psychic recoil from Clive after the deconversion.

Clive would have been a richer creation, if he had still felt some residual attachment for Maurice; if he had expressed a more intense involvement with Anne (whose sexuality ought also to have been stronger in order for it to neutralize most effectively Clive's passion for Maurice); and if he had been able to express with greater force the values of heterosexual love, especially as it aligns with western social and literary tradition, with racial continuance, and with fertility as opposed to the biological barrenness of homosexuality. (p. 50)

As for Alec Scudder, I find the sensual encounters between him and Maurice persuasive…. The conflict, furthermore, is genuine in Maurice when he tries to adjudicate between the claims of family and class and the claims of emotion and individual fulfillment. (pp. 52-3)

Alec Scudder is ambiguous enough as a human force to cause Maurice discomfort: whether he is to be comrade or devil, Maurice cannot quite fully predict. The connection between them does, in fact, demand this ambiguity, and it should possibly have been expanded. The presence of this psychic split in Alec argues, moreover, that Maurice's continued life with him could hardly have been harmonious. What is false in their relationship is the stated happy outcome and the direct rendition of passion, not the encounter itself and its equivocal aspects. The conflict in Maurice between convention and passion, though genuine, is perhaps underdeveloped: too little sense of the fact that, for both good and ill, Alec is Maurice's double, the "friend" for whom he has always searched but a demon lover also, a passionate rather than a kind man. (p. 53)

If Maurice partly fails because direct summary exceeds a dramatization of issues, there are yet many truly Forsterian scenes. (p. 55)

As in the other prewar novels Forster satirizes middle-class values, implicitly when Maurice at first unthinkingly embraces them and explicitly when, in moments of perception, he criticizes his compeers for specific defects. (pp. 55-6)

Maurice is the only one of Forster's novels which satirizes the Edwardian landed gentry, in the tradition of Carlyle's Past and Present, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, and Shaw's Heartbreak House. The satire represents Forster at his best in the novel; and the scenes at Penge, the Durham family seat, are some of Forster's most excellent and characteristic. In decline Clive's family connotes the decadence of the aristocracy which, along with the materialism of the middle class, has loosened the fabric of English life. Penge is a symbol of an England in decline: "… both house and estate were marked, not indeed with decay, but with the immobility that precedes it." The leaking roof is emblematic of the inefficiency of this class, its internal decay, its fecklessness, and its lack of will. The rain, as it comes in unchecked from the outside, may also symbolize the intrusion of nature, a life-giving element, an unwelcome reality. Maurice comes to feel that Clive's class is no longer fit to exert power, "to set standards or control the future"; and Clive himself, Maurice thinks, has deteriorated from the open, honest, forthright, idealistic pagan prince he once had known. The disintegration of his class parallels this personal decline and may have contributed to it. With Clive, in the years since Cambridge, respectability rather than life has triumphed; the result is Clive's "thin, sour disapproval, his dogmatism, the stupidity of his heart," when Maurice tells him of his love for Alec. (p. 57)

The succinct statements by which Forster criticizes society, with measured irony and understatement, he again uses in characterization, particularly for his minor figures. Sometimes his people tell us themselves what they or other people are like; more frequently, Forster is the omniscient commentator who sharply outlines his people for us. Many of his minor characters are vivid by virtue of Forster's ability to isolate the idiosyncrasies of an individual or a type. Mr. Hall, Maurice's deceased father, who figures in passing, is seen in terms of the complacency and sexual hypocrisy, native to the Edwardian business class: he "had supported society, and moved without a crisis from illicit to licit love." (p. 58)

In short, Maurice is not a perfect novel; and I would be the first to admit that it is inferior to the five novels that Forster published in his life time. But it is better than all but a few of the stories, and it has more of literary merit than most of its critics have been willing to concede. It is a worthwhile, if minor, accretion to the Forster canon. It has much to fascinate and to delight, and its full flavor comes through only after one has become accustomed to Forster's unusual subject, his directness of narrative line, and his suspension of irony toward his protagonist. The lack of complication in Maurice, its constricted scope, and its limited perspective detract from its stature, to be sure. But Forster's detached manner, his sustained compassion, his sporadic displays of insight, and his stylistic powers all assert that Maurice is his novel. (pp. 58-9)

Frederick P. W. McDowell, "Second Thoughts on E. M. Forster's 'Maurice'," in Virginia Woolf Quarterly (copyright © 1972 by Aeolian Press), Fall, 1972, pp. 46-59.

Gorman Beauchamp

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Forster's novella The Machine Stops established the essential outlines of the dystopian parable. It is set, of course, in the future, at a time when men have abandoned the surface of the earth to live in massive underground cities resembling air-conditioned anthills. Here, in a completely controlled and artificial environment, they are removed from all contact with Nature…. (p. 90)

In this story … Forster has anticipated most, if not quite all, of the themes of subsequent dystopian novels: the horrors of a society "perfected" by technology; the totalitarian face of a regime deifying "reason" in all its regulations; the denial of the body, the passions and the instincts, and the consequent automatization of man; and the lone rebel's attempt to escape from his mega-civilization and return to Nature. As in the classic dystopias, the rebel fails, crushed beneath the juggernaut of the Machine; but here the Machine fails too. One day the Machine stops. And in a few elegiac pages, Forster movingly chronicles the death of a world. (p. 91)

[Many contend that] The Machine Stops lacks the immediacy of the trio of important dystopian novels that follow it—We (1924), Brave New World (1932), and 1984 (1948)—because "it concentrates on the technological aspects of Utopianism and pays scant attention to its social and political implications." I would argue, however, that precisely this concentration on the technological characterizes all these dystopian works as well as other significant examples of the genre: C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength (1946), Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (1952), Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), David Karp's One (1953), L. P. Hartley's Facial Justice (1961), Anthony Burgess' The Wanting Seed (1963), and Ira Levin's This Perfect Day (1970). Forster early on grasped the truth that the Machine creates its own politics, its own sociology, its own rationality, its own epistemology, its own axiolocy and, indeed, its own theology. Modern totalitarianism—the political phenomenon that [George] Woodcock sees as providing the historical impetus for dystopianism—would itself be impossible without a highly complex technological apparatus. In any case, by depicting in The Machine Stops a society that depends on the omnipotence of the Machine to realize the millennial dreams of a Bacon, a Bellamy, or a Wells, Forster may be said to have founded the first anti-technological dystopia. His mythos—the rebel rejecting a mechanized mega-civilization—is the typical dystopian mythos; his fear—the mechanical abolition of man—is their fear; and his alternative—a return to Nature—is their alternative. (pp. 91-2)

Gorman Beauchamp, in Extrapolation (copyright 1977 by Thomas D. and Alice S. Clareson), December, 1977.


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