E M Forster

E M ForsterOn this day in 1879, the great writer E M Forster was born. Admit it: you wouldn’t even know who he was if it weren’t for Merchant-Ivory or maybe that David Lean character. Oh, okay: you would know because you are a Frankly Curious reader — a better class of person. But it is definitely the case that Forster has been done pretty well by filmmakers in the 1980s and early 1990s. It might be because Forster wrote so much about hypocrisy and these were especially great times for hypocrisy in the the US and UK.

He is best known for writing A Room with a View and A Passage to India. But Forster was so much more than that. He wrote in lots of styles and forms — both fiction and nonfiction. He wrote plays. He even wrote an opera libretto. He was truly an amazing man.

What I find most interesting about him is his short story “The Machine Stops.” One doesn’t much think of Forster was a science fiction writer, but there you go. The whole story is online, and I highly recommend reading it. It’s about 10,000 words long — so something even I could read in bed before going to sleep. And what is perhaps more interesting about it is that it really isn’t that different from A Room With a View in terms of its theme. Fundamentally, he was always writing about people trying to connect with each other. He may have been pessimistic about that much of the time, but he always held out the hope.

I had embedded a BBC production of the story here, but Lawrence alerted me to the fact that it has been taken down. I can’t find a replacement. But if you would prefer to hear it read to you while you clean up the house, here is Jerome Lawsen reading it for a LibriVox recording:

Happy birthday E M Forster!

2 thoughts on “E M Forster

  1. I have The Machine Stops in an anthology of short stories. BBC is blocking your link, so I’ll look for that later. But yes, 50 minutes seems long for that story. Would you say The Machine Stops qualifies as dystopia fiction? I have always considered 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 the cardinal exemplars of that genre. I find it is interesting to consider the various ways each has come true. 1984 is everyone’s go to when talking about dystopia, but the authoritarian police state it describes is so expensive, financially and psychologically, that those who have tried it failed to endure. Though you can certainly see the erasure of history on a daily basis in the press. Driftglass has written about that at length. And I am one to tell my fellow liberals that the ‘Arc of History’ quote that we all love for it’s beautiful vision is quite sentimental, and an equally plausible view of human destiny is ‘A boot, stamping on a human face. Forever’. Of course now, as always, most people would find this to be a perfectly accurate description of how they live. I’m one of the lucky ones. So far.
    Brave New World and Fahrenheit are interesting for their descriptions of how softer measures of control make populations pliable. The drug culture and hedonism of Brave New World, and mass media in Fahrenheit. And war. The power elite’s interest in perpetual war is addressed in Fahrenheit and 1984.
    A couple of works I think belong in the category, but I have yet to read are Handmaid’s Tale and The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Reading list for the new year. I’m tempted to include A Canticle For Liebowitz, because it is so good, but it seems more the story of a failed civilization than a perverted one.

    • Ugh! Thanks for the head’s up. I watched it last year and just put it in here without noticing. I’ll look into replacing it.

      Yes, I think it is dystopian, although in a different way than even Brave New World. It is so much about how we oppress ourselves.

      I think the problem with 1984 is that it is impossible to control people that much. Before getting to the rat, O’Brien says that they sometimes screw up and are not able to get people to abandon everything they love for their survival. So the idea is there. But I don’t buy it. Maybe I’m naive.

      I try to avoid dystopian novels now because I think we are living in one. It is just hard to see it. We live in a society in which some lives matter and others don’t. That would be more acceptable in say an explicitly fascist society. But in ours, it is worse because as the weak are having their faces stamped on by a boot, they are told that it is their fault and they’ve been taught their whole lives to believe that.

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