spiral

The Machine Stops

Copyright 1909

E.M. Forster

 

II.  THE MENDING APPARATUS

By a vestibule, by a lift, by a tubular railway, by a platform, by a sliding door – by reversing all the steps of her departure did Vashti arrive at her son”s room, which exactly resembled her own. She might well declare that the visit was superfluous. The buttons, the knobs, the reading-desk with the Book, the temperature, the atmosphere, the illumination – all were exactly the same. And if Kuno himself, flesh of her flesh, stood close beside her at last, what profit was there in that? She was too well-bred to shake him by the hand.

Averting her eyes, she spoke as follows:

“Here I am. I have had the most terrible journey and greatly retarded the development of my soul. It is not worth it, Kuno, it is not worth it. My time is too precious. The sunlight almost touched me, and I have met with the rudest people. I can only stop a few minutes. Say what you want to say, and then I must return.”

“I have been threatened with Homelessness,” said Kuno.

She looked at him now.

“I have been threatened with Homelessness, and I could not tell you such a thing through the Machine.”

Homelessness means death. The victim is exposed to the air, which kills him.

“I have been outside since I spoke to you last. The tremendous thing has happened, and they have discovered me.”

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scorched earth

THE MACHINE STOPS

by E.M. Forster

Copyright 1909

 

III. THE HOMELESS

During the years that followed Kuno”s escapade, two important developments took place in the Machine. On the surface they were revolutionary, but in either case men”s minds had been prepared beforehand, and they did but express tendencies that were latent already.

The first of these was the abolition of respirator.

Advanced thinkers, like Vashti, had always held it foolish to visit the surface of the earth. Air-ships might be necessary, but what was the good of going out for mere curiosity and crawling along for a mile or two in a terrestrial motor? The habit was vulgar and perhaps faintly improper: it was unproductive of ideas, and had no connection with the habits that really mattered. So respirators were abolished, and with them, of course, the terrestrial motors, and except for a few lecturers, who complained that they were debarred access to their subject- matter, the development was accepted quietly. Those who still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to listen to some gramophone, or to look into some cinematophote. And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject.

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The short, beautiful lyrics in this post come to you courtesy of the incomparable American composer Stephen Foster.

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He became famous during his lifetime and many of his Civil War-era songs like My Old Kentucky Home and Oh! Susannah! are still played and sung today.

Despite his great talent, Foster was not a prosperous man, as the world goes; he never seemed to profit much from the enormous popularity of his songs. There is a persistent legend that he was delighted when he received $100 for Oh! Susannah! – the only proceeds he ever received from the song.

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His last years were especially trying. Foster was grief-stricken when his parents died, and his inability to capitalize on his fame only seemed to aggravate his depression. The circumstances put a heavy strain on his marriage to wife Jane, and she left him, taking their small daughter with her. Foster then moved into a squalid hotel in New York City, where he struggled to compose while living in abject poverty.

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