Three Men Make a World

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Marvell, Andrew [sic, pseudonym for Howell Davies: not to be confused with the 17th-c. "Metaphysical" poet].[1] Three Men Make a World. London: Gollancz, 1939.[2]

Chosen by I.F. Clarke in Voices Prophesying War as a work to represent a set of 20th-c. Arcadias where a disaster destroys industrial civilization — ultimately, for the good. Others include Tomorrow, And a New Earth, Unborn Tomorrow, Deluge, Down, Gay Hunter, and, q.v., "The Machine Stops."

"One example can speak for all these stories. In Three Men Make a World (1939), Andrew Marvell describes how a scientist's discovery of petrol-destroying bacteria is the means of freeing the world from the Old Man of Industrialism. Mechanical transport breaks down everywhere, and after a period of famine and disease Britain becomes a land of small kingdoms. The machine is the symbol and the cause of evil [...]." Davies/Marvell asserts of this personified machine:

It has added little to knowledge, and the application of that knowledgeable has been most damnable. It has given us a new range of brutality, but little happiness. We grow more miserable as the machine grows more perfect, for it is supplanting us. It has killed the craftsman, the man who moulded things with his own hand and brain. The individual, the man long tempered by his work, is gone, the man with a shop of his own, the worker with a lathe or a plough or a shovel. He's dead. That is the one thing the machine has done for us.

Clarke finds this part of "the great debate of the 1930s on the place of man in a highly organized society," with the debate reaching "its most sophisticated form in [Aldous] Huxley's Brave New World. The conflict between the Savage and the world of Our Ford, between individual values and the advantages of a planned economy, produced the characteristic anti-Utopia of the period" (ch. 4, p. 147). The protest against the machine and machine-society "animates the drama of mankind versus the robots in [Karel] Čapek's R.U.R.; it is the primary consideration in the tales of mass warfare; and it is the prime mover in all those angry dystopias of the twentieth century that present mechanism as the means of maintaining the straitjacket control of human freedom and individual spontaneity" (p. 148).

RDE, finishing, 19Dec20