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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by…

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884)

by Edwin A. Abbott

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A satire of Victorian cultural norms, it's the story of a denizen of a two dimensional world, a square by the name A. Square. The first half skewers the class system and the deplorable condition of women. Going into this book, I thought it was only a satire of the class system, so I initially believed the misogyny was merely background noise. After a few pages though, it became so outrageous that I realized it was also satirical. Bravo, M Abbot. At the end there's some stuff about art, science, and individual expression, but I'm not sure how successful that was/is.
The second half concerns A Square's dream of a one dimensional world, and a forced journey to 3D world wherein he can see the nature of his own world. This forms the background into some pointed questions about political authority and religious veracity, especially when Square attempts to get a 3D Sphere to contemplate a 4th dimension. It's a bit forced, and is less satire and more questioning, but I think it still works.
4 stars oc, 3.5 for the book, and an extra .5 because my copy smells fantastic. ( )
1 vote starcat | Aug 11, 2014 |
An amusing and petite (82 pp)mathematical fantasy written over a century ago, Flatland proves to be a gentle social satire a la Gulliver's Travels that doesn't quite manage to rise above the sexism and classism of its time (even while poking fun at such social prejudices). Flatland's Gulliver is a Professional Man Square (for comparison, Middle Class Men are Equilateral Triangles, all Women are Straight Lines & Lower Class Males are Isosceles Triangles of varying angles, the more acute, the lower the class) in a two-dimensional world where the ultimate goal is to engender a Circle. He visits the one-dimensional world of the line in a dream, the no-dimensional world of the point in his imagination and the three-dimensional world of the cube and the sphere with the assistance of a guide from Spaceland. He is ultimately imprisoned (what else could be his fate?) as a heretic (his heresy, the news of 3-dimensional Space). ( )
1 vote Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Impressed with how the author uses fiction to explain a complex concept and provoke thought. ( )
1 vote MeriwetherR | May 19, 2014 |
Absolutely brilliant - a true masterpiece. The premise is so simple - just the basics of elementary school mathematics. Abbott makes characters out of basic shapes with such diversity and far reaching social commentaries that are as relevant today as it was in the time in which he wrote it. ( )
1 vote KimMarie1 | May 6, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, published in 1884, is Edwin A. Abbott's social satire and Christian apologetic. As a Cambridge mathematician, theologian, and schoolmaster, Abbott had a lot to say about his Victorian society and about being open-minded to the supernatural. He does this from the point of view of a humble square that lives in Flatland, a world of only two dimensions.

For the first half of the book ("This World"), the square explains the demography of Flatland, all the while offering hilarious social satire. He begins at the lowest social stratum (women, who are straight lines) and ends with the king, who has so many sides that he's indistinguishable from a circle. Low-class men, such as soldiers, are isosceles triangles with sharp acute angles. Since the brain is the size of the smallest angle, these men are stupid, but their sharp angles provide offensive weapons. Anyone who has an angle under 60? is a serf. Women, of course, have no angles, which means they are brainless and irrational (and Abbot provides plenty of tongue-in-cheek evidence for this fact). But women have a mouth on one end, and it can effectively be used as a dagger. When viewed from the back, a woman is hard to notice since she is seen only as a point, thus she must sway her bottom back and forth to alert others of her dangerous presence.

Pretending that he's merely explaining Flatland society to his readers in "Spaceland," Abbot mercilessly mocks his era's class structure, fashion, aristocratic marriage and parenting practices, the education system and school board politics, and government. All of this is done in a reasonable-sounding lecturing tone:

"Obviously then a Woman is not to be irritated as long as she is in a position where she can turn round. When you have them in their apartments -- which are constructed with a view to denying them that power -- you can say and do what you like; for they are then wholly impotent for mischief, and will not remember a few minutes hence the incident for which they may be at this moment threatening you with death, nor the promises which you may have found it necessary to make in order to pacify their fury."

In the second half of the book ("Other Worlds") the square explains his vision of a one-dimensional realm called "Lineland" where he meets the king of Lineland who can't imagine Flatland, a world of two dimensions. The square thinks this is amusing, so he torments the belligerent king by using the second dimension to speak to the king from above, to magically pop in and out of the King's view, and to offer predictions about who is approaching the king from afar (image below). With his omniscience and omnipresence, the square bewilders the king of Lineland.

Upon his return to Flatland, the square is confronted by a sphere from our Spaceland of three dimensions who, poised in the third dimension, can view all of Flatland. To the Flatlanders the sphere looks like a circle of changing diameter, and to Linelanders he seems to be only two lines. The sphere can pop in and out of Flatland and Lineland as he wills, can see inside (and even manipulate) houses and bodies, and can make predictions about the future based on what he sees from his viewpoint.

Our square, who harassed the king of Lineland for his inability to imagine Flatland, is now flummoxed at the thought of a dimension he can't perceive, but he believes it because he has witnessed the sphere's power and he remembers his analogous encounter in one-dimensional Lineland. When the square tries to preach this new teaching, though, he meets resistance from unbelievers.

The metaphor, of course, is that we in Spaceland, being confined to only the dimensions we are able to perceive, can't imagine more dimensions in which other beings exist and may be able to visit, view, or manipulate us. This idea isn't at all new to me, but I found Abbott's explanation to be a very convincing line of reasoning and, perhaps, a way to imagine what it must be like to be God. Flatland is best known, by the way, as a treatise on dimensionality and is considered by scientists to be prophetic in its use of unseen dimensions to explain physical phenomena.

Flatland is available in the public domain, but I chose to listen to Blackstone Audio's recent version which is four hours long and read by Robin Field. The audiobook does not come with Edwin Abbott's drawings, but I had no trouble imagining them because they're thoroughly described by Abbott in the text. However, it's easy to refer to them in public domain sources if you wish. I loved Robin Field's narration and, even though the material seems heavy, I didn't have any problem following along. I did, however, have to maintain constant focus just to translate all of the geometric metaphors into social analogies during the first section of the book. For that reason, Flatland is hard work, but immensely rewarding. I thought it was brilliant.

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (63 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Abbott, Edwin A.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, RayIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dewdney, A. K.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edelmann, HeinzCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoffman, BaneshIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jann, RosemaryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalka, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lightman, Alan P.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, ValerieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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"O day and night, but this is wondrous strange" [Hamlet]

"Fie, fie, how franticly I square my talk!" [Titus Andronicus]
The Inhabitants of SPACE IN GENERAL
This Work is Dedicated
By a Humble Native of Flatland
In the Hope that
Even as he was Initiated into the Mysteries
Of THREE Dimensions
Having been previously conversant
So the Citizens of that Celestial Region
May aspire yet higher and higher
To the Secrets of FOUR FIVE OR EVEN SIX Dimensions
Thereby contributing
To the Enlargement of THE IMAGINATION
And the possible Development
Of that most rare and excellent Gift of MODESTY
Among the Superior Races
First words
I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space.
Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Cela doit vous apprendre que la satisfaction de soi-même trahit un être vil et ignorant, et que mieux vaut aspirer à quelque chose qu'être heureux aveuglément et dans l'impuissance.
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The Annotated Flatland has substantial commentary by Ian Stewart and so is a separate work.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 048627263X, Paperback)

Flatland is one of the very few novels about math and philosophy that can appeal to almost any layperson. Published in 1880, this short fantasy takes us to a completely flat world of two physical dimensions where all the inhabitants are geometric shapes, and who think the planar world of length and width that they know is all there is. But one inhabitant discovers the existence of a third physical dimension, enabling him to finally grasp the concept of a fourth dimension. Watching our Flatland narrator, we begin to get an idea of the limitations of our own assumptions about reality, and we start to learn how to think about the confusing problem of higher dimensions. The book is also quite a funny satire on society and class distinctions of Victorian England.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:58 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

A science fiction classic. The narrator is A. Square, whose flat, middle-class life is suddenly given an exciting new shape by his encounter with a sphere. The sphere introduces A. Square to the joys and sorrows of the third dimension, and the reader is drawn into the deligtful subtleties and irrepressible logic of multidimensional thinking.… (more)

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