Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott

How I love this book. Now I have already done a booktube video on the maths in Flatland, so in this review I will focus on the other aspects of the book.

Flatland is about A Square.Square-in-a-square_quilt_block


He lives in Flatland, a world of 2 dimensions, length and breadth.

So when we in the 3 dimensions see as different 2 dimensional shapes like this

The inhabitants of Flatland only see as a line. Because they have a strick class system they have developed different methods of inferring the differences in the shapes by the means of speech patterns, feeling the edges and calculations based on thickness of the fog (I explain this in the booktube video). The system of this world is that shapes with uneven sides are misfits, and the more sides you have the higher up you are on the class hierarchy.

Like many similar fiction books of the time written as a psydo-travel exploration, this book was a critic of the Victorian society. One interesting aspect of this has to do with the protagonist A Square and our judgement of him, is he a product or a critic of what he is talking about. One aspect is the class, but there are also elements regarding women. Females in Flatland are very thin rectangles, confused to be only a line. Because of this and the fear men have on women hurting them because they can’t see them, women have strict rules for what they can and can’t do when they are with other people. This is actually an interesting comment. The way the book lays out the rules of this world women can be a real danger for society. Rather than trusting women to be careful, the upper class men then impose rules on women to ensure their own safety. Imagine it like this, because women in cares could be dangerous, we have to ban her from driving at all. I don’t know if Abbott meant to create this as a critique, but it is quite interesting in regard to how often “the other” has been limited in society because the people in power simply didn’t trust them.

1. Every house shall have one entrance in the Eastern side, for the use of Females only; by which all females shall enter “in a becoming and respectful manner” and not by the Men’s or Western door.

2. No Female shall walk in any public place without continually keeping up her Peace-cry, under penalty of death.

3. Any Female, duly certified to be suffering from St. Vitus’s Dance, fits, chronic cold accompanied by violent sneezing, or any disease necessitating involuntary motions, shall be instantly destroyed .

– chapter 4

Another aspect of this book that was interesting was the lack of colours. A Square tells of the past where there where colours. Each side of the shape got it’s own colour, so now you could much easier tell which shape was which. The only exception to the rules where women and circles (In Flatland the more sides you have the higher you are in the class system), whom both are seen to have no side. Then some wanted to use the colours as a way of removing the class system and they did this by wanting women and circles to be painted the same colours, in that way making shapes not known if they are seeing a woman and circle. This would result in women being treated as circles, at least when they were first encountered. Colours where banned. Flatland is therefore literally a world that’s black and white.

A Square is both critical and not critical of the society that he lives and it’s consequences. While he lays down how society works claiming it as “Law of Nature”. At the same time when A Square is trying to figure out the different dimensions that he gets exposed to during the story and how society at large forbid him to talk about it, he is very verbal about that not being the right thing to do. In the end he begs his peers to be open to the mathematical enquires about the different dimensions and to not reject it. He is both a part of and a victim of the society he lives in.

I know people say it’s a romance, but I don’t really get why that is. While it might infer to the style of writing, I have also heard of people referring it to a people in love romance. If you know what they are talking about please let me know, because all I read was a philosophical book about society, mathematics and God.

Distress not yourself if you cannot at first understand the deeper mysteries of Spaceland. By degrees they will dawn upon you. – chapter 18


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