Becky's Reviews > Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
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Apr 17, 10

bookshelves: library-books, multi-dimensional, science-fiction, 2010, made-my-eyes-bleed, classics, reviewed, dystopias
Recommended for: misogynistic insomniacs
Read from April 16 to 17, 2010

My boyfriend asked me to get this book out of the library for him, because he had read it back in school and wanted to re-read it. So, I did. He's like the world's slowest paper book reader, though, so the book has been sitting on the coffee table for days and days, and I admit that my curiosity got the better of me, and I picked it up to read.

Hmph. I am not a mathematician, nor am I an idiot. I fall somewhere between, although I pride myself on being able to understand general concepts of things. I went into this book thinking that it would be an interesting reading experience about something that I give little to no thought - spatial dimensions. I wish I could say that that is what I read. It's not. I read a soap-box rant about class and race and status divisions and a how-to on Flatlander political manipulations.

As a liberal, and even more as a feminist, this book rubbed me the wrong way on several levels. To the point that I actually wrote down a note consisting of a page range and the subtle footnote: "WHAT THE FUCK?!?"

Supposedly, this book is supposed to be a kind of social satire. If so, it failed miserably as far as I'm concerned. Satire should involve some form of mockery, letting the reader or observer know that the views are not seriously held, that they are a kind of bastardization of the truth with an aim to ridicule. That's my own definition, not Webster's or OED or anything, but I think it pretty much sums it up. Satire is making fun of something.

This was not satire. I have a pretty healthy sense of humor, but I failed to see anything mocking or humorous about the society depicted in Flatland. In fact, I was shocked and offended and angered and annoyed.

The entire first half of the book is dedicated to explaining the physical and societal aspects of Flatland. To save you the misery of reading it yourself, here's a run-down:
1) The fewer angles you have, the higher your status and the smarter you are.
- Circles are the highest/smartest class, described as doing nothing, but providing the catalyst for things to be done by underlings
- Polygons (numerously multi-sided shapes) are among the upper class, law makers, judges, politicians, generally powerful officials
- Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, Octagons, etc, are upper-middle class, lawyers, doctors, etc
- Equilateral Triangles are lower-middle class, aspiring up-and-comers
- Isosceles Triangles are the working class, servants (both public and private), executioners (due to their sharp angles), generally expendable class, depicted as unruly and dangerous
- "Irregulars" are the Criminal class, which consists of those whose angle or sides are imperfect, and are thereby stupid, mean and outlaws, still more unruly and dangerous
- Women (Lines), who possess no intelligence, no memory, no aspirations, no rights, and are depicted as purely emotionally volatile beings who are immensely dangerous and devious, and if they are annoyed they will fly into a rage and murder their husband and family. (Their end points are apparently all but invisible, and lethal.)

Furthermore, while every other class has the ability to evolve and better themselves (generally, each new generation of offspring adds an angle, thus increasing their status and intelligence with every generation), women do not. They possess no angles to begin with, so they have no hope of ever acquiring any. There's even a quaint little 'Decree of Nature': "Once a Woman, always a Woman." Charming, isn't it? It gets better.

Women's Laws:
I. 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.

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

III. 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.

Some areas require women to constantly keep their sharp rear points in continuous motion. Others require a male from the woman's household to travel behind her and accompany her everywhere. Others decree that women are forbidden from leaving their homes entirely, except during religious festivals.

Furthermore, Men, in their infinite wisdom, decided that since Women had no hope of increasing their angles or station in life, any education of women was wasted, so in Flatland, Women are no longer educated. In fact, Men sacrifice much in an effort to keep their women happy (so that they aren't murdered in a fit of rage), and have even created a dual language which is taught to all males: Woman-speak is all about love and duty and emotions and feelings, "and other irrational and emotional conceptions, which have no existence, and the fiction of which has no object except to control feminine exuberances..." {page 52} Man-speak is about rational ideas, science, math, everything else. Women are prohibited from hearing man-speak, lest they have a thought and seek to understand or pass along an idea to another woman and foment a rebellion or revolution to gain some rights. "Men use language implying the utmost deference to their Sex[...:] but behind their backs they are both regarded and spoken of - by all but the very young - as being little better than 'mindless organisms.'" {page 52}

No. That's not a joke.

The book then goes on to talk about how the masses are kept down. Equality is frowned upon, uniqueness is outlawed, regularity of angles is looked at as Divine law. All to keep the little people little, and the ignorant in the dark, and the powerful right where they are.

Horrible. Again, if this is satire, shouldn't there be the feeling that this is not how our narrator feels? He indicates that he knows the reader will find the treatment of women to be "truly deplorable", but goes on to indicate that it is necessary and accepted and right.

So anyway... Speedy recap of the rest of the story, because I'm tired of thinking about (and being annoyed by) this book:
The men focus on math and science and increasing their knowledge. Great. So when Mr. Square, our narrator makes his way in a vision to Lineland (a one dimensional place), he tries to enlighten the people there, and succeeds only at offending them. Then, Square himself is visited by a Sphere, and is himself enlightened, after being resistant to the mind-altering information that was being foisted on him. Then, they go to a non-dimensional plane, where a being is immensely happy and ignorant of everything around it. So of course Square, being holier-than-thou, must enlighten it. Thankfully, he fails. He's so gung-ho about sharing his knowledge that he's willing to thoughtlessly ruin a peaceful happiness for another being. That pissed me off.
Finally, he is sent back to Flatland, where he alone knows The Truth. And he finds out that sharing this truth, which of course will cause a panic and probably uprisings and the like, has consequences - he is imprisoned indefinitely, which says to me that knowledge gained if not able to be applied in a practical way serves no purpose. So what's the point? Being a woman, I probably just don't get it.

Last thing that I'll mention is that this book is endlessly repetitive. In just 108 pages, I was bored out of my mind by the recycling of spatial explanation. Upward, not Northward. Blah blah blah. Yet the narrator keeps saying that the reader will understand without long explanations... and then he makes them again. Ugh. Yet he leaves out all the interesting stuff... motion and building methods and general ways that people live and eat and work etc in Flatland.

Anyway... I didn't care for this one much.

End of story.
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Reading Progress

04/16/2010 page 1
0.93% "Started reading Thomas's library book while waiting and not having any of my own handy... Interestingish."
04/16/2010 page 23
21.3% "Hmmm... =\"
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason Cooperrider My high school chemistry teacher gave me this book. Now I'm glad I never read it.

message 2: by Kathy (new)

Kathy So tell me how you really felt about the book? ;)

message 3: by Bondama (new)

Bondama Becky, you have GOT to be putting us on... this vision of a "Utopia" actually exists? I can happily say I've never heard of it ...Can I now pretend it doesn't exist?

Becky I wish it was a joke. It was atrocious. It encouraged male betterment, while keeping women in the lowest of the low status, and also blatantly prescribed imprisonment or death for the "unintelligent" and sharp angled -- if they cannot be controlled and used, that is.

I would not wish this book on my worst enemy. A book about spatial dimensions somehow turned into a fundamentalist Misogynistic Law and Caste System guidebook. =\

message 5: by Becky (last edited Apr 20, 2010 07:59AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Becky Oh, and I forgot the best part! (Rats!) The best part is that once an Isosceles Triangle moves sufficiently up in their evolutionary status to have an Equilateral Triangle child, the exstatic parents then have to give up all parental rights to the child, so that a suitable set of parents may raise the child appropriately. Wouldn't want the kid to know where they came from, or *gasp* become like their Lowest-of-the-low-Mother or their worthless Isosceles father, right?

It's essentially like saying, "Attention all poor, idiotic, low-class people: you can breed, but if your baby's IQ surpasses a certain level, we'll just go ahead and take that cute little genius right off your hands, because you're not capable of raising it to our exacting standards of excellence. But, hey, you have no reason to complain right? We all want better for our kids!"


message 6: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Sounds pretty dystopian to me.

Becky Kathy wrote: "Sounds pretty dystopian to me."

You know... I thought about shelving it that way, and actually had a little internal argument with myself. But I told Kandice about it and she said the same thing, and now you... so I think I'm just going to do it! LOL

message 8: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Becky wrote: "Kathy wrote: "Sounds pretty dystopian to me."

You know... I thought about shelving it that way, and actually had a little internal argument with myself. But I told Kandice about it and she said ..."

Great minds think alike! :)

Becky The sad thing is that I don't think that it was intentional. I felt like this was how the author, through the narrator, really felt. =\

message 10: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Becky wrote: "The sad thing is that I don't think that it was intentional. I felt like this was how the author, through the narrator, really felt. =\"

Becky wrote: "The sad thing is that I don't think that it was intentional. I felt like this was how the author, through the narrator, really felt. =\"

That would be scary then!

message 11: by Becky (new) - rated it 1 star

Becky On the plus side, this is pretty obscure and not well-known, so there's not a lot of danger of this catching-on. :P

message 12: by Felina (new)

Felina I'm curious as to what your boyfriend thinks of the book since he wanted to read it for a second time.

message 13: by Felina (new)

Felina And how do you take a book out of your tbr? I don't want to read this at all. :(

message 14: by Kandice (new)

Kandice I don't think he remembers it exactly as it was written! LOL

message 15: by Becky (new) - rated it 1 star

Becky Felina wrote: "And how do you take a book out of your tbr? I don't want to read this at all. :("

Go to the "edit review" page and at the very bottom, click "remove from my books".

message 16: by Becky (new) - rated it 1 star

Becky He remembered the sexism after I mentioned it to him, but he remembered it mostly for the dimensions, and how understanding the lower dimensions would help to understand the higher ones, etc.

That would have been cool. This was not.

message 17: by Felina (new)

Felina Hmmm. Thanks!

message 18: by Felina (new)

Felina Kandice wrote: "I don't think he remembers it exactly as it was written! LOL"

Thats what I was thinking. Unless Becky really likes to argue with her men. :)

message 19: by Becky (new) - rated it 1 star

Becky Well, there is that. :P

BetteRose Ryan I do think you missed the satire. This was written in the 1880's and was a comment on how horrible society was at the time. The author, having put to paper, in an exaggerated way, the state of affairs at the time, is really trying to show how asinine it was. What I find interesting is that we as a society haven't come very far from this. We have just changed who the haves and the have nots are.

Smarika um, i really think it's a satirical position on how women are treated rather than misogynist. A pinch of salt might be helpful.

Kinga I really don't think how you could think this 'dystopia' represents the author's views.. This was written in the beginning of the women's suffrage movement and it was making a case FOR it, rather than against it.

It was showing how flat and close-minded such views were! It was like not being able to see more than one dimension.... And refusing to accept the truth. I don't think the narrator could be more obvious when he lets the hero learn the truth and then have the society call him crazy and lock him up for it. You as a reader know he is right. Therefore you should conclude that society is wrong and that's what the narrator wanted you to do.

BetteRose Ryan Kinga wrote: "I really don't think how you could think this 'dystopia' represents the author's views.. This was written in the beginning of the women's suffrage movement and it was making a case FOR it, rather t..."

I certainly read it that way. Then I was around during the women's revolution of the 60' - 70's and I do understand satire.

Christopher Roberts You better not read Jonathan Swift. That guy actually advocated the poor selling their babies to the rich so that they could eat them. How appalling! (Note: the former comment was satire. Just letting everybody know that when I insisted that I did not know Swift was satire I was doing a satire of Becky's inability to get satire. I don't want anybody to think I'm stupid or something.)

Katya I agree that the intent of the book was to show the "flat" society as being limited in their understanding (limited in depth - ha!) and that is why he portrayed the society as he did. The one character who observes the sphere passing through (the incarnation) is the visionary, the one who is beginning to be able to grasp something higher and more beautiful.

message 26: by Mia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mia Yeah, as a couple of people have pointed out, Abbott was a outspoken supporter of equal rights, and the horrible depiction of women was meant to parody the way that Victorian women were treated (as in, one dimension less worthy than men). Similar thing to the ideas about class. The very things you are angry about were intended to be over-the-top satire to draw attention to how terrible the equivalent is in real life.

Christina I agree, I found the content to be vaguely sexist, but since I am not as hardcore a feminist as you are, and because the point of the book is not to ridicule the stupidity of women nor to create bigoted social classes, I managed to enjoy the actual SCIENCE and PHYSICS of the story more than I disliked the prejudice.

message 28: by Rik (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rik McRik Oh dear. I think you'd better look up the word "satire" because that is exactly what it is. It is not intended to be laugh out loud funny. It is, however, (on one level) a pretty brilliant comment on Victorian values. It's a shame the satire was too subtle for you - it really isn't sexist and really is brilliant.

Lindsey Vaughan I agree with bettyrose. It's a satire. Satire - the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize individual or society vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues....

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