Flatland Questions

Anya Weber

1. (historical) Edwin Abbott Abbott seems to be satirizing both the social and scientific norms of late nineteenth-century England here. Specifically, in his description of the class system in Flatland, he appears to mock Victorian pseudo-sciences like phrenology, and more importantly, to call into question the whole issue of whether society naturally improves itself, and whether people can rise above their class. But, he also seems to be making fun of the whole idea of class differences. Did this get him into trouble when the book first came out? And, did people read it right away? It wasn't a bestseller or anything, was it? I'm just interested in what people thought of it, if they understood it as satire or as science.

2. (mathematical/physical) I'm still trying to get a grip on how things work in Flatland. It was all making sense to me until the Square started talking about Feeling as introduction and recognition process. Now, to me, if there is something there to be felt, you are in a three-dimensional universe. If I envision Flatland as a sheet of paper upon which all these triangles, squares, lines etc. are squiggling around, I guess I can imagine that one such figure could feel the point of another's angle. They both exist on the same plane, literally. But is there depth to their outsides which renders them feel-able? When the Square talked about the schoolchildren feeling the sharp point of the criminal isosceles, and BLUNTING it through their cumulative touch, that sounded like a process that can only occur if there is an in-and-out as well as a side-to-side. I suppose depth could occur on the 2-D level, in the sense that thicker or thinner lines could be drawn on the paper. But it just seemed.....not quite flat enough. Threw me for a loop. Now I think I get it, having written it down!

3. (the woman thing) E. A. A. seems to really have an axe to grind (a POINT to make, haha) about gender issues. It's a pretty harsh satire on the way women in England at his time were perceived and treated, I guess.

But I'm intrigued by the fact that the creatures farthest down on the social ladder are the ones with the greatest capacity to do harm. I guess that makes sense allegorically, with an unhappy lower class being a great danger needing to be controlled by the aristocracy, who are always trying to repress revolutions. But in Flatland, the women are the BIGGEST threat, bigger even than the criminal Isosceles.

I guess this is more a point of interest for me than something I have a specific question about, but one might ask.....Why can women in Flatland have no hope of revolution? Their tiny brains preclude collaboration, I guess, and if they can't focus on their grievances for more than 5 minutes they can hardly be expected to organize. But why does E. A. A., who sounds like a feminist, have this be the case? I mean, this is really really bleak! I think people who attack the book as sexist need to get a sense of humor, but on the other hand, why is there so much variety in males and none in females? (Maybe from another angle things would look different....)

Anyway, this book is a riot, and brings up a lot of interesting issues. I'm reading it off the computer b/c there are no more copies in our bookstore or at College Hill (they said they'd have some by Wednesday). I can't wait> to see the illustrations!