Research 1884

Paul Wolff

While researching magazine articles from 1884, some of the roots of Abbott's satire as exercised in Flatland became apparent. The sensibility of the society included very particular views regarding women and the place of America in the world of art. Several examples from the Decorator and Furnisher and Harpers Weekly magazines during this time period reflect this sensibility and conversely the origin of some of Abbott's satire.

For example, the following exerpts from an article, written by Harriet Candee, from the Decorator and Home Finisher (January 1884) reflect an attitude about an order and irregularity in the society of the time. She states, "The drawing room is the room which, if we have any individuality, we unconsciously show it in our manner of furnishing and decorating. We may not care to go in for any particular style, and religiously adhere to the period which may be selected, but being possessed of taste with enlarged views, we may see something to admire in all the different periods of furniture, and so like to furnish our rooms with a choice selection of bits which have happened to take our fancy, or which we may have come across in our rambles at different times. A room of this kind is very charming, but it requires great card and taste of we should soon spoil the general effect by admitting something which is irregular or incongruous." This article reveals a clear indication of the Victorian's need for order and regularity. This last sentence in particular could come from Flatland dogma itself.

In a similarly refelctive manner, Ms. Candee continues as she expresses the society's view of women and education at the time. She writes, "It is commonly assumed that women have better taste than men. They may have in dress but the ladies must pardon me if I cannot agree that they display more taste in matters pertaining to art. Good taste can only be cultivated by incessant study, and it is by knowledge, and knowledge alone, that one in enabled to form an accurate judgement respecting beauty or want of beauty and fitness." In other words, women were limited because they were uneducated, but because they could never receive the same education as men, they could never be equal intellectually. This is an irony that Abbott capitalizes on his social satire in Flatland. In the context of his book, I feel his use of satire in this regard is not necessarily misogynistic.

Another prevailing view in the society of 1884, as exhibited in a Harper's Weekly magazine article by Curtis Bond, was that of America's place in the world of art. He writes, " Some very clever work is being done in our schools of design, and the average of the drawings that I have seen is rapidly approaching the standard of excellence attained in the best foreign schools...In America just now, we put a premium on foreign art by neglecting our own. But, it will not be so much longer when our lads can be so readily transformed into artists and decorators as experiments in Boston, New York and Cincinnati show that they can be, we may hope for the best results. We have been catching up with the foreigners since 1876 and they have in that period made but relatively small advances. "

Likewise, another article in the same magazine by Rita Bainbridge states, " The disposition of feeling that everything of an artistic nature that contains merit must necessarily be imported from Europe, is somewhat on the decline, and the American people have learned that articles of equal beauty and the same artistic value may be made right here in our own city and among our own artisans." In considering Abbott's Flatland, I would say that the idea of something being better because it has something else ( another dimension) could be related to the sensibility stated here. America obviously thought that Europe had something it did not have. The assumption that America could catch up so quickly is as preposterous as the Square in Flatland thinking that he could instantly tutor anyone regarding his experience and that they would readily belive and comprehend. This also is perhaps another source of Abbott's social satire.