Science (April 3, 1885), pp. 265--266.
Flatland, to which we referred a short time ago, besides giving the general reader an easy
view of the road by which the mathematician enters the world of n dimensions, contains
also a clever picture of the ludicrousness of various social theories now under discussion,
when pushed to their legitimate consequences. The inhabitants of that country have the
shape of various plane figures, --- triangles, squares, pentagons, and polygons, --- and the
degree of their intelligence is in direct ratio to the number of their sides; so that
`intellectuality' becomes synonymous with `angularity,' and the circle is a member of the
priestly order, --- the highest class of all. Beyond the soldiers and the lowest class of
workmen, who are triangles with only two sides equal, --- a figure so irregular that it can
hardly be considered human, --- it is a law of nature that each male child shall have on more
side than his father.
Evolution is thus a perfectly regular and definite process; and a man's remoteness from
the flat apes, his ancestors, can be known by simply counting the number of his sides.
Any slight irregularity in a figure is equivalent to a moral imperfection; and to train up a
child in the path of virtue is to keep him straight in a literal sense. If he is born with any
marked unevenness, he must be taken to one of the regular hospitals for the cure of that
disease, or he is in danger of ending his days in the state prison. There is no way of
knowing whether a particular delinquency calls for punishment or regard as a means of
reform. The author, a square, confesses that he is at a loss what course to pursue when
one of his own hexagonal grandsons pleads as an excuse for his disobedience that a sudden
change in the temperature has caused an unequal shrinking in his perimeter, and that the
blame ought to be laid, not on him, but on his configuration, which can only be
strengthened by abundance of the choicest sweet-meats.
The women in Flatland are straight lines. As they have no angles, they have no
intellect; and as they have nothing to say, and no constraint of wit, sense, or reason to
prevent their saying it, their conversation is a great bore. To such an extent has the
system of female non-education or quietism been pushed, that they are no longer taught
to read, nor to master arithmetic enough to count the angles of their husbands or children.
The author fears that this policy has been carried so far as to react injuriously on the men,
who are obliged to lead a bi-lingual or even a bi-mental existence. They must be able to
speak not only the female language of emotion, but also the male language of science, in
which `love' becomes `the anticipation of benefits,' `duty' becomes `necessity' or `fitness,'
and other words are correspondingly transmuted. In the presence of women, moreover,
the language used implies the utmost deference for their sex; but behind their backs they
are both regarded and spoken of as being little better than `mindless organisms.' The strain
of this dual existence, it is believed, has some tendency to enfeeble the male intellect, and
on that ground alone the author appeals to the authorities to reconsider the regulations of