Edwin Abbott Abbott, a British headmaster, died Oct. 12, 1926, at age 87. Abbott is best known for a book that he published in 1884, titled Flatland. The book is at once a romance, a satire, and an allegory, as it tells the tale of a square (literally, “A Square”) who inhabits a two-dimensional world, and is one day introduced to the third dimension and to creatures such as cubes. Naturally, as he attempts to enlighten his fellow-Flatlanders about this new dimension in their lives, he is branded a heretic and thrown into prison, where, à la Boethius, he consoles himself by writing this book.
Most of the appeal of Flatland derives not from its warnings about the dangers of being close-minded, but from the delightful descriptions and drawings of daily life in Flatland. Abbott provides a diagram of A Square’s house (as seen from the third dimension, by the way; see first image). Note that his servants are mere triangles, his sons (in their bedrooms at upper left) are pentagons, and his grandsons (at bottom) are hexagons. So the number of sides you have is an indicator of social status, and each new generation gains a side, suggesting some kind of upward mobility, so that everyone can have some future hope of “improving his angle”. But not the women, who are nearly one-dimensional, like needles, and who are so dangerous to men (because you cannot see them coming until they have run right through you) that they have their own separate house entrance at the right. The conjugal bed is next to Mrs Square’s entrance and apartment, so that would seem to be her primary function, but how she conceives and gives birth to polygonal offspring is a mystery upon which the book sheds no light. Speaking of light, no one in Flatland knows where the light comes from that illuminates the insides of their houses. A Square knows–it comes from “above”–but since no one can imagine what direction that is, they agree that Mr Square should continue to be mocked and locked up.
This collection includes:
II. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
IV. How to Write Clearly: Rules and Exercises on English Composition
V. Philochristus: Memoirs of a Disciple of the Lord
VI. Onesimus: Memoirs of a Disciple of St. Paul
VII. Silanus the Christian