Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, e-book

Read: from January 3rd to 7th 2013

Rating: 3 of 5 stars 


I first read about this novella in a book of Mircea Eliade (The Art of Dying, I think) and although I found the idea very ingenuous, I couldn’t imagine it developed in a long work without becoming sort of – boring. 

Surprisingly, it was not at all like that. The narrator, a Square, having had the revelation of “Many Dimensions” divides his “romance” in two parts: his world and other worlds, visited or imagined. The perspective is one of a two-dimensional character whose goal is not only to explain his world to the others but also to understand and explain the other worlds to his people.

It was said that “Flatland” is a satire of Victorian England, with its class hierarchy and women’s inferior condition, which it is, but it is also a key to understand other dimensions using geometry and it’s no wonder it was rediscovered after Einstein’s theory of relativity was published. Like the Spheres in the story, the readers probably considered the fourth dimension only a foolish idea until then, so you can say this book is also about the limitations of the human mind.

Anyway, some pages are pure poetry: 

  •  the staccato of arguments in favour of destroying the Irregular inhabitants of Flatland:

“If a man with a triangular front and a polygonal back were allowed to exist and to propagate a still more Irregular posterity, what would become of the arts of life? Are the houses and doors and churches in Flatland to be altered in order to accommodate such monsters? Are our ticket-collectors to be required to measure every man's perimeter before they allow him to enter a theatre, or to take his place in a lecture room? Is an Irregular to be exempted from the militia? And if not, how is he to be prevented from carrying desolation into the ranks of his comrades?”

  • Love defined as an absolute pitch in Lineland:

“So exquisite is the adaptation of Bass and Treble, of Tenor to Contralto, that oftentimes the Loved Ones, though twenty thousand leagues away, recognize at once the responsive note of their destined Lover”.

  • The expulsion from Spaceland, resented like a fall from Paradise:

“Down! down! down! I was rapidly descending; and I knew that return to Flatland was my doom. One glimpse, one last and never-to-be-forgotten glimpse I had of that dull level wilderness—which was now to become my Universe again— spread out before my eye. Then a darkness. Then a final, all- consummating thunder-peal; and, when I came to myself, I was once more a common creeping Square, in my Study at home, listening to the Peace- Cry of my approaching Wife.” 

  • Last but not least, the Rig-Veda-like description of the no-space, no-land:

“That Point is a Being like ourselves, but confined to the non-dimensional Gulf. He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of any other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality; for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing.”

Overall, a mini-jewel, maybe not an essential reading, but certainly an interesting enough one.

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