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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions - Edwin A. Abbott My boyfriend asked me to get this book out of the library for him, because he had read it back in school and wanted to re-read it. So, I did. He's like the world's slowest paper book reader, though, so the book has been sitting on the coffee table for days and days, and I admit that my curiosity got the better of me, and I picked it up to read.

Hmph. I am not a mathematician, nor am I an idiot. I fall somewhere between, although I pride myself on being able to understand general concepts of things. I went into this book thinking that it would be an interesting reading experience about something that I give little to no thought - spatial dimensions. I wish I could say that that is what I read. It's not. I read a soap-box rant about class and race and status divisions and a how-to on Flatlander political manipulations.

As a liberal, and even more as a feminist, this book rubbed me the wrong way on several levels. To the point that I actually wrote down a note consisting of a page range and the subtle footnote: "WHAT THE FUCK?!?"

Supposedly, this book is supposed to be a kind of social satire. If so, it failed miserably as far as I'm concerned. Satire should involve some form of mockery, letting the reader or observer know that the views are not seriously held, that they are a kind of bastardization of the truth with an aim to ridicule. That's my own definition, not Webster's or OED or anything, but I think it pretty much sums it up. Satire is making fun of something.

This was not satire. I have a pretty healthy sense of humor, but I failed to see anything mocking or humorous about the society depicted in Flatland. In fact, I was shocked and offended and angered and annoyed.

The entire first half of the book is dedicated to explaining the physical and societal aspects of Flatland. To save you the misery of reading it yourself, here's a run-down:
1) The fewer angles you have, the higher your status and the smarter you are.
- Circles are the highest/smartest class, described as doing nothing, but providing the catalyst for things to be done by underlings
- Polygons (numerously multi-sided shapes) are among the upper class, law makers, judges, politicians, generally powerful officials
- Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, Octagons, etc, are upper-middle class, lawyers, doctors, etc
- Equilateral Triangles are lower-middle class, aspiring up-and-comers
- Isosceles Triangles are the working class, servants (both public and private), executioners (due to their sharp angles), generally expendable class, depicted as unruly and dangerous
- "Irregulars" are the Criminal class, which consists of those whose angle or sides are imperfect, and are thereby stupid, mean and outlaws, still more unruly and dangerous
- Women (Lines), who possess no intelligence, no memory, no aspirations, no rights, and are depicted as purely emotionally volatile beings who are immensely dangerous and devious, and if they are annoyed they will fly into a rage and murder their husband and family. (Their end points are apparently all but invisible, and lethal.)

Furthermore, while every other class has the ability to evolve and better themselves (generally, each new generation of offspring adds an angle, thus increasing their status and intelligence with every generation), women do not. They possess no angles to begin with, so they have no hope of ever acquiring any. There's even a quaint little 'Decree of Nature': "Once a Woman, always a Woman." Charming, isn't it? It gets better.

Women's Laws:
I. Every house shall have one entrance in the Eastern side, for the use of Females only; by which all females shall enter "in a becoming and respectful manner" and not by the Men's or Western door.

II. No Female shall walk in any public place without continually keeping up her Peace-cry, under penalty of death.

III. Any Female, duly certified to be suffering from St. Vitus's Dance, fits, chronic cold accompanied by violent sneezing, or any disease necessitating involuntary motions, shall be instantly destroyed.

Some areas require women to constantly keep their sharp rear points in continuous motion. Others require a male from the woman's household to travel behind her and accompany her everywhere. Others decree that women are forbidden from leaving their homes entirely, except during religious festivals.

Furthermore, Men, in their infinite wisdom, decided that since Women had no hope of increasing their angles or station in life, any education of women was wasted, so in Flatland, Women are no longer educated. In fact, Men sacrifice much in an effort to keep their women happy (so that they aren't murdered in a fit of rage), and have even created a dual language which is taught to all males: Woman-speak is all about love and duty and emotions and feelings, "and other irrational and emotional conceptions, which have no existence, and the fiction of which has no object except to control feminine exuberances..." {page 52} Man-speak is about rational ideas, science, math, everything else. Women are prohibited from hearing man-speak, lest they have a thought and seek to understand or pass along an idea to another woman and foment a rebellion or revolution to gain some rights. "Men use language implying the utmost deference to their Sex[...:] but behind their backs they are both regarded and spoken of - by all but the very young - as being little better than 'mindless organisms.'" {page 52}

No. That's not a joke.

The book then goes on to talk about how the masses are kept down. Equality is frowned upon, uniqueness is outlawed, regularity of angles is looked at as Divine law. All to keep the little people little, and the ignorant in the dark, and the powerful right where they are.

Horrible. Again, if this is satire, shouldn't there be the feeling that this is not how our narrator feels? He indicates that he knows the reader will find the treatment of women to be "truly deplorable", but goes on to indicate that it is necessary and accepted and right.

So anyway... Speedy recap of the rest of the story, because I'm tired of thinking about (and being annoyed by) this book:
The men focus on math and science and increasing their knowledge. Great. So when Mr. Square, our narrator makes his way in a vision to Lineland (a one dimensional place), he tries to enlighten the people there, and succeeds only at offending them. Then, Square himself is visited by a Sphere, and is himself enlightened, after being resistant to the mind-altering information that was being foisted on him. Then, they go to a non-dimensional plane, where a being is immensely happy and ignorant of everything around it. So of course Square, being holier-than-thou, must enlighten it. Thankfully, he fails. He's so gung-ho about sharing his knowledge that he's willing to thoughtlessly ruin a peaceful happiness for another being. That pissed me off.
Finally, he is sent back to Flatland, where he alone knows The Truth. And he finds out that sharing this truth, which of course will cause a panic and probably uprisings and the like, has consequences - he is imprisoned indefinitely, which says to me that knowledge gained if not able to be applied in a practical way serves no purpose. So what's the point? Being a woman, I probably just don't get it.

Last thing that I'll mention is that this book is endlessly repetitive. In just 108 pages, I was bored out of my mind by the recycling of spatial explanation. Upward, not Northward. Blah blah blah. Yet the narrator keeps saying that the reader will understand without long explanations... and then he makes them again. Ugh. Yet he leaves out all the interesting stuff... motion and building methods and general ways that people live and eat and work etc in Flatland.

Anyway... I didn't care for this one much.

End of story.