Flatland

Flatland Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Edwin A. Abbott

Edwin Abbott Abbott was born in 1838 to Edwin Abbott, the headmaster of the Philological School in Marylebone, England and Jane Abbott—they were first cousins. He attended the City of London School for his early education years, and then studied at St. Johns College of Cambridge, where he received highest honors in classics. He was elected to a fellowship at his college and was ordained a deacon. At the age of 25, he became a priest. In order to marry Mary Elizabeth Rangeley from Unstone, Derbyshire, he resigned the fellowship and taught at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and then at Clifton College. In 1865, he was appointed as headmaster of the City of London School and stayed there for 24 years until he retired in 1889. After he retired, Abbott devoted most of his time to his literary and theological interests. Some of his widely known works are Shakespearean Grammar (1870), Philochristus (1878), Onesimus (1882), and The Kernel and the Husk (1886), but he is best known for his novella Flatland. He died in 1926.
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Historical Context of Flatland

Edwin Abbott lived in the Victorian era of Britain, during which Queen Victoria ruled England from 1873 to 1901. It was a time of progress and development due to the industrialization of British society. But, more importantly, it was also period of intense social and cultural tensions and changes. Victorian society was highly differentiated into the upper, middle, and lower classes. Due to the urbanization of British cities and the consequent growth of the middle class, social distinctions were intensified. On the other hand, in the field of mathematics, non-Euclidean geometry was gaining more interest and mathematicians, such as Carl Gauss, Bernhard Riemann, and Hermann von Helmholtz began thinking about the nature of extra dimensions.

Other Books Related to Flatland

In Flatland Abbott alludes to Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a work which satirizes human nature by describing four different exotic worlds. In his dream of Lineland, A Square of Flatland describes the chirping of its inhabitants as Lilliputian grasshoppers, suggesting that Swifts satire of European society (which contained a race of tiny people called Lilliputians) might have been an influence on Abbotts work. Similar to Swifts inspiration to Abbott, Flatland influenced the writing of other books, such as Gustave Fechners Space has Four Dimensions (1846) and Charles Howard Hintons An Episode on Flatland: Or How a Plain Folk Discovered the Third Dimension (1907). Both present similar stories to that of Flatland.
Key Facts about Flatland
  • Full Title: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
  • When Written: 1884
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1884
  • Literary Period: Victorian Literature
  • Genre: Satirical novella, mathematical fiction
  • Setting: Flatland
  • Climax: A Square fully comprehends the teachings of the Sphere, of the third dimensional world, and seeks the knowledge of higher dimensions.
  • Antagonist: Circles, the priests who consisted of the highest social class
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Flatland

The Book’s Reception. Abbott’s novella did not receive much attention when it was first published. In fact, it is not even mentioned as one of Abbott’s works in the British Dictionary of National Biography. It wasn’t until after Einstein published his theory on general relativity and Abbott’s book was mentioned in a 1920 Nature letter titled "Euclid, Newton and Einstein" that it gained more recognition

Mr. Mathematician. Although A Square was a mathematician, Abbott himself was not. His expertise lay mostly with classics, literature, and theology. Yet he was able to write about a hundred pages on abstract mathematical theories with few flaws in his thinking!