In his 1884 satirical novella, Flatland, English school teacher Edwin Abbott contends that Victorian society is divided into distinct classes and that the main goal of everyone is to climb the social ladder as quickly as possible. However, although social ascent is technically open to everyone, only those on the very top rung of the ladder have the right to say who is going to be socially elevated and who is not. Although Britain is looked at as a free country, Abbott suggests that this is not the case, and that laws are cruelly intended to keep everyone in their place and to prevent excellence or growth.
Flatland is a place where everything is two-dimensional and occupied by geometric figures. Men are polygons and women lines. The narrator is a respected professional represented by a square. He describes to the reader the complications of living in a two-dimensional world a millennia into the future and beyond.
Although the novella seems to be a groundbreaking and acerbic satire about life in Victorian Britain, it made but a tiny blemish on the literary landscape. Scientists interested in the issue of dimensions of the universe largely ignored it because of its contention that it was a social parody. Social commentators gave it a generally wide berth because they did not understand the dimensional aspect to it at all; however, after Einstein's theory of relativity prompted a resurgence of interest in the novella and Abbott was declared a prophet and a man ahead of his time. Stephen Hawking referenced Abbott in his book A Brief History of Time.
The novella has been adapted for the big screen a number of times, the most famous adaptation coming in 2007; a sequel followed five years later.
Edwin Abbott's claim to fame as a schoolteacher was that he had once taught the British Prime Minister, H.H. Asquity, as a child. In 1889 he retired from education to devote himself to philosophy and theology full time. He authored three romance novels that had a heavy Christian leaning, and was also the biographer of Francis Bacon.