V. Mooney Annotated Bibliography

1. Abbott, Edwin. Flatland. London: Seeley, 1884. Print.


2. Abbott, Edwin. The Kernel and the Husk. London: Macmillan, 1886. Print.


In a series of letters, Abbott outlines the primary differences between Victorian Christianity and what he terms Natural Christianity. He maintains throughout the treatise that Natural Christianity does not intend to divorce from the morality or overall ideaology of Christianity, but that the Bible should be interpreted metaphorically rather than literally, so as to allow religion to exist in unison with strides in scientific progress. Natural Christianity emphasizes that one can have faith in Christ without faith in miracles. This essay will be invaluable in identifying how Flatland fits into Abbott’s theology, as well as how the novel ultimately promotes the superiority of Natural Christianity.


3. Badger, Kingsbury. “Christianity and Victorian Religious Confessions.” Modern Language Quarterly 25.1 (1964): 86-101. Web. .


Badger discusses the divergences in Christian identity and dogma that cause difficulties in determining the nature of Victorian spirituality as a whole. He provides detailed explanation of the political and social backdrop for changing religious ideas before and throughout the period, pointing out the individuals and events that were pivotal in the “crisis of faith” felt by the educated members of Victorian society. This article will primarily be important for providing historical context for what it meant to be a Christian in Victorian England, as well as providing a clearer picture of what issues would have been discussed by Abbott and his contemporaries. It will additionally offer support for the ways in which Flatland performs as an allegory for the conflict between traditional Victorian Catholicism and Natural Christianity by outlining the origins and relationship between the two.


4. Berkove, Lawrence. “A Paradoxical American Appropriation of Flatland.” Extrapolation 41.3 (2000): 266-71. Web. .


Berkove explores the impact of Flatland on the mathematician and author Henry Thurtell. He posits that Thurtell’s article “The Fourth Dimension” argues against reading Flatland as a religious allegory and against the idea that the fourth dimension represents a higher spiritual plane. He expands by suggesting that Thurtell means to caution against applying theology to intellectual abstraction, attacking spiritualists who incorrectly extrapolate that the mathematical existence of the fourth dimension assumes its reality. Berkove proposes that Thurtell’s critical rewriting of the novel brings him into line with Abbott’s main goal, which was to mock those who misused his analogy to support theoretical conclusions about religion. Although this article does not support my thesis, it will aid me in addressing the critiques of an alternative reading of Flatland.


5. Gilbert, Elliot. “”Upward, Not Northward”: Flatland and the Quest for the New.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 34.4 (1991): 391-404. Web. .


Gilbert states that Flatland is a study of Victorian society’s search for new methods of creativity and expression despite a commitment to its history. The fourth dimension and beyond represent undiscovered sources of innovation. Gilbert additionally compares Flatland’s themes to Abbott’s other works, noting the presence of themes focusing on the role of imagination in science and the clarification of biblical language throughout. These ideas in particular will be useful when reinforcing the argument that Abbott values the inner voice over the external voice and is attempting to use Flatland as a vessel for challenging the external traditionalism in Victorian religion.


6. Jann, Rosemary. “Abbott’s Flatland: Scientific Imagination and ‘Natural Christianity'” Victorian Studies 85.3 (1985): 473-90. Web. .


Jann argues that Flatland is Abbott’s critique of the rigidity of dogmatic scientific or religious thought, as well as a demonstration of how scientific “reality” and religion require similar leaps of faith outside of what is observable from the believer. She reasons that the novel is an allegorical warning against rigid thought and a failure to appreciate the ability of imagination to lead to growth, and states that Flatland operates on the idea that imagination working through appearances to higher truth is fundamental for both scientific and religious thought. Jann continues to say that Natural Christianity threw off this hypocrisy, affording imagination, science, and religion equal legitimacy, ultimately suggesting that Flatland is an allegory attempting to demonstrate the progressive power of imagination and alter arrogance of the materialist intellect and dogmatic faith. Jann’s arguments are central to my own, and the specific textual evidence that she uses to support them will be similarly vital for reading Flatland allegorically.


7. Johnson, Maria. “Critical Scholarship, Christian Antiquity, and the Victorian Crisis of Faith in the Historical Novels of Edwin Abbott.” Clio 37.3 (2008): 395-412. Web. .

In this article, Johnson details the ways in which Abbott uses narrative form in order to critique orthodox religion. She too references the history and context in which Abbott was writing, using the intellectual atmosphere of Abbott’s circle to support her assertions that Abbott utilizes fiction to encourage real religious change. Thought she focuses on Philochristus and Onesimus, I will use her article in conjunction with Gilbert’s to argue that Abbott’s overall goal in much of his writing is to further the claim that a faith that abstains from unquestioning belief in the miraculous is not only possible, but preferable and closer to the origins of Christianity. In light of the fact that Abbott’s body of work capitalizes upon these themes repeatedly, Flatland also works well as a religious allegory that is pointing out the negatives of rigid orthodoxy.

8. Smith, Jonathan, Lawrence Berkove, and Gerald Baker. “A Grammar of Dissent: “Flatland,” Newman, and the Theology of Probability.” Victorian Studies 39.2 (1996): 129-50. Web. .


The authors of this essay opposes a majority of the literature about Flatland, arguing that Flatland is a cautionary tale about imagination rather than a work intended to celebrate it. They propose that because Abbott rejects faith based on unsupportable miracles, he would rejects A. Square’s idea that the existence of a 3rd reality indicates the existence of a fourth or more. This would imply that the novel is meant to mock A. Square, not support his leaps of faith. The authors’ ideas will be instrumental in my attempts to contradict this reading of the text.


9. *St. Clair, Justin. “Borrowed Time: Thomas Pynchon’s “Against the Day” and the Victorian Fourth Dimension.” Science Fiction Studies 38.1 (2011): 46-66. Web. .


10. Valente, K.G. “Transgression and Transcendence: Flatland as a Response to “A New Philosophy”” Nineteenth-Century Contexts. 26.1 (2004): 61-77. Web. .

Valente’s essay centers on the significance of the alterations Abbott made to Flatland. He mentions Abbott’s tendency to attempt to reconcile differing schools of thought within his work, such as religion and science. Valente connects Flatland to transcendentalism, noting how the structure of space in Flatland mirrors movement between the recognizable, materialistic, scientific dimensions and the intellectual, imaginative, spiritual dimensions. This is very important, as it provides Abbott with a potential motive for writing Flatland as an allegory meant to critique Victorian Christianity –Abbott was attempting to bring science and religion together by demonstrating that religion does not necessitate a suspension of scientific belief, and that the best version of Christianity would retain the ideology but sacrifice its inflexibility.

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