MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Papers of A.J. Wentworth, B.A. (1949)
Humphry Francis Ellis
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

This is a humorous book about A J Wentworth, school master at a British school, who teaches Algebra to 11-13 year old children. The entire novel has a touch of Wodehouse to it as it follows the bumbling but sincere actions and reactions in the life of Wentworth, his dealings with cocky, impudent students and in the latter half of the book, his army life during WW II. A light-hearted novel but without any intricacies or convoluted plot of a Wodehouse. Could have been developed much more than the author ventured.

Math references are scattered throughout the book due to his profession but some are particularly funny and outstanding. At one point, he ends up throwing the algebra text (Hall and Knight) at a sleeping student. Students complain about the fact that in one lecture, they have to expand (a+b)(a-b) to a^2 - b^2 and in another lecture, re-factorize it to (a+b)(a-b) ("can't we jolly well make up our minds which is best and leave it well alone, sir?"). The most hilarious one is the exchange about Pythagoras theorem:

(quoted from The Papers of A.J. Wentworth, B.A.)

Wentworth: This morning, we are going to prove that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.

Student (Mason): Is that likely to happen? I mean, is a right-angled triangle likely to have a square on its hypotenuse?

Wentworth: I'm afraid I don't quite follow you, Mason. If I draw a right-angled triangle on the board and then draw a square on the side opposite the right angle, it has got a square on its hypotenuse. The question whether it is LIKELY to have such a square does not arise.

Mason: Not on the board, sir, no. But I mean in real life. I mean if real-life triangles don't have squares on their hypotenuses there wouldn't be much point in proving that they are equal to whatever it is they are equal to, would it?" (the "it" gets corrected by another student).

Student (Hillman): "I see what Mason means, sir. I mean it would be a pretty good fluke if a triangle had squares on all its three sides at once, wouldn't it, sir?"

The book had a TV appearance in "Curtain Call" in 1952.

Note that there was also The Papers of A J Wentworth, B.A. (Retd) (1962). This was a sequel to the "The Papers of A J Wentworth, B.A.". Most of this book is about the retired life and small-town incidents in which Wentworth is caught up but in the last 20% of the novel, he heads back to his old school for a stint and ends up teaching algebra to the next generation (including his former student, Mason's son). One of the funnier ones:

(quoted from The Papers of A.J. Wentworth, B.A.)

Wentworth: Required to prove that the exterior angle of a triangle is equal to the sum of the two interior opposite angles.

Potter: I don't understand how a triangle can have an exterior angle, sir. [...]

Wentworth: [...] If I produce BC to any point D, will you not agree that I have made an angle ACD which may be fairly called an exterior angle?

Mason Jr: But it isn't a triangle any longer! It's more of a corner-flag lying on its side.

Apparently, these first appeared separately as stories in Punch and then were released in book form under this title in Britain and as "The Vexations of A.J. Wentworth" in the United States.

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Works Similar to The Papers of A.J. Wentworth, B.A.
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams
  2. Paul Bunyan versus the Conveyor Belt by William Hazlett Upson
  3. Refund by Fritz Karinthy (original) / Percival Wilde (English Adaptation)
  4. A Deprogrammer's Tale by Colin Adams
  5. Inquirendo Island by Hudor Genone
  6. Post-Bombum [aka Post-Boomboom] by Alberto Vanasco
  7. Train Brains / The Runaway Train (Donald Duck) by Carl Barks
  8. The Chair of Philanthromathematics by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
  9. Getting Rid of Fluff by Ellis Parker Butler
  10. Odile by Raymond Queneau
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Categories:
GenreHumorous,
MotifMath Education,
Topic
MediumNovels, Short Stories,

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