The Triangular House

Ramon Gomez de la Serna | published Oct, 1925

added Jun 1, 2024
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First Date of Publication
Oct, 1925
Original Source
Revista de Occidente
Additional Publication Information
An English translation appeared in 1964 in the collection, “Classic Tales from Modern Spain”, translated by William Colford.
Original Source Type
Magazine - Literary
Medium
Short Story
Original Language
Spanish
Translator
William E Colford
Kasman Review
ISFDB
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Summary: A very well-written story about a man who builds a triangular house, with a mathematical formula which leads to the revelation of an illicit affair and the participants in the affair…

Story Tag Line: “You form a scalene triangle … we deduce this, not only because of your unequal qualities but also because the moment your wife—angle A—found someone attuned to her nature, you were the perpendicular angle, angle B. Now, since we know angles A and B, all we need do is to find angle C. The problem is extremely simple because A is, of course, equal to C, which is the unknown … Does some Cousin of your wife’s have free access to the house?”

Publication History:

“The triangular house” was first published in Spanish in October 1925, in “Revista de Occidente” (“Magazine of the West”), Issue# 28 under the title, “La Casa Triangular”. An English translation appeared in 1964 in the collection, “Classic Tales from Modern Spain”, translated by William Colford

A Note on the Author:

It is worth reading about this remarkable and prolific author on Wikipedia:

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram%C3%B3n_G%C3%B3mez_de_la_Serna

In particular, it should be noted that just like the Dutch polymath, Piet Hein, who invented “Grooks”, Ramon invented a literary form called “Greguerias”, of which he reportedly wrote tens of thousands over his lifetime. As described, “Greguerías are ingenious, and generally brief, sentences that arise from a casual clash between thought and reality.”. Clearly there is much to explore in Ramon’s work…

A Note on the Translation:

The English translation ends up rewarding the reader quite unwittingly with a mathematical, implied pun, connecting the word “cousin” with the phrase, “cosine of an angle”. As Alex Kasman pointed out to me by email in response to my original review, this could not have been intended by the author since the Spanish word for cousin, “primo”, is nowhere close to creating a pun.

As Huxley had said, “a beautiful theory marred by an ugly fact”…

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Reviews

  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    While reading this story and some of its mildly mystical elements, I was reminded of the old Yiddish proverb - also attributed to Spinoza and Aristophanes - that “if triangles could worship, they would worship a triangular god.”…. Perhaps Triangular houses engender love triangles?

    The story plays on a trope that the Geometry of your surroundings affects your fate and fortune, or at least the human perceptions of the reality around them in such instances. To that end, on one level, it reads like a wonderfully make-believable yarn which must be read without questioning too closely. On a different, metaphorical level, it can be read to imply that unconventional loves can also lead to conventional human problems, given enough time.

    Adolfo Sureda had made a lasting promise to himself: to have a house of unique architecture built for him and his bride, Remedios, so that they could leave “exceptional lives” free from “usual petty annoyances”. The uniqueness of the house had to be in its soaring outlines and its novel character, not caring much for decorative aspects of modern houses (reminding one of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead”).

    For this, he commissioned Nicasio Garcia Alijo, a recent graduate of architecture who had submitted the most avant-garde of building designs in his examination. Nicasio, in his turn, in a flash of inspiration, decided to build a “triangular house” with isosceles triangles for sides (later allusions imply that the house was pyramidal).

    So well, the unusual house was built, and “the acute triangle was now a bold, proud fact: it had personality, and it had sacrificed everything to an ideal.”. It had triangular furniture, and the house invited a wide variety of angular and obtuse comments from people far and wide. But the couple was convinced about their house and their source of bliss:

    “ “Misfortune,” they both thought, “cannot possibly come into a toy house whose doorway is so different from the ones She usually seeks out.” The beseeching eyes of the triangular windows, raised toward Heaven , pleaded mystically for happiness.”

    Soon, the idiosyncratic nature of the house started attracting miscreants and pranksters, including some funny thieves, potentially from “The Order of the Fiery Triangle”. Adolfo started worrying that the house had become a “centre for the cult of triangularism”. But he was also convinced that the house would soon see sons who would “defend it from outsiders who might convert it into a quadrangular house by some cheap alterations.”

    And wouldn’t you know it! The couple was blessed with triplets in that triangular house!

    “Now,” he thought finally, facing the consequences, “the three angles of the triangle have been found , and these boys should be given names to fit with the letters ABC which label the triangle. Therefore the first born will be named Augusto, the second Benito, and the third Cosar.”

    As the children grew, so did the unrest in the house and around the once-happy couple. Indeed, the middle son started showing signs of a conical head…

    One day, Adolfo found a strange, old man peeping and staring inside the house and was none too happy about it. But as the old man explained:

    Sir, I am a mathematician a geometer—and your house intrigues me because it poses new problems in geometry and trigonometry. Here are the data for the problem …” And the geometer showed Adolfo the paper with his figures (which displayed the half-angle formula for calculating the angles of a triangle given its sides)

    Adolfo was overjoyed at finding a kindred spirit. After an admiration-filled house tour, Adolfo told the mathematician about all his recent problems. The geometer had a ready solution for him, which Adolfo on-boarded enthusiastically:

    “This is happening to you,” the mathematician replied, “because you are not a geometer. If you grasped the triangular sense of the house you- would be invincible: there is nothing more devoid of problems— or more clean-cut in its arrangement of space—than a triangle. Would you like me to instruct you in these matters? It has been my lifelong study. All we need by way of equipment is a blackboard.”

    […]

    Adolfo specialized in triangles, and grew steadily more confident about his triangular house. He was amazed at how the triangle kept being solved, thanks to equations and calculations. There were no corners or wasted spaces in his house; logically, it was superior to all other houses. He and the geometer had even decided to collaborate in writing an essay on “The Triangle: A Study in Depth, or, The Intimate Exegesis of the Living Triangle”

    With these new studies, Adolfo drifted away from Remedios, who started getting bored. And then, he got an anonymous letter informing him that Remedios was having an affair behind his back…. Which led to the finale, with its cute pun (spoiler alert!):

    “Ah!” exclaimed the geometer. “This must be studied as one more problem: the domestic triangle. I had hoped that it might not happen—but it had to happen … and better now than later, after all.”

    “Great heavens! Better that it had never happened!” Adolfo answered.

    The geometer went to the blackboard and rubbed out what was written there with the decisive movements of a fireman putting out a blaze. Then he set about solving the problem.

    “You form a scalene triangle … we deduce this, not only because of your unequal qualities but also because the moment your wife—angle A—found someone attuned to her nature, you were the perpendicular angle, angle B. Now, since we know angles A and B, all we need do is to find angle C. The problem is extremely simple because A is, of course, equal to C, which is the unknown … Does some Cousin of your wife’s have free access to the house?”

    “Yes. Enrique.” “Well, that’s the man.” “Is the proof positive?” “Geometrically! Q.E.D.”

    Adolfo went out of the study, found his wife, and accused her: “So! It’s Enrique, isn’t it?”

    “How did you know?”

    “Trigonometric formulas never fail.”

    “Ah!” she finally exclaimed, giving herself away.

    That same evening the triangular house was left unoccupied. Adolfo went to live in a boarding house, and Remedios went home to her parents with the three boys. The following day there appeared on the front of the isosceles dwelling a triangular sign which read : “For Sale”

    One walks away from this story with a philosophical smile. Perhaps at the impish cleverness of using the cosine formula of the triangle to identify the cousin as the adulterer. Perhaps at the paced evolution of the story, leading one from an architectural idea to the triangles in human interactions. Perhaps at the idiosyncratic natures of both, the happenings in the story as well as the character of the mysterious Geometer. I found it very satisfying.