Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Literary Dog: "Dogs Must Be Led on Chains"

In 1933, Virginia Woolf published an unusual biography of English poet Elizabeth Barrett. It was told from the point of view of Barrett's dog, a spaniel named Flush. You may remember from high-school English class that Browning was a Victorian poetess who lived in London with her oppressive father. Her existence was confined to stuffy, coal-heated drawing rooms lined with tassled velvet curtains. Barrett access to the wider world until she married rakish Robert Browning. They ran off to Italy, with Flush and several servants in tow. This excerpt describes Flush's experience as a newly liberated dog. 

And just as Mrs. Browning was exploring her new freedom and delighting in the discoveries she made, so Flush too was making his discoveries and exploring his freedom. Before they left Pisa—in the spring of 1847 they moved on to Florence—Flush had faced the curious and at first upsetting truth that the laws of the Kennel Club are not universal. He brought himself to the fact that light topknots are not necessarily fatal. He had revised his code accordingly. He had acted, at first, with some hesitation, upon his new conception of canine society. He was becoming daily more and more democratic. Even in Pisa, Mrs. Browning noticed, ". . . he goes out every day and speaks Italian to the little dogs." Now in Florence the last threads of his old fetters fell from him. The moment of liberation came one day in the Cascine. As he raced over the grass "like emeralds" with the "pheasants all alive and flying," Flush suddenly bethought him of Regent's Park and its proclamation: Dogs must be led on chains. Where was "must" now? Where were chains now? Where were park-keepers and truncheons? Gone, with the dog-stealers and Kennel Clubs and Spaniel Clubs of a corrupt aristocracy! Gone with four-wheelers and hansom cabs! with Whitechapel and Shoreditch! He ran, he raced; his coat flashed; his eyes blazed. He was the friend of all the world now. All dogs were his brothers. He had no need of a chain in this new world; he had no need of protection. 

Have a lovely weekend, everyone. Go run; go race. Let your coat flash and your eyes blaze. --z

Excerpt source: Virginia Woolf's Flush (1933/1983 Harcourt Brace), pp. 116-117.

1 comment:

  1. Those Victorians and their rules, park-keepers and truncheons! Flush knew what we know now: the Italians really know how to live life.

    I was browsing etsy last night (I know!) and came across this photo of a Victorian lady with her doggies:


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