But she was woman; he was dog.  Mrs. Browning went on reading.  Then she looked at Flush again.  But he did not look at her.  An extraordinary change had come over him.  “Flush!” she cried.  But he was silent.  He had been alive; he was now dead.  That was all.  The drawing-room table, strangely enough, stood perfectly still.

Ending to Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

This is the first time I’ve ever started a review with the closing lines of the book.  Before accuse me of ‘spoiling’ hear me out.  If you are a reader of dog stories, then you know that all dog stories are sad stories because they all have the same ending.  The protagonist always outlives the dog.  Many people refuse to read dog stories for this very reason.

But note the complete lack of sentimentality in Ms. Woolf’s ending, “He had been alive; he was now dead.  That was all.”  No one could ever accuse Virginia Woolf of sentimentality.  In its way, Flush is a dog story for people who hate dog stories.

Flush entered Elizabeth Barret’s life several years before she met Robert Browning.  At the time she was an invalid and would remain bedridden for several years.  Flush immediately bonded with her, sleeping on the rug at her feet throughout the day, though Ms. Woolf would have us believe he longed to roam the countryside.  Fortunately for Flush he would survive multiple dog-nappings, a common crime in Victorian London, to spend several years in the Italian countryside after Elizabeth Barrett met and married Robert Browning.  It’s difficult to imagine a spaniel that wouldn’t thrive in the Italian countryside, but Flush did pay a price for his freedom.  Upon his return to England he was so infested with flees that he had to be shaved, losing his thick golden coat forever.

Add Virginia Woolf’s prose style to this dog story and you end up with a strange little book.  Virginia Woolf said that she found Flush mentioned in several of Ms. Barrett-Browning’s letters as well as in a poem she wrote about him.  Ms. Woolf became fascinated with the dog and decided to take a break from her more serious work to write a biography of him.  She was close friends with Lynton Stratchy and may have been working in response to his successful book of short biographies Eminent Victorians.    If you need a break from more serious stuff, like Ms. Woolf did after finishing The Waves, Flush: A Biography may be the book for you.  Think of it as an aperitif to savor in the glow a a fine meal.

Since I began with the ending, I’ll finish with the beginning:

It is universally admitted that the family from which the subject of this memoir claims descent is one of the greatest in antiquity.

Opening to Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in August of 2010.  I read Flush because of mentions on other book blogs.  That year, for some reason, I kept running into reviews of Flush. While it wasn’t the big book of the year, for some reason it enjoyed a minor blip of fame, an extra 2 and a half minutes of attention.  I remember enjoying the book.  I do like that ending.  That’s the way to go.  Peacefully sitting in a comfortable room, glancing one last time at the person you’ve loved all your life.  “He had been alive; now he was dead.  That was all.”  That is some darn good writing, right there.  

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7 Comments

  1. Judith says:

    Oh, James! Flush is on my Classics Club Book List! So glad to read your thoughts about it.
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    1. I think you’ll enjoy it. While not a great work of literature, it’s very good and very entertaining.

  2. Glad to read about the book. I started reading Virginia this year. And I am loving it so far after two books- Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. I like her style- so different yet so demanding that the reader shoud give his/her full attention.

    1. She is demanding! I agree. I’ve read so much of her work that you’d think I like her. I can see that she is a great writer, but I’m not really a fan. I did enjoy Flush, however.

  3. Liz Dexter says:

    I’m not hugely keen on animal memoirs, but I was given the Persephone edition of this in a secret santa a few years back and very much enjoyed it.

    1. Not really a memoir, though. It’s a biography that features quite a lot of ‘made up bits.’ For example, the real Flush was dog-napped and held for ransom multiple times, but only once in the book. It’s an odd little book, but one that entertains.

      1. Liz Dexter says:

        Point taken, I should have referred to them as “animal stories”. I suppose you could say it captured atmosphere rather than a straight narrative. I did enjoy it, and reading Woolf’s works this year, might re-read it.

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