Review: My Dog Tulip

My Dog Tulip.

At least in the Western world, the English are somewhat famous for their undying love of dogs. James Herriott is the father of all modern country dog legends. The stereotype of the “stiff upper lip” does not apply to the national English feeling toward canines. Indeed, as J.R. Ackerley himself says in the beginning of this book, My Dog Tulip: “Unable to love each other, the English turn to dogs.”

All that to say, I was excited to read his memoir, which I have often heard about. I love dog memoirs (great ones like Dog Years and Pack of Two come to mind) and this one was about a proper Englishman, J.R. Ackerley, and his love affair with his Alsatian (aka German shepherd), Tulip. (Tulip’s actual name was “Queenie,” but Ackerley’s publishers made him change her name in the book, because they were worried that the dog’s name might become a derogatory, if oblique, reference to Ackerley’s sexual orientation.)

Instead of a charming memoir, though, this little book is really just the record of one Englishman’s positive MANIA to pimp out his dog. The poor girl. Aside from one chapter about the social difficulties of your dog defecating on the sidewalk, the rest of the book is about Tulip’s heat cycles, her vulva, and her long parade of unsuccessful suitors, including the long and tiresome descriptions of her failure to copulate.

As a side note, I am not surprised that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote the introduction to my edition and that she loved the book. (She would.) As you may recall, I have a rather low opinion of Thomas’s methods of dog rearing and it therefore was not surprising to me that she adored this book about one man’s unscrupulous treatment of his dog, her behavior, and her reproductive faculties.

Supposedly, this memoir was made into an animated film, but wow, that is not one film that I would ever want to see.

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5 thoughts on “Review: My Dog Tulip

  1. I read Thomas’ two dog books, and was pretty thoroughly weirded out by them. I’ve heard of My Dog Tulip, but hadn’t read it yet. I might be inspired to, actually, not because I want to learn about vulvas per se, but because I apparently have a horrible fascination with weirdness.

  2. I enjoyed both the book and the movie although many of Ackerley’s choices for Tulip also upset me.

    At the time, Ackerley knew nothing about dogs and didn’t have good guidance from anyone. He was lucky to find the one (female) vet who knew something about the nature of dogs and didn’t try to muzzle Tulip just for barking in the examining room.

    And his ideas about Tulip needing to mate and have puppies probably said as much about his lonely life as a homosexual as anything.

    If Ackerley wrote in the 21st century, I’d be much more upset. But I see it more as a story of someone who discovered love, even if he didn’t always love well. I wonder if you reread it in 20-30 years if you’ll see it a little differently?

  3. I did actually rather enjoy the movie, mainly because of the whimsical animation style of the Fierlingers. I liked it well enough to rank it amongst my top dog movies (at least, when I last compiled a list). And being for general consumption (with some parental guidance), the movie doesn’t get nearly as explicit as the book. But I think it’s necessary to remember that Ackerley’s is not meant to be a generalizable experience. His obsession to have his dog mated is as idiosyncratic as the rest of his writing, as I understand it. And he writes from a very, very different time and cultural milieu — a point that the animation does very little to try to update.

    Anyway, interesting review!

  4. Hard to understand how you couldn’t like My Dog Tulip! The writing is absolutely extraordinary. Sure Ackerley is weird, but that’s what makes the book so entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and especially enjoyed his continual desire to let the dog be a dog and not a human-operated pet. (not that I am very good at following his lead in this way with my own dogs!) My Dog Tulip is so wonderfully quirky and strange, and there is nothing else like it. Far more entertaining than a lot of current so-called ‘dog literature’. So sorry you didn’t respond to it.

  5. So glad to read of another person not a fan of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas; when I read how she let her dog suffer for a year because he was still eating, I wanted to vomit. So, no, I won’t be reading this book despite others liking it.

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