“This you’ll call sentimental — perhaps — but then a dog somehow represents — no, I can’t think of the word — the private side of life — the play side.”
— Virginia Woolf
How I love my Woolf, always hedging, always qualifying, but almost always accurate. She certainly loved her spaniels, and she wrote a really perceptive and charming novella from the perspective of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel Flush. Highly recommended to literary dog lovers.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone! I’ll be out of commission for the rest of the week and am looking forward to spending some quality time with Dublin & Co. and Aoive. Hope your weekend is peaceful and bright. See you Monday.
“Your puppy has destroyed, by eating holes, my skirt, ate L’s proofs, and done such damage as could be done to the carpet–But she is an angel of light. Leonard says seriously she makes him believe in God–and this is after she has wetted his floor 8 times in one day.”
— Virginia Woolf, in a letter to Vita Sackville-West, on the cocker spaniel Pinka, which Sackville-West gave to the Woolfs as a present.
This book sounded like the perfect diversion from training and behavior books. I was an English major and wrote a honors thesis on Virginia Woolf and had previously loved Woolf’s “biography” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, Flush. I love reading about women writers–and women writers plus their dogs? What’s not to love? In Shaggy Muses, psychologist Maureen Adams looks at five great women authors and explores their complex and beautiful relationships with their dogs.
Adams discusses the relationships between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Flush, the much-beloved cocker spaniel; Emily Bronte and her mastiff, Keeper; Emily Dickinson and her sweet Newfoundland, Carlo; Edith Wharton and her various toy breeds, mostly Pekingese; and Virginia Woolf and her various dogs, especially the spaniel Pinka, featured on the cover of this book. (Pinka served as her role model for the character of Flush when Woolf was writing Flush’s biography.)
I found that the common theme of this book was this: Dogs helped these women through grief and loneliness. The life of a woman artist is rarely cheery, especially if you had the misfortune of being a woman artist in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The companionship of a dog, according to Adams, helped these women come out of their shells.
My only complaint with the book is through no fault of Adams’. Rather, it is difficult to know much about some of these women, especially the famously mysterious Emily Bronte, without speculation. Occasionally, I felt like Adams overstepped her bounds as an objective researcher, but she is a psychologist, so I suppose she can’t be blamed.
There are many beautiful and touching comments from these writers about their dogs, many of which I plan to feature here in the weeks to come. So, keep your eyes peeled. Overall, I’d recommend this book as a light and interesting overview of the ways in which dogs have comforted and cheered some of the world’s most gifted artists.