Book Review: Flush

Flush: A Biography

Virginia Woolf

Persephone Books

144 pages

Flush is the fictionalized biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Cocker Spaniel.  Barrett Browning lived as a recluse until eloping with her husband, Robert Browning, to Italy.  Thus, Flush was her one true companion for many years.  As anyone with a dog can imagine, Flush was her closest confidante, and although their relationship had different meanings at different times, Flush was constantly by her side.

I have long been a fan of Barrett Browning.  As cliche as it sounds, Sonnet 43, from Sonnets of the Portuguese is one of my all time favorite poems; one of the few I have committed to memory, so that was one of the reasons I chose this book to start with. I wouldn’t consider it an in depth look into Barrett Browning’s life, but it gives a good idea of how she lived and, even more so, the environment in which she lived. That aspect was just as intriguing to me as the life of Flush himself.

Flush seems to have quite the personality.  Described, in part, by letters written by Barrett Browning, Woolf writes–

He rejected bread if not buttered; then discovered he preferred muffins to bread, then macaroons to either.  He would eat only beef or fowl, and only if cut into morsels and hand-fed to him: ‘If you were but to eat partridge from a silver fork . . . ‘ the poet wrote fondly.  ‘He has given up ice creams for the season, and his favorite substitute seems to be coffee–coffee, understand, not poured into the saucer, but taken out of my little coffee cup . . . He sees that I drink out of the cup . . . and in spite of his nose, he will do the same.  My dear pretty little Flushie!’

Seems a bit silly, I am sure, especially when compared with the remainder of

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Woolf’s canon.  In fact, critics generally did not have a favorable view of Flush, and many reviews were disparaging. However, in reading Flush, it becomes apparent that there are many more underlying issues and it is not just a novel about a dog.

Woolf might have disguised her feminist concerns in Flush, but even at first publication they did not entirely escape feminist critics . . . Critics like Rose Macauley saw the obvious parallels between mistress and dog, between Elizabeth Barrett’s imprisonment on Wimpole Street and Flush’s in Whitechapel.

I admit (*gasp*) that I have never read anything by Woolf prior to this.  As an English major, I feel a deep embarrassment  about such a gap in my reading, so I am happy to have remedied it.  I’ll be honest–while I loved this book, I doubt I will be reading more Woolf anytime soon.  I don’t expect that I will enjoy her other books nearly as much, especially considering that I very rarely appreciate books written in a stream of consciousness style.  What do you think–am I making a mistake?  Are there other Woolf books that I simply must read?

Other Reviews:

things mean a lot

The Zen Leaf

Stuck in a Book

Paperback Reader

I purchased this book from Persephone Books.

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4 Responses

  1. Some of Woolf is very hard, but others are definitely worth reading. If you don’t like stream of consciousness, I suggest The Voyage Out, which is written in regular prose narrative style. 🙂

    Glad you liked Flush!

  2. I don’t like Virginia Woolf.

  3. I read Mrs. Dalloway last year, which was my first Woolf. Like you, I was glad that I’d remedied the gap in reading, and also, like you, I felt I can’t read another Woolf for a while. I think I’m ready to read another one… and what better than a Persephone? 🙂

    Although… I don’t have this on my shelf, and I do have Orlando…

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