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:

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The Zen Leaf

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I purchased this book from Persephone Books.

Book Review: The Home-Maker

The Home-Maker

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Persephone Books

288 pages

Evangeline Knapp is your typical housewife of the 1920s.  She has three young children that she cares for, while also keeping the house spotless and the meals on the table.  The biggest difference is that she is not happy.  She doesn’t have to say it; her frustration is practically tangible, and the effect that it has on her family is stultifying.  Her husband Lester is a bookkeeper for a local department store and loathes his job.  Evangeline’s three children are scared of her, with the youngest, Stephen, constantly acting out.  It seems as if the Knapp family is at a dead end, with happiness a faraway dream.  This all changes when a horrible accident takes place and forces Evangeline out into the world.

While it seems awful at first, Evangeline is able to discover her real self.  Her once stifled family is also able to blossoms and grow.  The standard gender roles of the 1920s are carefully examined and and dissected.  Given the social climate when The Home-Maker was published in 1924, it is a very courageous topic for a book to deal with.

I think The Home-Maker is still very relevant today, as many people feel forced into gender roles, including mothers.  Many women choose to work after having children, even if they have the means to stay home and care for the house and kids.  The stigma associated with women who choose to work is unfounded and unfortunate. So while we, as women, are lucky that we have the option to stay home or to work, I still think that there is room to grow.

I am glad that I was able to finally read my first Persephone, and I am happy to say that my collection is growing!

Other Reviews:

Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover

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I purchased this book from Persephone Books.

Sunday Salon: 1/9/2011

Ahhhh . . . another Sunday. I felt like this week went SUPER quickly, which was surprising, given that going back to work after the holidays is usually brutal.

I read one book this week, but it was a good one–Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I actually really liked it and the edition I read had very helpful endnotes and a glossary.

I have been really yearning for classics right now, so Cranford really hit the spot.    I think part of the reason is because I am completely obsessed right now with collecting both Persephones and Penguin’s clothbound classics.  Of the latter, I only have one.  Yes, you guessed it–Cranford!

The only place where I have seen them is at Anthropologie, but they are also available on Penguin’s website.  I love having nice editions of old classics, and these have embossed linen covers.  I don’t know when I will be able to purchase more, but hopefully soon!

Obviously Persephone was something I learned about through other blogs.  I now have four of the Persephone classics (with one on the way).

Mariana, by Monica Dickens

The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski (coming soon!)

Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

My mom bought all but the Laski one for me (isn’t she so nice?!). Apparently the woman who owns the knitting store she frequents is from England and she sells the Persephone classics in her shop.  She told my mom the other day that she has quite a respectable collection of the regular Persephones at home, of which I have ordered four but who knows when  they will make their way here from across the sea.  In fact, I have absolutely no idea what I ordered, although I know there was another Dorothy Whipple in there!

So anyway, that’s enough rambling for one day.  I have pretty much gotten all my household chores done, and although I have some laundry to occupy me, I am hoping to spend the rest of the night reading! I hope everyone else has had a nice Sunday so far!

TSS: A Day Late, A Dollar Short

First off, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.  I meant to post over the past week, but decided not to beat myself up over it, and instead just relax and enjoy my holiday.  I got some great stuff for Christmas.  My husband surprised me with a pair of diamond earrings, which he had wanted to buy me for our wedding last May but at the time, we didn’t have the extra money.  My dad surprised my sisters and me with iPads, which was awesome!  I am a bit technologically impaired, so I have yet to figure out how to work the damn thing, but hopefully soon.

I was also lucky enough to get a box full of books from my parents.  My mom bought tons of stuff from my Borders wishlist, and I could barely stop ogling my box of books all of Christmas day.

Three of the books she bought me were from the Penguin Ink imprint, where tattoo artists created the cover art for some rereleased books.  I thought those were completely awesome!

THEN I used some Christmas money to purchase four Persephone books.  I ordered them earlier today, so they likely won’t arrive for a few weeks, but I will post about them when they get here.  I am new to Persephone books but I wanted to start collecting them.  And then, as you can see by the first picture, my mom surprised me with two Persephone Classics!  She saw them in a little shop and decided to buy them for me with the hope that she could borrow them.  How serendipitous is that??

Now that the hubbub from the holiday is wearing thin, I hope I can get back into my reading groove.  I have another three day weekend coming up, and this time I should have a lot more time for rest and relaxation.  I doubt that my husband and I will go out for New Years, for two reasons.  First reason is that my stepdaughter is in town, spending the whole week with us!  A ten year old kind of cramps your style on the bar scene, if you know what I mean.  Secondly, I hate New Years because I feel like it is always a disappointment.  Sad, but true.  So I am perfectly content to spend New Year’s Eve with my family, hopefully reading.  What will you be up to?