I just finished “Flush”, a novel by Virginia Woolf. I was surprised to run into “Flush” because I’m fairly acquainted with Woolf’s writing (I’m a huge fan of her Common Readers) but I had never heard much about this one. “Flush” is put out by Persephone Books and like all of their books, is a real gem.
Flush was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel given to her a friend to cheer Miss Barrett up while she lay on her invalid bed doing invalid things. Like writing poetry and reading books and having friends occasionally visit while she cocooned herself up in Paisley Shawls. “Flush” then is the biography of Flush himself and it starts out with his ancestry and their love of chasing rabbits and running free as a breeze. Of course, this very great love of chasing things outdoors runs like quicksilver in Flush’s body but he is destined…for other things. And he resigns himself to the fate of living in a stuffy room and mostly eating and lying about. The first half of the book was difficult for me to get through. This clearly is no life for an energetic young dog. He rarely goes out and when he does in a park, it’s on a chain. Oh, Woolf whips it up all right and the puzzled longing of Flush to gallop about and play goes like nails into the heart. He loves Elizabeth, of course, but in his heart lies many turmoils…not just his need to race about in the sun…but there are jealousies and hurt feelings too.
The claustrophobic feel in the first half the book is pretty hard to get through. Elizabeth Barrett is cooped up in a room and sure, it’s been artistically and tastefully decorated but…it’s just one small room. She’s one of many children and an invalid and it’s hard to exactly know why she’s an invalid. She doesn’t feel well most of the time but it’s hard to think who Would feel good trapped up in a room nearly all the time. And why am I throwing conjectures about her when this book is about Flush? The book is about Flush but because he’s in this sweltering atmosphere, it gives us a good idea what Elizabeth Barrett is stuck in as well.
Release comes in the form of Robert Browning, whom Flush despises at first but who ultimately whisks the pair off for a life in Italy and Elizabeth Barrett’s and Flush Barrett’s lives are ultimately changed…
I galloped through the second half, managing to take a little bit of time to linger in the Florence that Flush hustles through everyday and the Apennines which Flush barely concedes to notice but whom his mistress exclaims over…yes, the first half sets the second half off, like a foil for a jewel.
And there really can be no doubt on how Woolf felt about Victorians and their “invalids” and I really cannot forget how sick I felt over the straightened ribs of that lone room, holding dog and mistress in its crush…and now I’m grateful too that at least one woman and one dog escaped that savage confine.
(yes, it is really them!)