Monday, 24 August 2009
Persephone Books are the types of books that go wonderfully well with a cup of tea in the other hand and this afternoon I curled up with Flush by Virginia Woolf (the first sitting occurred in bed this morning -another indulgence) in my cosy grey top and a mug of Earl Grey.
Flush is a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's (the Victorian poet) cocker spaniel, Flush, so not what you would expect from Virginia Woolf and yet also radical in its own way in her characteristic stream of consciousness style. Woolf was inspired by a 1930 edition of the love letters exchanged between the Brownings and the appearance of "their dog made me laugh so I couldn't resist making him a Life." Comedic and charming, the novella is far removed from Woolf's Modernist and seminal texts, but I love both. It is an illuminating insight into Woolf' lighter side and her mocking sense of humour, attributes that are often overlooked when considering such a great writer.
We first meet Flush in 1840 when he belongs to Mary Mitford, who then presents him to her friend, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whom he lives with as a companion until his death in 1854. The narrative follows the relationship between Flush and his owner through courtship, kidnap, and a move to Italy, with many amusing incidents including a bad case of fleas. On the surface an absorbing and lovely tale of a dog it is also an allegory of class and the status of women (and female poets) in Victorian society; Flush is a shameless snob, absurdly obsessed with breeding, and he is also tamed and house-trained. The ways in which Woolf draws comparisons are very subtle and she employs Elizabeth Barrett Browning's only biographical history in order to do it; the feminist slant the work begins to take is hardly surprising in relation to Woolf. Experimental and progressive, Woolf considers the relationship between [wo]man and her best friend and the communication barriers; she also observes the Modern world and city through the eyes of Flush.
Flush is entertaining, cleverly creative, and wonderfully written with passages of distinct beauty, typical of Woolf.
The passage that amused me most:
They entered the bedroom. There was a faint bleating in the shadowed room - something waved on the pillow. It was a live animal. Independently of them all, without the street door being opened, out of herself in the room, alone, Mrs Browning had become two people. The horrid thing waved and mewed by her side. Torn with rage and jealousy and some deep disgust that he could not hide, Flush struggled himself free and rushed downstairs.