A Royal Flush: A Dog’s Story by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is an author known for the weaving and lyrical complexities of her work, but in Flush, her protagonist saw things strictly in black and white.

Because Flush is a Cocker Spaniel.

Flush is the biographical account of the dog belonging to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The book fawns at the knees of the modernist genre, written in a stream of consciousness style from a disquietingly different perspective.
The novel begins with the pedigree of the Spaniel, in a clear spoof of the heraldic English classes. The dogs are themselves as pompous and self-important a the kings and knights whose laps they sit on (and there are very few things more funny or pleasing than a snobby dog). Woolf is meticulous in letting us know that Flush is a top dog- perfect along the Kennel-club lines, and a king among his own kingly breed. Flush is gifted to Elizabeth Barrett, where a great love affair dawns between the sickly woman and dog, and a confined but intensely happy account of their life together follows until the arrival a beau, Robert Browning.
Flush is thrown into jealous passion by the arrival of a rival to his mistresses affections, but the love between Barrett and Browning forces changes in the dog’s life as well as that of his owner. By the end of the novel, Flush is free of the heavy class restrictions of his breed, and is running through the fields and streets of an Italian town.

I won’t give away any more.

The book, which is based largely on Barrett Browning’s memoirs, is also the ac

count of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life and musings, a critique of urban life and a clever reflection of the menaces of fascism which Woolf faced in her own time.

What is most interesting though, are the emotional and philosophical musings of Virginia Woolf through Flush himself. The connection felt between dog and poetess and the distinction between the ways they see the world. Barrett Browning is disappointed when Flush fails to be charmed by landscape views, and Flush whines with frustration at Barrett Browning’s intensely sedentary existence.
The novel holds the distinction of being the first I have ever read electronically, and the strangeness of the medium matched the atypical perspective of the protagonist. This book melds the romantic and emotionally charged style found in To the Lighthouse, with the meandering awareness of time found in The Years and the political zest (though more subtle here) which characterises A Room of One’s Own. But most notably, the book is an exercise in the kind of whimsy normally reserved for Sylvanian families.
(You know what I mean: those little toy chipmunks and squirrels dressed up to be homeowners and river-boat sailors? Wind and the Willows meets Lego? I digress)
Woolf herself disliked the success of Flush for exactly this reason: though it became one of her bestselling books, selling nearly 19,000 copies in the first six months, Woolf never saw Flush as serious- it was at best a distraction from important intellectual writings and at worse the kind of fiction expected of lesser, strictly female, authors.

I liked it. Not as much as I liked To The Lighthouse, but still. Flush is playful and I enjoyed the canine’s pomposity at the beginning, as well as his gradual moderation as he grows to be long in the tooth on the streets of Italy. Woolf manages to capture the unadulterated joy we humans imagine a dog feels while he runs in long grass, and accurately surmises the hound’s sacrifice when Browning converts him into a lap-dog. Flush is full of the tug betw

een adoration and wildness that I imagine a dog must feel about his owner.

I enjoyed seeing Victorian London through the eyes of a russet-coloured, gentle and silly dog. Flush is alone among Woolf’s books as being primarily very funny. I excuse the whimsical frivolity of the book because I enjoyed it, and because it introduces a human weakness (namely for dogs and for humorous fantasy) into Woolf’s repertoire which ironically makes her seem more human and less of a severe and political figure. Every dog has it’s day, the fact that this wasn’t Woolf’s makes her all the more readable.

To err is human, to forgive canine?


link to the pinterest mood board:

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