Flush, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


'I lay in the garden and red the Browning love letters, and the figure of their dog made me laugh so I couldn't resist making him a Life.' Throughout her career, Woolf invokes the animal world both directly and metaphorically.

She started to write a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel after finishing The Waves, tracing the life of the spaniel from his country origins, his puppyhood spent with the writer Mary Mitford, through his sheltered existence with Elizabeth Barrett in her sick room, and later travels in Florence. But Flush is much more than a playful writer's holiday. As well as offering an exploration of a life of the senses free from the tyranny of words, Flush can be read as an allegorical testimony to the inscrutable, discarded, unrepresentable lives of the Victorian women poets, who were barely discussed or read in the 1930s.

From a quite literally low point of view, Woolf explores class and gender in Victorian London, with gently mocking humour.

Charming yet also radical, Flush is a work of sensuous imagination, an apparently light text that opens up a range of questions concerning difference which are woven through the whole of Woolf's writing. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe.

Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780199539291

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This evidently isn't quite the lightweight literary joke Woolf pretends it is: I've been working my own way through EBB's letters lately, and I can confirm that it's not something you can do in a couple of afternoons in a deck chair. By my count, she must have trawled through something like 3000 pages of letters to get together the material for this little book, not to mention some supremely-boring tomes on dog-breeding. There's obviously more to it than just a playful response to Strachey's <i>Eminent Victorians</i> and the serious art of literary biography as practised by Woolf's father.One thing she's doing, clearly, is using the dog's point of view on the Brownings as a pretext for filtering the information we are given, so that their "Great Romance" can be made to fit her own agenda. Robert Browning is deliberately marginalised (as, oddly enough, is Elizabeth Wilson, who is relegated to a six-page footnote) so that we see EBB digging her own escape-tunnel out of Wimpole Street. This is also underlined by the way EBB's ill-health is treated: in Woolf's account, we are allowed to suppose that she becomes perfectly fit and well once she manages to free herself from the claustrophobic confinement of Wimpole Street/England/her father. A lot is made of the contrast between England, with its Kennel Club rules and park-keepers to enforce rigid class-distinctions, where dogs must be kept on chains for their own protection from evil dog-snatchers (i.e. the lower classes), and the friendly, noisy, and constructive chaos of Italy. (This looks a little odd for someone writing in 1932: Britain is effectively being associated with the mindless fascism of the dog-breeding books, Italy with liberalism. Musso-who?)I think Woolf does allow us to be a little critical of EBB: like Woolf herself, she was a clever woman who profited from a privileged background and a Room of Her Own to establish herself as a writer. From the dog's point of view, the poet's "writing, writing, writing" is a futile exercise not to be compared with the joys of pursuing carefree canine sexual encounters, discarded macaroni, and the many fascinating smells of Florence. And she does get in a few digs at EBB's weakness for the Spiritualist fashion of the time. All the same, we're definitely not meant to see how dependent EBB was on her husband and servants for the practicalities of life, and by quoting the sonnet "To Flush" in the closing pages Woolf ensures that we are left with the idea that poetry <i>is</i> important, whatever a dog may think.So, it's selective, it's polemic, but it's Woolf pulling out all the stops to write lively, intelligent, subversive prose, and to give proper credit to a great poet who was going through rather a phase of neglect at the time. We can enjoy it without getting too worked up about the message.

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