Although Flush is subtitled A Biography, much of Flush’s life is by necessity fictionalized. In terms of accurate biography, the book is much more an account of the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is, after all, through references to Flush in her letters and her poems about him (“To Flush, My Dog” and “Flush, or Faunus”) that her readers know of his existence. Flush was Barrett’s companion through a pivotal point in her life, so the events of his life were shaped by those of hers. Nevertheless, the story is that of Flush, not of his owners.
In his 1983 preface to the book, Trekkie Ritchie indicates that the model for Flush was Woolf’s own cocker spaniel, Pinka. Woolf was an owner of dogs throughout most of her life, yet she never exhibited sentimentality toward them. Certainly the author of Flush was a close observer of canine life. A dog’s sensory perceptions, especially those of smell, crowd the pages. Flush is an animal, and the reader is never permitted to overlook that fact in reading his story.
Flush inhales the mingled odors of food, dust, and furniture polish as he first enters the Barrett household, and he glories in the smells of garlic, grapes, and leather in the Italian marketplace. When Flush is kidnapped, he is distressed by extreme thirst. When he is returned to his owner, he ignores her affectionate greeting and runs to his purple water vase. The sense of sight, on the other hand, brings little physical pleasure to the dog, and Barrett herself notes that the scenery of the Italian mountainside means nothing to Flush or to her infant son. Woolf records well the discomfort that Flush experiences when the Italian fleas attack him, as well as both the...
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