Flush Essay - Critical Context

Virginia Woolf

Critical Context

Woolf did not have a young adult audience in mind when she wrote Flush. The work came about as a result of her own interest in dogs and her reading of the Browning letters. Nevertheless, the book has become popular in high schools as a companion to the study of the Brownings’ poetry in eleventh or twelfth grade English classes. The lives of the Brownings, a pair of famous lovers, hold a certain fascination for readers of all ages, but especially for teenage readers who are first becoming aware of the beauty of both love and poetry. Much of Barrett’s poetry was written while Flush was lying at her feet. Her Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), which is part of the canon of most high-school English literature textbooks, was composed during the period of rivalry between Flush and Browning. Her extended poem Aurora Leigh (1857), which describes life in the slums of London, was drawn from the memory of Barrett’s trip to the Whitechapel district of London in an effort to bargain with Flush’s kidnappers.

In creating the biography of Flush, Woolf leaves out the emotion and the sentimentality that accompany a human love affair. Flush sees his owners as their actions and attitudes affect him, not as they see each other. Presenting the events from the dog’s viewpoint is an unusual yet effective way of gaining readers’ attention and allowing them to understand the Brownings’ relationship from a perspective that is less emotional than their poetry. Flush, combining both fact and fiction, provides enjoyable reading and useful supplementary material for the teenage student of English literature.