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 embarrassment and the relief that he feels when Browning shaves his beautiful coat as a final remedy. As an old dog, Flush finds comfort in the warmth of the Italian sun on his back. Flush recognizes, too, when a threat to his position as pampered favorite occurs, first in the person of Browning, then in the form of a baby. His jealousy is expressed in violence, at least in the case of Browning, then in sulking, particularly when the child is born.
The reader does get to know the Brownings, but they are not the brave, romantic lovers of legend. Rather, Barrett is depicted as sentimental and indulgent toward her dog and rather childishly fearful of her domineering father. She feeds Flush the choice morsels from her dinner plate so that Mr. Barrett will believe that his daughter has eaten a full meal. When Flush is kidnapped, she recklessly defies the wishes of her father and even Browning and meets the abductors’ demand of a huge cash ransom in order to retrieve her...
(The entire section is 710 words.)