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Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

As a fictionalized life story of a cocker spaniel, Flush: A Biography offers the reader a view of the courtship and marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning from an unusual perspective. Although Virginia Woolf uses the third-person narrator throughout the book, the events of the story are revealed through a dog’s sensory perceptions. The six chapters of the book correspond to six stages in the life of Flush, beginning with what is known of his early years and ending with his death as an old dog.

In the first chapter, Woolf explores the possible origins of the spaniel as a breed, along with Flush’s early life in Reading, England, as a puppy raised by Mary Russell Mitford. Flush’s real life, however, begins at the end of this chapter when he is given by Mitford to her dear friend, Elizabeth Barrett. From that point on, the life of Flush becomes inextricably connected to the lives of the Brownings, particularly the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning because Flush was the pampered pet of the poet before the arrival of Robert Browning. Through Flush, the reader senses the boredom of Barrett’s life as an invalid in the house of a domineering father. Through Flush, too, the reader can perceive the change, both physical and mental, in his owner when Browning enters her life. Flush, who sees Browning as a contender for his owner’s affections, must learn to accept this new person.

Flush has adventures of his own when he is kidnapped by dog-stealers from White-chapel and held for ransom, which, after some difficulty, Barrett pays. Another change comes into the life of Flush when the relationship between Barrett and Browning develops beyond mutual admiration and friendship. Both Flush and Lily Wilson, Elizabeth’s maid, accompany the Brownings to Italy after the...

(The entire section is 464 words.)