Flush by Virginia Woolf tells the life story of a cocker spaniel that is owned by the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In this imaginative biography, Woolf blends together fiction and nonfiction to chronicle Flush’s life. At the beginning of the story, readers learn the history behind cocker spaniels and their aristocratic standing in England.
Flush was born on a country farm, where he loved to run free and chase animals. He was then given to Elizabeth as she was recovering from an illness and was living in a small and dark room in her family home in London. Although Flush makes the best of the situation and is happy, his life is restrained. Even when he is taken out, he is always on a leash and is unable to run free. Flush and Elizabeth bond, but there will always be things they don’t understand about the other, since one is a human and the other is a dog.
Elizabeth then meets Robert Browning, with whom she falls in love. This love rejuvenates her health, but her focus on Robert makes Flush feel neglected. He becomes jealous of Robert and feels threatened to the point that he bites Robert and then is punished by the maid. Flush doesn’t understand that Elizabeth still loves him, too.
One day while shopping, Robert takes Flush with him. Flush is stolen and taken to St. Giles. Elizabeth pays the thief to return her dog, and Woolf takes the opportunity to discuss London’s poverty and how the wealthy were indifferent to the poverty levels.
After being returned, Flush joins Elizabeth and Robert on their travels to Pisa and Florence after their secret marriage. Elizabeth becomes pregnant, her maid gets married, and Flush becomes more egalitarian. He enjoys Italy, where he can once again run free and play with other dogs. Flush dies shortly after, with Elizabeth by his side.