Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A spaniel in the works

When I was in Florence a couple of years ago, I made an effort to get to the English (Protestant) Cemetery but, in the middle of a roundabout being used as a race track by would-be Andrettis, it devilishly hard to access. Once I threaded my way across to the gate, the place turned out to be closed. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with her spaniel curls above (some of those very curls are tucked away in the special collections of the NYPL*), is buried there. I was reminded of this recently because I just read Virginia Woolf’s Flush: A Biography. This short work is an excellent read for a cold winter night or two, when you are surrounded by your warm-blooded companions (lovers, dogs, cats, etc) and a thickness of blankets. Written after the heavy lifting of The Waves, Flush purports to tell the life of Browning’s dog Flush, a golden cocker spaniel, but of course it’s really about the invalided, opium addled EB herself (and by extension VW, too) and the famous elopment with Mr. B.

About which Flush was at first opposed: “[… ]Flush felt nothing but an intense dislike for Mr. Browning. The very sight of him, so well tailored, so tight, so muscular, screwing his yellow gloves in his hand, set his teeth on edge. Oh! to let them meet sharply, completely in the stuff of his trousers!”

A weird, wonderful book. The shaggy dog story. Artf! Arf!

*They have EBB's slippers there, too. Also buried over there are locks from Whitman, Wild Bill Hickok, C.Bronte, and Mary Shelley. There are some fragments of P.B. Shelley's skull as well. And Dickens's letter opener: the embalmed paw of his favorite cat, Bob, mounted on an ivory handle.

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