Sunday, February 27, 2011

Flush by Virginia Woolf

I'd been planning for weeks to start reading Flush, and finally it was time.  It's in the Persephone catalog, so it was top on my TBR list for that reason; also, Amanda from The Zen Leaf chose it for me last year in our first-ever Reading Swap.  And it's been sitting around on my TBR shelf for a couple of years now, so my timing was perfect. 

Now that it is time to put words on the blog I find I'm at a bit of a loss.  This is a short little book about a dog written by Virginia Woolf; specifically, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog.  Ostensibly, it is a biography, but is it about a dog or a poet?  Or is it just an excuse to start reading Virginia Woolf, who scares me?

Flush is not a hard read, and I suppose it's not one of the Woolfs that is studied and discussed and analyzed extensively by the literati.  (Which I am not, believe me!)  It begins when young Flush is given as a gift by his owner to Ms. Barrett (not yet Mrs. Browning), an invalid.  He must give up his days of sniffing and running and exploring the outdoors to be the indoor companion of this bedridden poet.  He loves her and becomes extremely protective and suspicious of Mr. Browning, and he is along for the ride during their elopement and marriage and journeys to Italy and back.  The story moves back and forth in places between his point of view and that of his owner.  

I know next to nothing about Elizabeth Barrett Browning but now I am intrigued by her life as well.  I do remember Browning and Flush are included in a book called Shaggy Muses, which is a nonfiction work about the lives of several women writers and their pets.

Like the life of a dog, Flush is sadly short.  This was the first of Woolf's fiction that I really liked, and I wish I'd had more of it to read.  I am glad, however, that the ending wasn't terribly sad -- there are so many tearjerking stories about beloved pets these days, I really did not want to cry at the end of this book.

Virginia Woolf seems to be all over the blogs the past couple of weeks.  My good friend Amanda was baffled by Orlando; Carolyn at A Few of My Favorite Books brought To the Lighthouse to Florida for a beach read!  To the Lighthouse has been sitting on my shelves unread as long as Flush, but it scares me -- it's such a short little book but I've heard it's challenging.  Stream-of-consciousness is not really my thing.  

The endpapers from the Persephone edition of Flush

I did read Mrs. Dalloway and was underwhelmed, but that was a few years ago when I had just started reading classics.  Maybe I didn't know enough about her work to appreciate it.  Last year, my classics book group at the library read A Room of One's Own, which I quite liked, but that's really a long essay, so I don't know I'd like her fiction.

This probably isn't the best review I've written, but I feel like I don't know enough about Woolf or her writing to think of something clever and insightful.  I would love to hear other people's thoughts -- how does this compare to other works by Virginia Woolf?  Should I take the plunge and read To the Lighthouse or start with something a little easier?

This is my third book for Persephone Reading Weekend, hosted by Verity and Claire.  Check out their blog links for more thoughts on Persephone books!


  1. Thank you for your insightful and honest review. I've only read one VW and it was 'The Voyage Out' - her first novel I believe. I read it years ago and I'm ashamed to say that I can't recall anything of the plot, just that I liked it!
    Flush has always interested me but I didn't want a tear-jerker (I get very emotional when it comes to animals) so I am glad you liked it and that it doesn't end on a sad note. Your cover is gorgeous, by the way.
    Hopefully others can help recommend a VW for you, otherwise perhaps start with her first novel?

  2. I always hesitate to read VW because I'm afraid I'm not going to understand her... isn't that silly? I did read To the Lighthouse, years ago, and loved it. (And see the film, too, if you can find it.

    (ps I love, love, love Laurie Colwin's novels, and used to read her columns in Gourmet. I have the two volumes of Home Cooking and need to dip into them again.)

  3. Cristina -- the ending is a little sad, but it's not a sobfest like Marley and Me. I'm a very softhearted person and a dog-lover, but it wasn't too bad. The cover is from Harcourt which is the edition that I own -- I know it's not a Persephone but I loved the photo, plus it's the one I read. I don't know anything about The Voyage Out so I'll take a look.

    Audrey -- I'm encouraged that you liked To the Lighthouse -- I'm a little scared of it which is silly. It's such a small book to be afraid of.

    Laurie Colwin's fiction is great too -- even her short stories. She was a brilliant writer, what a terrible loss.

  4. For a longer work that isn't as challenging, I highly recommend The Voyage Out. It's straight prose, no stream of consciousness, and it really helped me to ease into Woolf after struggling through To the Lighthouse. I read those two and Dalloway in my first year of reading classics, and it wasn't really until after three readings of Dalloway and a bunch of viewings of the movie The Hours that it really came to make sense to me. On the other hand, The Voyage Out was simple to take in just the once.

  5. Similar to Amanda, I think that reading The Hours (as opposed to watching it) helped me with Mrs Dalloway and I grew to love it upon rereading.

    I'd also suggest a volume of her short stories to dip a toe in before fully immersing yourself.

    Thank you so much for your abundance of posts and enthusiasm this weekend, Karen. It has been a joy to discover you through Persephone Books (and the Secret Santa exchange) and look forward to more and more book chat with you.

  6. I haven't read any Virginia Woolf yet (still!), but when I do, it'll probably be this, since I love the Brownings so much. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was quite a lady.

  7. 3 books! I am impressed. I have never read any VW.

    Loved reading your reviews this weekend.

  8. I started reading Flush a while back, loved the prose but nothing more to pull me forward and so I dropped it. And I must confess that I loved Orlando, but I have struggled with Woolf otherwise.

    But Elizabeth Barrett Browning I love. Margaret Forsther wrote a biography which I have been told is very good and also a novel, Lady's Maid, from the viewpoint of her maid that I can vouch for.

  9. Oh, I'm so glad to see a review of this book. I, too, am a dog lover and have wondered about this one. I recently slogged my way through Mrs. Dalloway. I fought the urge to drop it many times since it was so short, and I kept thinking, "If I keep going I'll *get* it." Alas, I do not understand the attraction and wondered if I should've read something else by Woolf first? I'll keep Flush on my future reading list - I think I'll wait and see what you think of To the Lighthouse before I pursue that one, though. :)
    Thanks for the review! You've done a great job with PRW!

  10. I really want to read this one! I love the premise. I don't know much about EBB either. Dont' think I've read anything.

  11. Amanda -- several people have suggested The Voyage Out, so that sounds like a good choice. Maybe we should read another Woolf next year in our classics group?

    Paperback Reader -- I've read The Hours but only saw bits of the movie. Short stories are a good idea too, I didn't realize she wrote any.

    And I have so enjoyed this weekend! I'm kind of obsessed with the Persephone catalog lately so this has been a great excuse to read more, and find more bloggers who love them too. Thanks for doing this! I'd love to help out anytime.

  12. Jenny -- this is probably a good introduction to Woolf, though I need to read more. I also want to read more EBB since I don't know a thing about her. My knowledge of poetry is sadly lacking.

    Josbookjourney -- I actually read the three over about a week, I just saved the postings. One was longish but a fast read and the other two were quite short so it wasn't that hard. The hardest part is all the Persephones I want to read now!

    Fleurfishers -- I saw the movie version of Orlando and really liked it. I've heard the novel is tricky but I am still intrigued. And thanks for the EBB biography suggestion.

    Susan -- it's a very sweet story. I think you get a little idea of Woolf's writing. One thing I didn't like about Mrs. Dalloway was the lack of chapters or breaks -- I kept waiting for a new chapter and there aren't any which was sort of unsettling. I guess I am a creature of habit and I just need chapters. I wonder if that affected my reaction to the book.

    Rebecca -- it was an easy, short read. It's a little harder to find than most of her other fiction but interesting.

  13. Maybe this is a Woolf book I could handle! I'll confess that I tried Mrs. Dalloway and quit after about 4 pages; I just felt tired reading it and didn't want to make the effort. Bad Jenners!

  14. Your reviews are so helpful! I personally have never read any VW, but they seem interesting!

  15. I had to read Mrs.D twice before I liked it and I really fell hard in love with To the Lighthouse. You'll have plenty of resources online in blogland to help with it - I can point you to some excellent reviews. I really want to read Flush after reading Lady's Maid and I need to read more EBB, too. so many books...

  16. Must be an enjoyable read The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

  17. Flush is a delightful little novel. After writing her emotionally-draining The Waves, Woolf needed something fun and whimsical to soothe her nerves. Isn't it great?

    If you haven't already read To the Lighthouse, do read it. It's her finest novel, and really not all that difficult. I've recently written on Woolf and (another Persephone classic (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day)), so do stop by and take a look at my blog.


  18. I picked up a first edition of Flush at a rummage sale for $7.00. I was going to try and haggle him down, but I didn't care how much I had to pay, that thing was going to be mine!


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