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Dog + Man: From The Odyssey to Beginners

Posted May 23, 2011 to photo album "Dog + Man: From The Odyssey to Beginners"

In Beginners, the dog Arthur and the human Oliver create an emotional bond that echoes back all the way to Homer.

Arthur + Oliver
Argos + Odysseus
Peritas + Alexander the Great
Gelert + Llywelyn
Guinefort + his Knight
Donnchadh + Robert the Bruce
Urian + Cardinal Wolsey
Pompey + William the Silent
Luath + Robert Burns
Boatswain + Lord Byron
Fortune + Josephine
Lauro + Napoleon
Seaman + Meriwether Lewis
Flush + Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Greyfriars Bobby + John Gray
Balto + Gunnar Kaasen
Hachiko + Hidesaburo Ueno
Flush + Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Flush + Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Watercolor by the poet’s brother Alfred Moulton-Barrett, 1843; photo of Virginia Woolf and her cocker spaniel Pinka.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) immortalized her red cocker spaniel Flush (born 1842) in the poem, “To Flush, My Dog,” which tells of a faithful dog who keeps his ailing mistress (the neurasthenic Barrett) company:

But of thee it shall be said,
This dog watched beside a bed
Day and night unweary
Watched within a curtained room,
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom
Round the sick and dreary.

And this dog was satisfied
If a pale thin hand would glide
Down his dewlaps sloping
Which he pushed his nose within,
After—platforming his chin
On the palm left open.

When the poet was discouraged from including a poem to her dog in her published volume, she responded, “Leave out Flush!! –– Why for love’s sake I could not do it…the public must have an introduction to Flushie.”  The bond between the two was so famous, that Virginia Woolf wrote a novel/biography Flush, A Biograph. Drawing on letters from the humans, Woolf spins various tales about Flush, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. In one, after the two poets had become a couple, the jealous pooch tries unsuccessfully to bite Robert. And then there are the stories when Flush was kidnapped—and ransomed—three times. Elizabeth’s father disapproved of her paying the ransoms almost as much as he disapproved of her younger husband. Woolf herself had a cocker spaniel named Pinka, that she would often write about to her lover Vita Sackville-West.