Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flush and Mrs. Dalloway.

I’m rereading Woolf’s 1933 novel Flush for my class at the Mercantile Library on Monday night. It’s such a delight.

Lighter than Orlando, it shares with Orlando the mock-biographical form. Flush was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beloved spaniel. The book is arch—perhaps too arch for some—but once it gets going it’s hilarious. Woolf writes in a confident third person, describing the smells that enchant and disgust Flush in detail. She also describes Flush’s bewilderment at Barrett’s writing: daily, she sits silent in her room on Wimpole Street, “passing her hand over a white page with a black stick.”

But what roused me from my sofa in my Victorian sitting room (equipped, it is true, with a piano but also a tv with internal DVD—Mary Poppins is currently in heavy rotation with the younger set--and a very nice radio/CD player with iPod dock) was the list of her siblings, one of whom was called Septimus!

That’s a footnote, isn’t it? That, among other things, Septimus Warren Smith’s name is an homage to one of Elizabeth Barrett’s brothers. (There were 12; there was an Octavius after Septimus.) In Mrs. Dalloway, 8 years earlier, Woolf wrote: London has swallowed up many millions of young men called Smith; thought nothing of fantastic Christian names like Septimus with which their parents have thought to distinguish them. “

Though other scholars have written about Woolf and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, when I was working on my chapter on Byron and Woolf, I got the notion that there was a deep, deep unexplored connection between the two of them. The time spent on the sofa, an imaginary (or real) invalid; the revelatory freedom into marriage and away from father; the feminism; the commitment to political freedom; the linking of feminism with other political causes; the love of dogs. I’m getting ahead of myself, but you see the point: there is a lot to say here.

In other Flush news, the early thirties were a little bit of a boom period for EBB, as I like to think of her. Not only did Flush come out in 1933, but, in 1934, Norma Shearer starred in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” The 1934 New York Times review (on my birthday!) praises the film highly, with special mention for the dog:
A report on the acting would be woefully inadequate without a tribute to Flush, the cocker spaniel of Elizabeth. His almost human and occasionally superhuman powers of expression are so remarkable as to cause some alarm for the superiority of the human race.

1 comment:

genevieve said...

Well spotted! fancy having twelve brothers, for goodness' sakes.