‘Yet it was in the world of smell that Flush mostly lived. Love was chiefly smell; form and colour were smell; music and architecture, law, politics and science were smell. To him religion itself was smell. To describe his simplest experience with the daily chop or biscuit is beyond our power. Not even Mr. Swinburne could have said what the smell of Wimpole Street meant to Flush on a hot afternoon in June. As for describing the smell of a spaniel mixed with the smell of torches, laurels, incense, banners, wax candles and a garland of rose leaves crushed by a satin heel that has been laid up in camphor, perhaps Shakespeare, had he paused in the middle of writing Antony and Cleopatra — But Shakespeare did not pause. Confessing our inadequacy, then, we can but note that to Flush Italy, in these the fullest, the freest, the happiest years of his life, meant mainly a succession of smells.’
Here Virginia Woolf describes the feelings of a cocker spaniel. Flush is an unusual biography about the life of a cocker spaniel in the country, about his adoption by miss Barrett, his staying in London and in the end his final days in Italy. It is a biography about a dog’s life, but also a biography about Miss Barrett. Virginia Woolf uses the story to point out her favourite topic, namely the class differences in Victorian Britain. Yet it is remarkable to watch daily life through the eyes of a dog or better, his nose. In the book everything has a smell.
The story begins with Flush’s birth at the house of miss Mitford. She gave Flush to Miss Barrett. Miss Barrett writes poetry and she lies in bed all day. She has a bad health. Nevertheless, Flush has a happy life with her in London, until she meets Browning. This romance changes the life of Miss Barrett, but also of Flush. Her health improves, but she neglects Flush. This leaves him heartbroken. He gets jealous of Browning. Flush attempts to bite him, but he isn’t harmed. An important episode in the book is the dognapping (not kidnapping)of Flush. Virginia Woolf describes the terrible circumstances of poor life of the lower class in London. Flush is locked up with lots of other dogs, the drinking water is coloured green, and the meat smells rotten. Finally miss Barrett pays the robbers six guineas to get the dog back. Afterwards miss Barrett and Browning get married in secret and they leave for Italy, together with Flush and a maid.
In Italy Flush changes. Flush becomes more aware that all dogs are equal. In Pisa he still thinks he is better than the dogs in the street. In Florence he feels more free and away from the social British rules.
Writing a book through the eyes of a dog is a tough job. But by describing how things and happenings look and, especially, smell to Flush, like he is a person, Virginia Woolf has done a great job. Like everybody knows, dogs have an incredible nose. It was good thinking of Virginia Woolf, to let that play a big part in the story.
Virginia Woolf is known for her social criticism of the class differences in the Victorian period and also the position of highly educated women. in this book she sticks to her points of view and describes the misery of London very truly through the eyes of Flush.
This book has been written in a very original and experimental way. therefore it is sometimes a little bit difficult to read. for instance in the first chapter, you didn’t know whether Flush was thinking or Miss Barrett was thinking. But the fact that smell had such an impact in how you experienced the happenings and feelings of both the characters, human and doggish, the book should be considered as an innovation in English literature.