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chairs, a tumbled mattress. Then he was seized and tied tightly by the leg to
some obstacle. Something sprawled on the floor—whether beast or human
being, he could not tell. Great boots and draggled skirts kept stumbling in
and out. Flies buzzed on scraps of old meat that were decaying on the floor.
Children crawled out from dark corners and pinched his ears. He whined, and
a heavy hand beat him over the head….
Whenever the door was kicked open he looked up. Miss Barrett—was it
Miss Barrett? Had she come at last? But it was only a hairy ruffian, who
kicked them all aside and stumbled to a broken chair upon which he flung
himself. Then gradually the darkness thickened. He could scarcely make out
what shapes those were, on the floor, on the mattress, on the broken chairs….
A stump of candle was stuck on the ledge over the fireplace. A flare burnt in
the gutter outside. By its flickering, coarse light Flush could see terrible faces
passing outside, leering at the window. 2 Then in they came, until the small
crowded room became so crowded that he had to shrink back and lie even
closer against the wall. These horrible monsters—some were ragged, others
were flaring with paint and feathers—squatted on the floor; hunched
themselves over the table. They began to drink; they cursed and struck each
The room was dark. It grew ew steadily hotter and hotter; the smell, the
heat were e unbearable, Flush's nose burnt; his coat twitched. And still Miss
Barrett did not come.
(Woolf 1933:78-80)
Virginia Woolf's purpose in writing a biography of a Victorian pet is satiric, of
course (King 1994:473-474; Lee 1996:620-621); it is designed, at least in part, as a
distancing commentary on a Victorian age which was still too close for comfort.
Still, Woolf faithfully captures both something of the Victorian temper, and
something of her own time and experiences. 3 Flush: A Biography should be read as a
fable, a way of commenting on human society from the perspective of the animal
world, and it has an honourable place among animal satires. 4 It is a way of
reimagining the Victorians and their world, their values, and it is also a commentary
on the way in which that world could be appropriated and written, one that is
necessarily revealing of the assumptions and prejudices of its own age. In the passage
quoted above, for instance, Flush's status as hero and biographical subject is
counterpointed by the anonymous beastliness of his abductors, the brutalised poor
of Whitechapel. In this story, the 'aristocratic' Flush is rudely thrust among thieves;
a dog whose mistress had tried to teach him to count and to play dominoes here
relegated once more to the animal kingdom. Like all good fables, then, beasts and
humans have swapped places, turning the world upside down. This kind of
inversion is no idle or ironic anthropomorphism, but a serious strategy for
reimagining the shared history of people and beasts in the Victorian age. For this
reason, if no other, Flush's experiences, and the world of the dog-stealing banditti,
lay a claim on our attention.
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