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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 47.
- Review Date: 2007-05-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Coaxed through a depression by her golden retriever, Adams, a psychologist and former English professor, was drawn to five exceptional women writers who relied on their loyal dogs for emotional support. Flush distracted Elizabeth Barrett after her favorite brother's death, and the poet wrote about “the unsettling similarity between lapdogs and women in Victorian England”: both powerless and needing to please others. Formidable, eccentric Emily Brontë, who once savagely beat her fierce mastiff, Keeper, for sleeping on her bed, refused to sentimentalize the human-dog bond in Wuthering Heights, which depicts innocent pets being hung. Carlo, a Newfoundland, comforted Emily Dickinson in a dark time—when she may have been in love with a married man—and Edith Wharton mourned the death of one of her pooches more than the death of her mother. And Adams suggests that Virginia Woolf, depicting a dog's trauma in her biography of Flush, who was dognapped for ransom, dealt with her own childhood molestation (a picture of Woolf's dog, Pinka, appeared on the cover of Flush's biography). Although Adams's knowledgeable minibiographies are necessarily skewed toward a specialized subject matter, lovers of both dogs and classic writers will identify with this sweet, quirky book. Illus. (July 31)
The challenge and inspiration of our animal companions
Dog lovers and literary groupies alike will adore Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte. This intimate glimpse of famous writers reveals brilliant, often reclusive and sometimes unbalanced artists who used beloved pets as confessors, companions, muses and even emotional stand-ins. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog Flush was her constant companion when he wasn't being snatched by the "dognappers" common in 19th-century London. Flush became a literary go-between and romantic rival when the dashing Robert Browning came to call; he bit Browning twice, but they made up while walking the streets of Italy. Emily Bronte, who grew up to write the wild and disturbing Wuthering Heights, displayed disturbing behavior as a young girl by beating the family's mastiff, then nursing its wounds. Edith Wharton posed with two Chihuahuas perched on her shoulders and obsessed over an annoying pack of Pekinese to avoid her husband's infidelities and mental illness. Virginia Woolf described her purebred puppy as "an angel of light" who made her husband believe in God, perhaps counterbalancing the fact that the dog wet the floor eight times in one day. And Carlo the Newfoundland was the only audience for the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, who insisted that she was "more interested in Carlo's approval than writing to please the public." When the dog died, Dickinson's brief note to a friend was as poignant as any of her poems. "Carlo died," she wrote. "Would you instruct me now?"