Drawing on letters, memoirs and unpublished writings, Adams (Psychology/Univ. of San Francisco) highlights the attachment between five great writers and their canine companions.
The book begins with the cocker spaniel Flush, given to Elizabeth Barrett when she was 35, isolated and bedridden. Flush coaxed the poet out of her depression, gave her someone to care for and even lessened her father’s control over her. Their 13-year companionship endured into Barrett’s marriage to Robert Browning, and the poet kept her promise to Flush: “my perpetual society in exchange for his devotion.” Moving on to Emily Brontë’s formidable mastiff, Keeper, the author doesn’t romanticize the pair’s relationship. Keeper may well have served as a reflection of Brontë’s own tempestuous nature, and she did not always treat him with loving kindness. Once, after finding the dog sleeping on a bed, she dragged him downstairs and repeatedly beat him about the face. Adams speculates that Brontë may have vented her frustrations on her pet, bolstering this convincing thesis with selections from Wuthering Heights. On a happier note, Emily Dickinson’s Newfoundland, Carlo, helped keep the poet grounded during her productive years. After his death, she told a friend, “Do you know that I believe that the first to come and greet me when I go to heaven will be this dear, faithful, old friend Carlo?” Subsequent chapters focus on Edith Wharton’s many dogs and Virginia Woolf’s scruffy canine companions.
The concept is lightweight, but these concise biographies are affecting and engaging. Only the tacked-on afterword seems extraneous.