I was quite surprised to learn that both Virginia and Leonard were dog lovers. I don’t know why but I wouldn’t have expected them to be but I actually like her more for knowing that, being a dog lover myself.
Hans, Gurth, Grizzle, Pinka and Sally.
Photo: my own (though unfortunately not my dog)
Hans was a large black dog and Gurth was a sheepdog. Grizzle was a fox terrier like mongrel and the lovely spaniel in the photo above is probably a bit like Pinka and Sally.
Virginia had several dogs over the years and was almost never without one. Dogs must have played a large part in her life as they featured in her diaries and she actually wrote a biography of ‘Flush’, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog. Her dogs were just ordinary dogs who provided the companionship and loyalty that she relied on.
Flush is the life story of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Spaniel. Virginia wrote this as a bit of distraction from more serious works and apparently she was a bit embarrassed by its ‘lightness’. However, it does make serious social comment about the constraints of English society and about the way a patriarchal society ‘tames’ women. And … this very different ‘classic’ was a great success.
I can now imagine Virginia walking briskly across the Downs with a dog or two running around her. When she was recovering from her overdose, she complained that Gurth, ‘that extraordinarily ubiquitous dog,’would not leave her alone. She did eventually find that his attention calmed her down though and she started welcoming his company during her recovery. I can imagine that Gurth suffered as much as Virginia did.
I have read that Virginia used to fall into a daydream with Pinka in her lap, stroking his nose in the wrong direction and that she taught all her dogs to put out a match with a paw and she laughed at this each time she lit a cigarette. I am sure no dog would have been put in harms way!
On a final note, there is a lovely book called ‘ Shaggy Muses’ by Maureen Adams that considers the dogs that inspired famous writers including Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte and of course, Virginia Woolf.