Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams: A Review

Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams is the story of how dogs inspired five of the greatest female writers in history: Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Brontë.

Each woman had a very different relationship with her dog. The premise of the book is that the relationships the women had with their dogs influenced their writing. My two favorite sections were those about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her spaniel, Flush

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the famed poet, apparently gained comfort and courage from her small spaniel Flush.  The dog was an endless delight to her, and guided her through the heartbreaking loss of her older brother, who had drowned. Later, Flush helped give her the courage to pursue an unconventional romantic relationship with Robert Browning, who was 6 years her junior.

Elizabeth was already considered an old maid when she met Browning at the age of thirty-nine. Robert and Elizabeth’s courtship often involved walks with Flush, and they frequently mentioned him in their love letters.

When the couple married in 1846, Flush came with to Italy. Elizabeth gave birth to a son named Penn at the age of 43, and she wrote of how the aging Flush enjoyed spending time with the baby.

When Flush passed away in his teens, Elizabeth was truly heartbroken, but had the comfort of her  husband and child  to see her through the loss — a husband and child she may never have had if it weren’t for the strength the little dog gave her to pursue her dreams.  Elizabeth wrote a poem about Flush, whose first stanza is this:

Loving friend, the gift of one
Who her own true faith has run
Through thy lower nature,
Be my benediction said
With my hand upon thy head,
Gentle fellow-creature!

Here’s the rest of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “To Flush, My Dog.”

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Emily Dickinson and her Newfoundland, Carlo

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s beloved dog was not one of the small spaniels favored by most Victorian ladies, but a large, boisterous Newfoundland named Carlo, a gift from her father. Much has been written about the poet’s solitary existence, and it has been speculated that she suffered from a variety of mental health issues, including depression and agoraphobia.

However, with Carlo at her side, Emily was apparently much braver. She took long walks with him at her side and visited the homes of friends.

When one of her friends asked Emily if she was not lonely given her relatively solitary existence, she replied by saying:  “You ask of my companions. Hills, sir — and the Sundown — and a Dog large as myself, that my Father bought me.”

Carlo enjoyed a long life, and an especially close relationship with his mistress. When he passed away at the advanced age of seventeen, Emily wrote this simple but heartbreaking line in a letter to a friend: “Carlo died./ E. Dickinson/ Would you instruct me now?”

Emily never had another dog. After Carlo’s passing she became more  reclusive, spending increasing time inside her home writing the reams of poems that would make her famous after her death.

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Maureen Adams - Shaggy Muses

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Shaggy Muses is thoroughly recommended to anyone who loves dogs and literature. It’s available in print and on Kindle. We give it a four paw rating.

Katherine Dutcher blogs at Urban Hounds. Follow her on Twitter: @tubby3pug

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Edith Wharton and her dogs, 1889-1890

Classic Women Authors and Their Dogs and Cats

Illustration of Emily and Keeper

You might also enjoy:
Keeper, Emily Brontë’s Fiercely Devoted Dog

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