I'm afraid the visual bookish seduction that occurred with this volume far outweighed my acquaintance or adoration of the contents. Mrs Browning's Poetical Works languished on a local second-hand bookshop shelf for several years, just tantalisingly beyond my price limit for buying a book I loved the look and feel of.
This was the early 1980s and it was £10 but that probably did shoe a child then. No deal could be brokered and so the book sat there, regularly checked on, stroked and coveted by me, until the day the shop closed down and sold everything off for a song and triumphantly I brought Mrs Browning home.
Look at that rich deep red, slightly cracked and worn leather cover.
I'd call it maroon derived as the word is from maron the French for chestnut.
Then what about the glittering rounded gilt-edged corners, how I wish more books had rounded corners, they have a certain gentle appeal.
Then there's the old M.Macphail bookseller's sticker and the inscription, sadly the name torn off but the book presented to someone for 'good and faithful service to Church & School' by Fr. Jenkins (I think) Rector of St. Peter's Church, Galashiels in 1902. But look, you may just be able to see, he's so used to writing 1800 that's he's made a mistake so early in the new millenium.
Then there it is, To Flush My Dog, Mrs Browning's poem to dear Flushie.
Oh dear, poor Flushie, what a life Virginia Woolf has invested in him and it wasn't long before I spotted the Woolfian parallels with the mind-numbing restrictions of the rest cure as Flushie, confined to a bedroom with his mistress, is forced to repress all his natural hunting instincts and sinks regretfully into lapdog status. Compelled to accept partridge off a silver fork when doubtless he'd much rather have been out chasing it himself when it still had uncooked legs and wings I suppose.
It's heartbreaking to read and surmise that Virginia Woolf is weaving her own life's sadness into the mind of a dog, as if the world may be more empathic to the travails of a dog where it may be merely sympathetic to the travails of a woman.
I always sense a subtle difference to those expressions of feeling.
Sympathy somehow an arm's length offering which may leave the subject pitied but alone, empathy suggesting I might have somehow been enabled to walk a mile or two in their shoes (or paws) and find myself a bit nearer the truth.
It's also not long before I am forced to reflect on my own attitudes because I have to own up, whilst I have gradually come to admire her enormously, I do sometimes lose patience with all things Bloomsbury and Virginia's seemingly privileged plight whereas Flushie's really tugged at the old heart strings.
How does that work, to feel worse about the dog than the woman and thereby come to understand both?
And how perhaps Virginia Woolf imagined her own freedom from constraint as Flushie becomes Flush again, as the Brownings marry and move to Florence and set up home at Casa Guidi. The dog, once so sadly confined, is given his freedom to roam the streets of Florence, just like Virginia used to roam the streets of London...though perhaps she didn't have quite the same ...er...amorous encounters that good old Flush did or have to be unceremoniously shorn by Mr Browning when the Florentine fleas took up residence.
And quite what was Virginia suggesting as Flush, now revelling in his freedom and the much-reduced quantity of dog-focused attention from his mistress, is finally able to make a friend of a previous enemy. It's as if Flush's true, complete and happy inner self has been allowed to flourish and how deeply did Virginia Woolf, famed for her rather waspish attitude, crave likewise for herself ?
Flush has come as a complete surprise to me, it's quite stopped me in my reading tracks this week because I really had no idea this little book was so good. Dare I suggest Flush as an excellent route into Virginia Woolf's writing if you have ever been scared off because you picked up The Waves first and wondered quite which literary land you had been washed up in.