Who's afraid of Virginia Woof? Or, How do I love thee, Let me count the wags.

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I love the title of today's book: Shaggy Muses. If not for the sepia-toned cover photo of Virginia Woolf gazing upon her beloved spaniel Pinka, the book's title conjures all manner of images.

I asked a co-worker what came to mind upon hearing the title and she replied: "Um, long-haired, unshaven hippie girls who were muses for artists/authors in the '60s?"

Good answer....

Shaggy Muses

... but not quite. Shaggy Muses (Ballantine, 261 pages, $24.95) is about dogs, specifically, as the subtitle points out: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte.

Shaggy Muses is author and psychologist Maureen Adams' first book, which was inspired by her own experience of being coaxed out of a depression by her dog Cody. Adams' research of the five writers skews toward their relationships with their beloved pets.

I'm not sure if "Muses" is the correct term for the canine companions profiled here. With the exception of Emily Dickinson's Newfoundland Carlo, they seemed to have provided mostly emotional support rather than literary inspiration — that is, if you don't count Virginia Woolf's use of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel Flush as inspiration for a "biography" of the same name.

Adams lays out the book in five separate chapters — mini-biographies recounting each writer's entire life. Coming in at 50 pages or fewer, each chapter is quick but thorough.

Each chapter begins with a drawing of a particular dog and a quote from the writer.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Flush: "He and I are inseparable companions, and I have vowed him my perpetual society in exchange for his devotion."

Emily Bronte and Keeper: "The tawny and lion-like bulk ... is ever stretched beside her.... One hand of the mistress generally reposes on the loving serf's rude head, because if she takes it away he groans and is discontented."

Emily Dickinson and Carlo: "I talk of all these things with Carlo, and his eyes grow meaning and his shaggy feet keep a slower pace."

Edith Wharton and Foxy, Linky and the dogs in between:
"My little old dog:—
A heart-beat
At my feet"

Virginia Woolf and Gurth, Grizzle, and Pinka: "This you'll call sentimental — perhaps — but then a dog somehow represents — no I can't think of the word — the private side of life — the play side."

Conclusion: Man's best friend is woman's, too.

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2 Comments

Ah yes...literary animals. Let us not forget John Steinbeck's Charlie, with whom he wrote a travel journal, aptly named "Travels With Charlie" (whose main expression was "ppffffft"). George Bernard Shaw, Saki, and a host of others in the world of literature have credited their dogs with being inspiration.

One day, someone will write a tome about literary cats, who obviously would be the greater solace and muse. I am, of course, biased.

This book sounds like a solid read, and I will request it at the library post-haste. I am grateful for your reviews; they seem to speak your piece without preachiness and loft. The work must be daunting, but please keep it up. I look forward to your daily bits.

I hear Sylvia Plath had a parakeet, do you think a book is in the works? I think this fun title belongs in the "oh, deary me, why'd they print that!" pile in The Book Room.

Congratulations on a fun start, and a fun place to visit in the Sun-Times web-o-sphere.

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on August 16, 2007 7:40 AM.

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