Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Dog Days

Kevin A. Morrison, Syracuse University

Nineteenth-century female poets frequently wrote about their pets. A pervasive tendency among contemporary critics has been to dismiss these poems as engaged in the conventions of mawkish, sentimental anthropomorphism that modernist writers, lauded for inaugurating a process of seriously rethinking human and nonhuman animal relations in terms of reciprocity and responsibility, are seen to debunk. This view has forestalled any real analysis of how Victorian women writers themselves, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in particular, actively inquired into the epistemology and phenomenology of love across the species divide. This paper argues that Barrett Browning’s poems about—and frequent references in her letters to—her cocker spaniel Flush, which have frequently been looked on with embarrassment by literary critics and biographers alike, are actually contiguous with the theoretical concerns about love, kinship, and intimacy that occupy much of her literary and epistolary output.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]