“Shaggy Muses”: No, it’s not about mulleted girlfriends


Forget bad haircuts. Forget spinster aunts with too many cats. Forget even the tired, “Behind every great man … ” According to a new collection of mini-biographies by Maureen B. Adams, behind every great woman is a great dog.

No, Virginia Woolf‘s spaniel probably didn’t dress like Wonder Dog here, nor did any of those profiled in Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Brontë (Seal Press, July 31, 2007).

Adams theorizes that the pups were nonetheless heroic, deeply bonding with their human counterparts and enabling the authors to achieve in spite of physical illness, depression, and social and familial constraints. Who knew that without her pooch Flush, Barrett Browning may never have counted the ways, or that Dickinson‘s Newfoundland Carlo was the one audience she truly valued? I do always think that Leonard Woolf gets too much credit, so I’m happy to see Pinka — a gift from his wife’s sometimes-lover Vita Sackville-West — receive his due.

I’ll admit that I picked up the book because of the wonderfully silly contrast between the title and the formidable list of subjects (any excuse to read about my literary obsessions), but it’s turning out to be a good read, and reviewers seem to agree.

Adams certainly isn’t the first to explore this fellowship between women of letters and their four-legged friends. Woolf herself wrote a biography of Browning’s Flush that is simultaneously lighthearted and subversive, giving a dog’s-eye view of class conflict and other social concerns as the furry protagonist becomes “daily more democratic.”

And Jeanette Winterson continued the tradition when she wrote of a “cosmic dog,” a dog who will discover all of the narrator’s secrets and inspire questions of universal import (though since everything in Winterson’s world inspires questions of universal import, I’m not sure this says much about the canine).


Even visual artists of all stripes have gone the way of the dog:

Just last year, an Internet poll indicated that 78 percent of those surveyed would choose a hound over a husband. Now, I know that many AfterEllen.com readers don’t need to make that exact choice, but if dogs are indeed woman’s best friend rather than man’s, I’m guessing you’ve got a few good stories. Who’s the great dog behind you?

Don’t worry. I did some thinking, and even if the expression now goes “behind every great woman,” we’re still doin’ it for ourselves. I think Annie Lennox would agree, right?