The Eminent Victorian and the Philosopher
Canine Perspectives in Virginia Woolf’s “Flush: A Biography” and Italo Svevo’s “Argo e il suo padrone”
Keywords:Virginia Woolf, Italo Svevo, Dogs, Flush, Animal Studies, Zoopoetics
This study investigates the representation of two literary dogs: Flush, the cocker spaniel protagonist of Virginia Woolf’s Flush. A Biography, and Argo, the protagonist and narrator of Italo Svevo’s novella Argo e il suo padrone. With the rise of the phenomenon of language skepticism around 1900, the topos of narrating dogs became of particular interest and both these works can be placed in the fashion of dog novels, but while Svevo, although with reversed roles, draws from the literary fashion of the philosopher dog, in which “canine narrators eloquently master the human language” (Driscoll and Hoffmann 2018), Woolf plays with the very British, and Victorian, tradition of ‘illustrious biographies’ and writes the biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. By means of a zooanthropological reading of the two works, the article enquires whether the two writers try to resist anthropomorphic constructedness in the narration of their nonhuman characters and what kind of narrative device they enact to underline similarities and differences between humans and dogs. It will also try to understand if the underlying presumption of the two writers is that language is only ‘linguistic’ language, or if diverse and alternative, but equally valid, forms of communication and reciprocal understanding exist.
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