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Shaggy Muses    by Maureen Adams order for
Shaggy Muses
by Maureen Adams
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In her Preface, psychologist Maureen Adams speaks touchingly of the dog - Cody, a Golden Retriever - who was integral to her own family life, and explains how Cody's loss motivated her to research writers who cared about their dogs and who wrote about their relationships with these shaggy muses. Though many of these authors were men, Adams was drawn to the women writers, 'who had depended on dogs for emotional support during childhood and in times of transition, because their experiences were closer to my own.'

In Shaggy Muses, Maureen Adams combines brief bios of five female literary giants with insights into their relationships with the important canines in their lives: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her Cocker Spaniel Flush; Emily Brontė and her Mastiff Keeper; Emily Dickinson and her Newfoundland Carlo; Edith Wharton and a succession of Pekingese ending with Linky; and Virginia Woolf who relied on several dogs, the last being her spaniel Pinka. Each bio is followed by a chronology of the writer's life. Reading about these women, I was shocked by the extent of the illness and loss (mainly in the deaths of close family members) in their lives, and could see how they might cling to a dog's loyalty and affection.

Adams shines her spotlight on all these shaggy muses, commenting on 'the unsettling similarity between lapdogs and women in Victorian England.' We learn that 'Flush shone like a beacon in the darkness and gloom of Elizabeth's life', and that Emily Brontė and the ferocious Keeper 'engaged in a power struggle that captured the attention of all who witnessed it.' The reclusive Emily Dickinson depended more and more 'on Carlo's quiet strength: "He is dumb and brave."' Edith Wharton wrote 'My little dog: - / A heart-beat / At my feet.' Virginia Woolf wrote about the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog Flush, possibly using the trauma of his dognapping to bring to the surface her own childhood abuse.

In her Afterword, Maureen Adams talks about the benefits that these - and other dogs - bring their owners, from the secure base and safe harbor that their attachments offer to solace, playfulness and a reconnection to the natural world. Though there are no dogs in my own life, I enjoyed reading about these literary Shaggy Muses and highly recommend the book to you.

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