This is a blog inspired by the acquisition of a new puppy (Simon, a Dobermann, born 15/11/2010). However, since even I don't really believe the emotional life of a puppy can sustain a blog indefinitely, I'm combining such reflections as Simon's progress gives rise to with my other indulgence, books. So this will be about books and dogs, in particular books about dogs, and dogs in books. There'll also be plenty of photos of Simon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bunchie and Diogenes: How to Deal with Dogs in Books

Here's a literary quiz: in which two novels do Bunchie and Diogenes respectively appear?
Okay, you've peeked:

So which dog is in which novel?
Give up? Okay, here's Bunchie:

His face was turned towards the house, but his eyes were bent musingly on the lawn; so that he had been an object of observation to a person who had just made her appearance in the ample doorway for some moments before he perceived her. His attention was called to her by the conduct of his dog, who had suddenly darted forward with a little volley of shrill barks, in which the note of welcome, however, was more sensible than that of defiance. The person in question was a young lady, who seemed immediately to interpret the greeting of the small beast. He advanced with great rapidity and stood at her feet, looking up and barking hard; whereupon, without hesitation , she stooped and caught him in her hands, holding him face to face while he continued his quick chatter. His master now had had time to follow and to see that Bunchie's new friend was a tall girl in a black dress, who at first sight looked pretty. 
The girl spoke to Ralph, smiling, while she still held up the terrier. 'Is this your little dog, sir?'
'He was mine a moment ago; but you've suddenly acquired a remarkable air of property in him.'
'Couldn't we share him?' asked the girl. 'He's such a perfect little darling.'
Ralph looked at her a moment; she was unexpectedly pretty. 'You may have him altogether.'

I suppose we must forgive Ralph Touchett, who is one of James's most appealing characters, for giving away his dog to the first pretty girl who offers (although George Eliot would have visited the direst punishment upon his head for such superficiality). But I find it hard to forgive James for creating this 'perfect little darling', and then relegating him to the limbo of literary dogs that disappear. Bunchie just vanishes from the tale, and Isabel Archer, for all her air of property, doesn't seem to miss him. One can almost feel that she deserves Gilbert Osmond, who of course does not have a dog.
At which point, let me digress from my topic, to glance at a blackguard who does keep dogs  : the unspeakable Grandcourt in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. He is generally assumed to have been the model for James's Gilbert Osmond, and there certainly is a family resemblance. Grandcourt, however, does keep dogs. Here he is with his toady and sycophant, a man called Lush:
Mr Grandcourt had drawn his chair aside so as to face the lawn, and, with his left leg over another chair, and his right elbow on the table, was smoking a large cigar, while his companion was still eating. The dogs -- half-a-dozen of various kinds were moving lazily in and out, or taking attitudes of brief attention -- gave a vacillating preference first to one gentleman, then the other; being dogs in such good circumstances that they could play at hunger, and liked to be served with delicacies which they declined to put into their mouths; all except Fetch, the beautiful liver-coloured water-spaniel, which sat with its fore-paws  firmly planted and its expressive brown face turned upward, watching Grandcourt with unshaken constancy. He held in his lap a tiny Maltese dog with a tiny silver collar and bell, and when he had a hand unused by cigar or coffee-cup, it rested on this small parcel of animal warmth. I fear that Fetch was jealous, and wounded that her master gave her no word or look; at last it seemed that she could bear this neglect no longer, and she gently put her large silky paw on her master's leg. Grandcourt looked at her with unchanged face for half a minute, and then took the trouble to lay down his cigar while he lifted the unimpassioned Fluff close to his chin and gave it caressing pats, all the while gravely watching Fetch, who, poor thing, whimpered interruptedly, as if trying to repress that sign of discontent, and at last rested her head beside the appealing paw, looking up with piteous beseeching. [...]'Turn out that brute, will you?' said Grandcourt to Lush, without raising his voice or looking at him ...
Would you marry this man?Poor Gwendolen Harleth does. Read Daniel Deronda.

But that, as I said, was a digression. Diogenes, then, is a large, friendly dog who befriends little Paul Dombey at school. When Paul dies, Diogenes is given to Florence Dombey, his lonely sister. This is his arrival:
But though Diogenes was as ridiculous a dog as one would meet with on a summer's day; a blundering, ill-favoured, clumsy, bullet-headed dog, continually acting on a wrong idea that there was an enemy in the neighbourhood, whom it was meritorious to bark at; and though he was far from good-tempered, and certainly was not clever, and had hair all over his eyes, and a comic nose, and an inconsistent tail, and a gruff voice; he was dearer to Florence, in virtue of that parting remembrance of him [by her brother Paul on his deathbed] and that request that he might be taken care of, than the most valuable and beautiful of his kind.
Florence Dombey is clearly a less fickle type than Isabel Archer. And yet, when Dickens came to write his happy ending, HE FORGOT ALL ABOUT DIOGENES.  But fortunately he remembered in time (I think he was travelling  on the Continent at the time), when the novel was being serialised, and wrote to his publisher instructing him to include Diogenes in the curtain-call. So now Dombey and Son  ends like this (it's not quite the last paragraph, but close enough):
Autumn days are shining, and on the sea-beach there are often a young lady, and a white-haired gentleman. With them, or near them, are two children: boy and girl. And an old dog is generally in their company. 

My point is really only one that Dickens, the great crowd-pleaser,  instinctively realised: every dog-lover reading Dombey and Son will want to know what happened to Diogenes. James forgot that lesson, and The Portrait of a Lady is a flawed masterpiece as a result. It's called closure, and Dickens knew all about it. So did Mark Twain. Here is a funeral scene from Huckleberry Finn:
Then the Reverend Hobson opened up, slow and solemn, and begun to talk; and straight off the most outrageous row busted out in the cellar a body ever heard; it was only one dog, but he made a most powerful racket, and he kept it up right along; the parson he had to stand there, over the coffin, and wait -- you couldn't hear yourself think. It was right down awkward, and nobody didn't seem to know what to do. But pretty soon they see that long-legged undertaker make a sign to the preacher as much as to say, "Don't you worry -- just depend on me." Then he stooped down and begun to glide along the wall, just his shoulders showing over the people's heads. So he glided along, and the powwow and racket getting more and more outrageous all the time; and at last, when he had gone around two sides of the room, he disappears down cellar. Then in about two seconds we heard a whack, and the dog he finished up with a most amazing howl or two, and then everything was dead still, and the parson begun his solemn talk where he left off. In a minute or two here comes this undertaker's back and shoulders gliding along the wall again; and so he glided and glided around three sides of the room, and then rose up, and shaded his mouth with his hands, and stretched his neck out towards the preacher, over the people's heads, and says, in a kind of a coarse whisper, "He had a rat!" Then he drooped down and glided along the wall again to his place. You could see it was a great satisfaction to the people, because naturally they wanted to know. A little thing like that don't cost nothing, and it's just the little things that makes a man to be looked up to and liked. There warn't no more popular man in town than what that undertaker was.
As Huck says, it was a great satisfaction to the people, because naturally they wanted to know. And a little thing like that  don't cost nothing -- so tell us what happened to the dog.
Which is a good excuse to bring you up to date on Simon. He has, of course, been growing. He's got into the habit of raiding my wastepaper bin. I don't know if he just misjudged his angle, or whether his head had overnight grown by a crucial millimeter, but this is how he ended up yesterday:

And what happened to the dog? Well, Dickens's advice to story-tellers was: 'Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.' So watch this space.



  1. Thank you! You are so right about Dickens. And you have finally clarified for me why some tiny part of me has always felt that Isabel Archer deserved her fate.

    Your blog is *almost* perfect. Perfection would require a blog called Cats and Books.

  2. I'm pleased to have sorted out the Isabel conundrum. It puzzled me for a long time, too.
    I COULD call my blog Cats and Books, but that would mean losing out on both cat lovers (who will be outraged to find dogs on the blog) and dog lovers (who wouldn't go there in the first place.) It's a bit like my book on Henry James: because I'm South African, bookshops shelve my book under African Fiction. Now, nobody browsing African fiction is going to want a book on Henry James, and nobody interested in Henry James is going to browse African fiction. You lose both ways. So it's going to remain Dogs and Books.