Ah, New York. I had a wonderful visit earlier this month, seeing old friends, going to museums and restaurants, and walking, walking, walking. I was in my element in my hometown, negotiating crowded streets, dodging people and cars. It’s in my DNA.
But Manhattan is no place for small, fearful dogs from Arizona. When I looked at the city through his eyes, I realized Frankie would not ♥ New York.
Luckily, I had a pet sitter who took great care of him while — I admit it — I enjoyed not being on insulin duty. It was a treat, not needing to be home between 5 and 6pm. And I slept really, really well.
How the 1% Lived
But of course Frankie was often on my mind, especially during my visit to the Morgan Library & Museum to see the current exhibition, In the Company of Animals.
It’s small, only about 80 pieces in a single room. And I wasn’t taken with a lot of them: Bestiaries and ancient images of fantastical creatures don’t particularly appeal to me. So I’m not sure if the dozen or so more personal pieces that I heartily enjoyed would have been worth the $15 price of admission. But I had a press pass and got in for free, so I was very happy. And if you haven’t visited the Morgan Library & Museum before, it’s worth it for certain. Sure, J.P. Morgan was a filthy rich industrialist who wielded disproportionate economic clout, but I can’t help having a warm place in my heart for someone who spent a great deal of his money on books and manuscripts.
Among my favorites were a watercolor of Babar the elephant before he got his signature green suit; a sketch of dachshunds by David Hockney (reproduced here); and a manuscript page on a yellow lined pad from Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.
But the highlight was learning something surprising about two well-known literary women and their pets.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s golden cocker spaniel, Flush — sketched by the poet in the 1843 letter above — was abducted and held for ransom three times; apparently dognapping was fairly common. Sadly, although the thieves knew how much pets were valued, Barrett Browing was mocked for being distraught at her loss. In her letter, which tells of Flush’s return, Barrett Browning says:
I was crying while he was away; & I was accused so loudly of ‘silliness & childishness’ afterwards that I was glad to dry my eyes & forget my misfortunes by way of rescuing my reputation. After all it was excusable that I cried. Flushie is my friend — my companion — & loves me more than he loves the sunshine without.
Also fascinating: in the adjacent display was a copy of Flush, the 1933 biography that Virginia Woolf wrote of Barrett Browning’s dog, based on the abduction incidents (somehow the book never made its way into my lit classes). The Kirkus review calls it “a sympathetic study of the famous spaniel,” adding:
Though essentially Flush’s story, Virginia Woolf has given interesting sidelights on the Brownings and those associated with them, and she has told it in her most delightful style, devoid of the indirection and obscurity of most of her fiction. .
It’s on my to-read list.
A few things I learned by following up on the Morgan Library exhibit:
- Robert Browning didn’t particularly like Flush, who bit his ankle the first time the poet visited Elizabeth Barrett. Indeed, Browning tried to discourage his wife from paying the ransom for the dog.
- Virginia Woolf had a cocker spaniel named Pinka, whose picture is on the cover of Flush; Hans, another of Woolf’s dogs (of unknown breed), was notorious for interrupting parties by getting sick and peeing on the rug; and Woolf’s husband, Leonard, would shout at every dog he encountered until it was intimidated, after which Leonard would relax and befriend it (the last two facts are from 59 Things You Didn’t Know About Virginia Woolf).
Freud’s Last Session
I’m an idiot.
My main reason for going to New York was to meet the director of Vienna’s Sigmund Freud Museum, where my great uncle’s butcher shop has been turned into an art gallery. In the interest of learning more about the father of psychoanalysis, I also went to see a play called Freud’s Last Session, based on a hypothetical meeting in London between Freud and C.S. Lewis during the final year of Freud’s life. A fascinating dialog between the famous man of faith and the famous atheist, the play seems to get the details of Freud’s life right — except for one.
In the beginning of the play, Freud calls out to an unseen barking dog,”Come, Yofi.” But Yofi died when Freud was in Vienna; it was Yofi’s sister, Lun, who went along with the Freuds to London. In the play, Freud even mentions that his dog is avoiding him because of the smell of his jaw, necrotic from cancer, a detail I would not have expected the playwright to catch. By coincidence, I recently wrote about all this...
So why am I an idiot? Because after the show, which was in a very intimate theater, the actors came out to talk to lingering audience members in the hall and I avoided them out of nervousness. I could have said I loved the play — I did! — before I brought up the mistaken identity dog. What was my problem? I had credibility. Why wouldn’t Martin Rayner, the actor who played Freud, be interested in talking with Sigmund Freud’s butcher’s grand-niece about Freud’s dog?
Rayner would surely have passed the information along to the playwright, Mark St. Germain, who, I’m certain, would have revised the play because he is interested in veracity (though yelling “Yofi” is more mellifluous than yelling “Lun” so St. Germain’s decision might have been an artistic one).
Fantasy? Probably. But I’ll never know now.
Update: I was right about the choice of dog name being an artistic decision, wrong about “I’ll never know.” See Mark St. Germain’s comment (!), below.
While in New York I also had the pleasure of meeting Lee Charles Kelley, dog trainer and writer whose credits include a mystery series that features… a dog trainer. I am currently reading and heartily enjoying his To Collar a Killer.
As I mentioned before, Lee is going to write a guest post — or two — for me about Freudian dog training. Stay tuned.
27 thoughts on “In the Company of Animals (except Frankie): Report from New York”
Robert Browning was not a nice guy – no ransom indeed! But the theatre – Edie – next time bring a friend who will push you forward from behind, lol! As I read your re-enactment of the scene with the dog, I recalled your post and that it was Lun not Yofi!
It was serendipity that play and then those involved coming out to meet the audience. You must step up to meet that when it happens – I have no idea why we do that – deny ourselves a new experience, a chance to speak. I have been guilty of that…I hope that at this stage in the game I won’t do it again, but you never know;) Now where’s Carl Jung when you need him?
You’re so right, Mary. I thought I was beyond that and it’s annoying to find out that’s not so! As for Carl Jung, I saw A Dangerous Method yesterday. Apparently he was pretty busy fighting his own demons…
Wow! What fun for you in so many ways. So interesting that Virginia Woolf”s husband took a CM approach to dogs. Intimidating them into “calm submission” before befriending them. And Robert Browning? Not nice either. What’s with these men with talented wives? Maybe it’s not too late too late to write to the playwright. Maybe even better. In your message to him you could link to your posts about Freud and his dogs.
Funny, Deborah, I thought of CM too when I read about Leonard Woolf. With you, I wondered whether it was a question of the men being intimidated by talented wives and “kicking the dog” in response. I’ll give Robert Browning the benefit of the doubt because he was the better — and more celebrated — poet and he helped Elizabeth Barrett blossom. Leonard Woolf… not so much!
I like your idea of emailing the playwright. It might miss the immediacy of personal contact, but get the link across better!
Deep sleep. About once a quarter, I take myself to a motel, close the blinds, watch some TV and sleep with no wake up call, no fur and no baying. Then, I want to go home.
I did have a friend who pushed me to meet the Letterman years ago; Tony Butala spelled my name wrong and when he asked, I said No, you are right and I changed how I spelled my nickname for years afterward.
I have difficulty imagining you being nervous in that situation. Sounds like a wonderful play.
You’re too funny, changing your nickname rather than correcting a famous person — so you can see how I might find myself in a similar situation! It was a great play, except for the part where Freud starts fussing with his upper palate prosthesis… I liked it when they stuck to a good debate.
I’m glad you’re doing something to take care of yourself, if only once a quarter. You do so much for the dogs; you need that now and then to avoid burnout.
I envy your trip. It sounds splendid. Although I’m not a New Yorker, I always breathe a little easier when I’m there. It’s a relief to be back on the streets with people who walk and talk as fast as I do.
I agree with Deborah that you should write to the playwright. I find it hard to believe that anyone faced with the indomitable Frankie would lose courage in front of a mere human male. Consider it therapy.
Ha, I had my wussiness reinforced — see next comment! It’s true that Frankie is the standard by which all tests of bravery should be measured.
FREUD’S LAST SESSION Author
You’re right – I like the name “Yofi” better. He was, from what I read, Freud’s favorite dog.
Good eye, or ears!
I guess being a wuss is okay when you have Google alerts on your side (at least I’m assuming that’s how you found my ruminations)…
Thanks so much for coming by and commenting — and you’re right, Yofi was Freud’s favorite dog, or at least the dog he had the longest. His first Chow died after 15 months, and Freud had Lun only a short time before he moved to London, where Lun was quarantined for six months and then avoided Freud — as you astutely pointed out.
I’m happy to hear you had a great time in New York. It’s always easier to relax when you know your pets are well cared for, and it sounds like Frankie was in very capable hands. And how cool that the author of the play found your post! =)
Thanks, Amy; it was a huge load off my mind to have someone who understood my concerns — a nice way of putting my obsessiveness — about Frankie.
And in answer to your last statement — very! 😉
Seriously, in an English language play, unlike in life, Freud can’t shout “Lun” to stage left or right without sounding like a precious looney. I’ve been sick as a dog (and would dearly love your exegesis on the source and meaning of that phrase) or would have weighed in with my congratulations and questions earlier. Looks like better commenters than I have taken care of that. I fondly remember visiting you in Manhattan and taking myself to the Morgan. For a country bumpkin like me (i.e., anyone who isn’t a New Yorker) the building was worth the visit. The displays were just detritus to drag in the rubes.
So glad you’re back and that Frankie did as well as you did, you non-idiot!
Sorry to hear you’ve been under the weather (another phrase I need to research, along with “sick as a dog” — anyone know the source of either?). I don’t recall your visit to the Morgan — of course, I wasn’t there — but it IS a gorgeous building.
Hey, if you hadn’t been out of touch, you would have been able to fulfill your duties to tell me that I was a non-idiot earlier. But it all worked out.
I think the places you visited in New York are fascinating. I always love to visit places that contains historical treasures. I am happy to learn something about Morgan Library & Museum from you. I will include this in my destination list.
It seems your trip is well paid off even historical images don’t appeal to you much. I mean, with your writing, at least we get to know that Sir Robert Browning is not that fond of dogs. All pet lovers will understand what Elizabeth B. Browning’s reaction was when Flush got dognapped, especially women. I once cried too when my first dog died but i had to look away to hide my true emotions because some people, i know, think this is a silly gesture and effeminate. Thanks for sharing you trip with us! I’m a pet lover as well…
NOT an idiot-take it back! Your accounts are fascinating. I too will read Woolf’s book on Flush. I had never heard any of that before, to the library!
Ok, I take it back. I’m glad you’re enjoying the dog history lessons~
Just hopped by to catch up on your happenings and say hello! Have a great weekend!
Y’all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog
Thank you! Nice to see you. Have a great weekend yourself.
I had no idea that dognapping was common. That bit about Barrett Browning and her dog was fascinating to me. I wonder if Robert Browning was behind the dognapping?
Best. comment. ever. It literally made me laugh out loud. I don’t think that Robert Browning was behind the dognapping — THREE dognappings; I suppose paying ransom is not that smart — but I love the idea.
Your trip is such a delightful one. Hope I can go there to New York and have acquaint with people there. By the way, I feel pity what Elizabeth been through towards her dog. It seems that she is very fascinated with such creature. On the other hand, Mr. Roberts is a that is too good to be true. Well, anyways it’s better to be a pet lover than nothing at all.
Spam much? I couldn’t resist publishing this — without your url, of course.
Thank you for publishing my comment. I really appreciate it much even without URL.. Hope we can get to know each other well. Best regards!
Ok, second time’s a charm. I won’t take out the url this time 😉
You know what? brilliant and nice person like you is a precious gift from God and must be kept forever .
Thanks for the opportunity you’ve been given to me.