Hounds of Heaven
(His whiskers were heroic…red, profuse, goatlike)
Staying put for a week in an AirBnB in Tasmania, due to shoulder injury, while Russell does the Overland Track. I should be writing, but first up: distraction number one, found on the shelf in the apartment – Evelyn Howard’s The Dog That Went to Heaven, with illustrations by L. R. Brightwell. I can’t find much out abut this curious little book published in the 1930s, but Howard seems to have been the pen name of an American writer Sarah Addington, who had an apparent fondness for British poets and novelists.
The rough plot is Padraic MacInerny, an Irish terrier, gets hit by a truck and finds himself in the company of the Celestial Association of Literary Cats and Dogs, aka The Hounds of Heaven. This afterlife crew is made up of dogs owned and written about by noted poets and other writers (Byron, Barrett, Dickens, R. L. Stevenson…) all kept in line by Dr Johnson’s esteemed cat Hodge. It’s hysterical. With Hodge convening meetings in which they all don little blue stockings and point-score over who had the most illustrious ‘master’ back in the land of the living. Particularly funny, is the impact Byron’s Boatswain has on Dickens’ Mrs Bouncer – ‘Boatswain had only to roll his romantic eye, and she trembled, had but to loll against a dustbin, and she was undone.’
(Mrs Bouncer and Boatswain were the scandal of the Alley)
Howard is very good too with Elizabeth Barrett’s dog Flush biting Robert Browning’s legs (note to self, must now read Virginia Woolf”s Flush: A Biography – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flush:_A_Biography) Paddy himself, the undisputed hero of the book, is a much more down to earth mutt, who will have none of their snobbery. When called on to defend his literary chops, he says – ‘Well, my Boss writes sonnets. He writes them all day long and he’s got a whole boxful…You see, my boss is a champion. The champion unpublished poet. He’s written more poems that haven’t been published than any other man that ever lived. He says so himself…If we sell a poem we eat; and if we don’t, we chew our tongues instead.’
In the end Paddy decides that, despite an alley full of cans and chicken on tap, the celestial company is not for him, and so he heads back to his beloved Boss instead.