Real Dogs Portrayed in Fiction: Background information when reading The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

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The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

by Andrew O'Hagan

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan X
The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2010, 288 pages
    Aug 2011, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
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Real Dogs Portrayed in Fiction

This article relates to The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

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The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe creates a believable character in Maf, a character based on Marilyn Monroe's dog. Fiction about or including dogs has a popular and long history. Wikipedia offers an expansive page listing the dogs in literature including Odysseus's faithful companion Argos, and Crab "the sourest natured dog that lives" from Shakespeare's Two Gentleman of Verona. Clearly, fictional dogs are abundant, from children's literature to adult novels; yet Maf the Dog is rare in being one of the few books to depict a real-life dog in fiction. Here are two others:

BobbyIn Greyfriar's Bobby (1912), Eleanor Atkinson tells the story of Bobby, a devoted Skye Terrier who won the attention of Queen Victoria. Told in the third person, the story tells of the unfortunate wanderings of Bobby and his friend Old Jock, a sickly shepherd, who is always willing to share what meager food he has with Bobby. When Jock dies, he is buried in a churchyard that forbids visitations from dogs. But nothing will stop Bobby, who sneaks into the churchyard every night to sleep on Jock's grave. The authorities eventually give in and allow special dispensation to Bobby to sleep in the churchyard. When he dies, he is buried next to Jock and a rose bush is planted between the two graves. Tourists can visit the churchyard, graves, and rosebush in Edinburgh, where a statue of Bobby was also erected in 1873.

Virginia Woolf's novel Flush tells a tale of a similarly devoted dog. Flush was Elizabeth Barrett Browning's beloved dog, a companion, some argue, that provided the impetus that changed Browning's life. Before Flush, Barrett was a recluse under the thumb of her father. Though she was a working poet, she took little ownership of her own success. When Flush was kidnapped by a criminal organization and ransomed, Browning had to use her own money and resources to get him back. This was a key moment in her relationship with her father that gave her confidence and independence. Flush also aided in the early stages of her relationship with Robert Browning, providing the two shy lovers with a common ground for conversation.

All three novels - Maf the Dog, Greyfriar's Bobby, and Flush - provide unique insight into the life and times of their respective subjects through the relationships with their dogs. The dogs act as lenses through which readers are able to understand more about the owners' personalities and the times in which they lived. It is an unusual literary technique, one that is both charming and revelatory but rarely used.

Interesting Link: The Greyfriar's Bobby website includes a fascinating list of famous dogs, from Balto to Shep, many of whom have been immortalized in fiction.

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe. It originally ran in January 2011 and has been updated for the August 2011 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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