Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Austen, Heyer, & the Prince of Orange: Pugs in Literature and History

It's my pleasure to welcome Mimi Matthews and a fascinating look at pugs in literature and history. 

“About thirty years ago, the fashionable lapdog was the Dutch-Pug; every old Duchess in the kingdom had three or four, and these ugly little animals were the ladies’ favourites from the accession of William the Third to the death of George the Second.” (The Sporting Magazine, 1803.)

Pietro Benvenuti Ritratto di Elena Mastiani Brunacci 1809
Portrait of Elena Mastiani Brunacci by Pietro Benvenuti, 1809.
(Palazzo Pitti)
Pugs feature in many of our favorite Regency novels and, in most of them, the cheerful little dog, which currently ranks 32nd most popular breed in the United States, is not portrayed in a very flattering light.  Instead of the “happy, even-tempered companion” that the United Kennel Club refers to in their breed standard, the Pugs of literature are generally depicted as spoiled, temperamental little brutes.  As illustrated in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, their presence in a novel tends to symbolize the very worst in upper-class indolence.  Austen describes the character of Lady Bertram thusly:
“She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children.”  (Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, 1814.)
The phrase “of little use and no beauty” might just as easily be applied to the character of Pug herself.  Content to while away her life sitting on the sofa with her mistress, her only exercise the occasional bout of mischief making in the flower beds, Pug is nothing like the noble hounds and energetic spaniels we have grown accustomed to seeing in period literature.
Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna, 1759.
Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna, 1759.
by Louis-Michel van Loo
(Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow)
In the novels of Georgette Heyer, the portrayal of Pugs is not much better than that in Austen.  In fact, it is uniformly negative.  The much-maligned little canine is usually associated with elderly dowagers and, more often than not, the bane of every young person who crosses their threshold.
“[My grandmother has] a pug-dog,” says Gil Ringwood to Hero, Lady Sheringham, in Friday’s Child.  “Nasty, smelly little brute.  Took a piece out of my leg once.  You could take it for walks.  Wants exercising.  At least, it did when last I saw it.  Of course, it may be dead by now.  Good thing if it is.” (Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer, 1944.)
As luck would have it, the Pug in question has not yet been “gathered to its fathers,” but is indeed very much alive. Upon catching sight of the snuffling, snorting creature, Lord Sheringham informs his wife:
“I’ll be hanged if I’ll have an overfed little brute like that in my house! If you want a dog, I’ll give you one, but I warn you, it won’t be a pug!”
Young Lady in A Boat James Tissot
Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot, 1870.
In contrast to those featured in Austen and Heyer, the Pugs of history are much beloved little fellows.  The most famous of their ranks is undoubtedly Pompey, the Pug belonging to William the Silent, Prince of Orange.  Sir Roger Williams recounts the following anecdote about Pompey in his book Actions in the Low Countries (1618):
William the Silent Prince of Orange
William I, Prince of Orange, 1579.
by Adriaen Thomasz Key
(Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum)
“The Prince of Orange being retired into the camp, Julian Romero, with earnest persuasions, procured licence of the Duke D’Alva to hazard a camisado, or night attack, upon the Prince.  At midnight, Julian sallied out of the trenches with a thousand armed men, mostly pikes, who forced all the guards that they found in their way into the place of arms before the Prince’s tent, and killed two of his secretaries; the Prince himself escaping very narrowly, for I have often heard him say, that he thought, but for a dog, he had been taken or slain.  The attack was made with such resolution, that the guards took no alarm until their fellows were running to the place of arms, with their enemies at their heels; when this dog, hearing a great noise, fell to scratching and crying, and awakened him before any of his men…The Prince, to shew his gratitude until his dying day, kept one of that dog’s race, and so did many of his friends and followers.”
The Pug went on to become the favored dog of European royalty, including monarchs William and Mary whose Pugs, wearing orange ribbons to signify the House of Orange, travelled with them from Holland when they came to ascend the English throne in 1688. The Empress Josephine was also a Pug fancier. Her Pug, Fortune, is famous for having carried messages for her while she was imprisoned during the revolution. Marie Antoinette had a beloved Pug named Mops. And Queen Victoria, a noted lover of dogs, had a veritable herd of Pugs.
Royal Group at Balmoral, 1887.
Royal Group at Balmoral, 1887.
(Royal Trust Collection)
With their protruding eyes and corkscrew tail, the Pug may not be precisely the sort of dog you would like to see in your next historical romance – either as a writer or as a reader – but I would urge you to reconsider.  Despite their unfortunate characterization in many Regency novels of the past, Pugs continue to be in actual fact little dogs of great courage, possessed of boundless affection, and an unending reservoir of good cheer.

Blonde and Brunette by Charles Burton Barber, 1879.
Thus concludes another Friday feature on Animals in Literature and History.  To learn more about Pugs or to adopt a Pug of your own, I encourage you to visit the following sites:
The Pug Dog Club of America (United States)
The Pug Dog Welfare & Rescue Association (United Kingdom) 

If you enjoyed this post, Mimi posts articles on the subject of animals in literature and history every week at http://mimimatthews.com/category/animals/!

Works Referenced or Cited in this Article
Author Biography: 
Mimi Matthews is an author of contemporary and historical romance.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America and The Beau Monde and is currently under contract with a New York literary agency.  In her other life, she is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.  She resides in Northern California with her family – which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

Written content of this post copyright © Mimi Matthews, 2015.


Unknown said...

Very nice post !!! <3

Sarah said...

I'll try to reply for the third time. I HATE how the sign out button is right above the notify me and a sneeze can foul up your day big time.
The pug is used as a literary device to demonstrate an owner who is superficially caring and is actually often rather selfish. These undemanding animals are easy to care for, and can be readily overindulged to become feisty in the Regency sense, making their presence less pleasant. Their presence in books is a short cut to show that sort of woman who expects her servants to care for and walk her dog, and stuffs it with unsuitable food because she 'adores' it, yet doesn't love it enough to care for its health. It's a warning to the book heroine that the owner of the pug is superficial and self centred, and the pug's reputation has suffered accordingly.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you! My sister is a pug owner but, I think, a rather more conscientious one!

Sarah said...

I like pugs... like King Charles Spaniels, they are nice little dogs.

Anna M. Thane said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting post. To me, a pug seems to be a brilliant addition to the human character-set of a novel. It seems much easier to write a comical scene with a pug than, let's say, with a spaniel.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for featuring my article today, Catherine! And thanks to Sarah and Vielka Helen for their comments!

Catherine Curzon said...

It's my pleasure; thank you for the wonderful post!

Catherine Curzon said...

They are!

Catherine Curzon said...

They do have a sort of comedy look!

Debra Brown said...

Sharing on tsu, where animal posts seem to get more attention than history!

Sarah said...

Has it eaten my reply? I believe it has! I was commenting that based on a true story I heard of a Charlie raised by a cat, I wrote a scene where a spaniel/basset pup was trying to climb a tree...

Catherine Curzon said...


Catherine Curzon said...

That sounds like a lot of fun!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Debra! As far as the popularity of my animal posts, I think that the animal element is simply the spoonful of sugar that helps the history & literature go down. For some people, straight history and literature is too dry or intimidating, but if it features something you can connect with - like animals or fashion or a particularly relatable human story - it makes it much more palatable. Anyway, that's just my own theory!