This novel is based on the real historical event of the ‘Brown Dog affair’.
In 1903, two feminist and anti-vivisectionist activists, Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Leisa Schartau, having infiltrated a lecture by William Bayliss of the Department of Physiology of University College London, alleged they witnessed him perform a cruel vivisection on an inadequately-anaesthetised brown terrier dog.
Prominent barrister Stephen Coleridge supported them and publicly accused Bayliss of torture.
Bayliss sued for libel at The Royal Courts of Justice.
The anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog as a memorial, unveiled in 1906 at the Latchmere Recreation Ground in the progressive area of Battersea.
The medical establishment was enraged by the statue, and medical students led attacks of vandalism against it, which inflamed into riots where they clashed against a coalition including suffragettes and trade unionists.
The novel is a fictional, imagined version of the lives of the two key female activists.
Wealthy Lena Hageby welcomes Eliza Blackwood to live with her. After what they witness at the lecture they become devoted to the cause of the little brown dog. However Eliza is also in love with conflicted medical student Jack Forsyth.
One of their first dates is in a Lyons’ tea shop. This novel is in many ways a love-letter to London – but not shy of the perennial themes of over-crowdedness, inequality and pollution.
The whole time reading this book, in my head I was watching it as a film. I really believe there is a great film to be made here! The writer herself has said she first wrote the book as a screenplay. The style I was imagining was Finding Neverland (2004) or Miss Potter (2006). A film might prefer a happy ending, though in the book the story takes a turn at the end which is uncomfortable and bittersweet.
I have found it extraordinary to discover the history of the ‘Brown Dog affair’.
The statue remains controversial. After the fate of the original in 1910, a new statue created by Nicola Hicks was unveiled in Battersea Park in 1985, which was again taken down in 1992, before finally being reinstated in 1994 to a more secluded area of the park.
This very special and beautiful book has captured a story we ought to know.