Filing old paper work is an interesting endeavor. You run into things you haven’t seen for years – correspondence from people you’d forgotten you’d written to, snippets of articles started but never finished, research that stalled part way through. I stumbled across an old folder with some of the research I’d used to write an article for the “Historical Frenchies” series I had done for the French Bullytin. This one was on the writer D.H. Lawrence, and his brindle French Bulldog, Bibbles.
Lawrence, author of such famous works as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Women and Men”, was also an accomplished poet. In a collection entitled “Birds, Beasts and Flowers”, he wrote three poems which featured his little brindle Frenchie bitch. The main poem, and the longest in the collection, is entitled ‘Bibbles’. It describes his love for her, and her somewhat indifferent and indiscriminate return of that love. Lawrence then writes of his frustration at her egalitarian approach to affection, her habit of showering everyone she meets with equal adoration –
“To you, whoever you are, with endless embrace!”
The poem takes a darker turn, when Lawrence expresses his frustration with Bibbles by beating her with a switch, after she has once again deserted him for another person. This episode, which he wrote about so frankly, left a lasting stain on Lawrence’s legacy. Writing on Lawrence, Martin Amis calls him:
“perhaps the most foul-tempered writer of all time (beater of women and animals, racist, anti-Semite, etc., etc.)”
Benjamin Kunkel’s profile on Lawrence for the New Yorker disputes this charge, saying that;
“As for beaten “animals,” these consist of a little black dog named Bibbles, whom Lawrence set to kicking one day because the creature seemed to him too promiscuous, too “Walt-Whitmanesque” in its affections. This is pitiably absurd, and unforgivable, but also unique in Lawrence’s life. His depictions of animals and, indeed, of women are among the most intimately sympathetic in English.”
Bibbles was a gift to Lawrence from his patroness, Mabel Dodge Luhan. He brought Bibbles with him when he moved to Taos, New Mexico. Mabel bred French Bulldogs in a dilettante like manner, and Bibbles was out of a litter from her bitch, Lorraine.
Lawrence wrote about Bibbles in two other poems – the Bluebird, and the Mountain Lion. Neither were as evocative of the nature, the joy, and the unstinting love of a Frenchie as Bibbles. I’ve included a short excerpt of it, for those who’ve never read it before. If I can dig it out from my archives, I’ll reproduce the entire article, complete with photographs, quotes from Lawrence, and a snippet from a letter by Georgia O’Keefe in which she mentions Bibbles.
“Bibbles”, by D.H. Lawrence
Little black dog in New Mexico,
Little black snub-nosed bitch with a shoved out jaw
And a wrinkled reproachful look;
Little black female pup, sort of French bull, they say,
With bits of brindle coming through, like rust, to show,
you’re not pure;
Not pure, Bibbles,
Bubsey, bat-eared dog;
Not black enough!
First live thing I’ve “owned” since the lop-eared rabbits
when I was a lad,
And those over-prolific white mice, and Adolph, and Rex
whom I didn’t own.
And even now, Bibbles, little Ma’am, it’s you who
appropriated me, not I you.
As Benjamin Franklin appropriated Providence to his purposes.
Oh Bibbles, black little bitch,
I’d never have let you appropriate me, had I known.
I never dreamed, till now, of the awful time the Lord must
have, “owning” humanity,
Especially democratic live-by-love humanity.
Oh Bibbles, oh Pips, of Pipsey,
You little black love-bird!
Don’t you just love everybody!
You love ’em all.
Believe in the One identity, don’t you,
You little Walt-Whitmanesque bitch?
First time I lost you in Taos plaza,
And found you after endless chasing,
Came upon you prancing round the corner in exuberant,
After the black-grfeen skirts of a yellow-green old Mexican
Who hated you, and kept looking round at you and cursing
you in a mutter,
While you pranced and bounced with love of her, you
All your wrinkled miserere Chinese black little face
And your black little body bouncing and wriggling
With indiscriminate love, Bibbles;
I had a moment’s pure detestation of you.
As I rushed like an idiot round the corner after you
Yelling: Pips! Pips! Bibbles!
I’ve had moments of hatred of you since,
“To you, whoever you are, with endless embrace!” —
That’s you, Pipsey,
With imbecile bit of a tail in a love-flutter.
Not that you’re merely a softy, oh dear me, no.
You know which side your bread is buttered.
You don’t care a rap for anybody.
But you love lying warm between human thighs,
And you love to make somebody love you, indiscriminate,
You love to lap up affection, to wallow in it,
And then turn tail to the next comer, for a new dollop.
And start prancing and licking and cuddling again,
Oh yes, I know your little game.
Yet you’re so nice,
So quick, like a little black dragon.
So fierce, when the coyotes howl, barking like a whole
little lion, and rumbling,
And starting forward in the dusk, with your little black
fur all bristling, like plush
Against those coyotes, who would swallow you like an
And in the morning, when the bedroom door is opened,
Rushing in like a little black whirlwind, leaping straight as
an arrow on the bed at the pillow
And turning the day suddenly into a black tornado of joie
de vivre, Chinese dragon.
Lobbing wildly though the deep snow like a rabbit,
Hurtling like a black ball through the snow,
Champing it, tossing a mouthful,
Little black spot in the landscape!
Pelting behind on the dusty trail when the horse sets off
home at a gallop;
Left in the dust behind like a dust-ball tearing along,
Coming up on fierce little legs, tearing fast to catch up, a
real little dust-pig, ears almost blown away,
And black eyes bulging bright in a dust-mask
Chinese-dragon-wrinkled, with a pink mouth grinning,
under jaw shoved out
And white teeth showing in your dragon-grin as you race,
you split face,
Like a trundling projectile swiftly whirling up,
Cocking your eyes at me as you come alongside, to see if
I’m I on the horse,
And panting with that split grin,
All your game little body dust-smooth like a little pig,
Plenty of game old spirit in you, Bibbles.
Plenty of game old spunk, little bitch.
How you hate being brushed with the boot-brush, to brush
all that dust out of your wrinkled face,
How you hate being made to look undignified, Ma’am;
How you hate being laughed at, Miss Superb!