A Dog of Flanders

A few years ago, on a video that we watched there was an advertisement for an animated version of A Dog of Flanders that looked good. I went back to the video store and found a copy of A Dog of Flanders, but when we got it home it was a live action version. We watched it anyway and enjoyed it. De la Ramee, an English woman of French extraction, wrote many romance novels that were popular in her day and several captivating stories for youngsters. Originally published in 1872, A Dog of Flanders, considered an exceptional example of sentimental literature, tells the story of a young Flemish boy named Nello, who lives in a small village outside Antwerp. One day he finds an overworked, forsaken cart dog that was left by its cruel master to die on the side of the road. Nello and his grandfather, an old retired soldier, feed the dog, which they name Patrasche, and nurse it back to health. In return, it helps them to carry the villagers’ milk into Antwerp to sell.

The boy has a talent for drawing, hoping someday to become a painter, and longs to see the great masterpiece by Peter Paul Reubens in the cathedral at Antwerp, but he is poor and has no money to purchase a ticket. Furthermore, his best friend in the village is a girl named Alois, but her father, the local miller, considers his station to be above that of Nello and his grandfather, so he forbids Alois from seeing Nello any longer, although he holds dear a portrait of Alois that Nello had drawn on a piece of wood. In his dislike of Nello, the miller even holds him responsible for a fire that started one night when Nello brought Alois a toy that he had found, but towards the end, the boy repays the evil of Alois’s father with good by returning a large sum of money that the miller had dropped in the snow. To make some money of his own, especially after the townspeople will no longer let him sell their milk because of the miller’s influence, Nello enters one of his drawings in a contest at Antwerp.

In the genre of sentimental literature, realism and credibility are subordinate to grand emotional tragedy, and A Dog of Flanders, sometimes called “the first modern dog story,” is certainly a very sad tale. However, there is much tenderness too and important lessons can be learned from both the good and bad character traits exemplified, especially as Nello and Patrasche suffer countless hardships of poverty, hunger, cruelty, rejection, and even the death of the grandfather but persevere in the face of adversity up to where finally Nello realizes one of his dreams in their bittersweet end. There are a few references to drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, but otherwise there is nothing objectionable.

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