…they are very affectionate and playful, and bear the confinement of the house better than many other breeds, racing over the carpets in their play as freely as others do over the turf. For this reason, as well as the sweetness of their skins, and their short and soft coats, they are much liked by the ladies as pets.–Chest of Books, Dog Breeding, The Pug
Much has been made of Lady Bertram’s affection for her pug in Mansfield Park, and some have identified the dog as a symbol of imperialism, sexism and oppression. (Slipping the Leash: Lady Bertram’s Lapdog, Sally Palmer.) I see pug as a symbol of Lady Bertram’s wealth, indolence, and misplaced affection, for she cares much more for her dog’s minute-to-minute well-being than her childrens’. Towards the end of the novel, Lady Bertram showers more affection on Fanny Price than her disgraced daughter Maria, offering Fanny a puglet from Pug’s next litter.
Pugs are among the oldest breed of dogs. Their root can be traced to 400 BC China, where the dogs were bred to adorn the laps of Chinese sovereigns during the Shang dynasty. By the 1300s there were three main types of dogs that are identifiable as founders of breeds of today: the Pekingese, the Japanese Spaniel, and the Pug.* Small dogs presented as gifts arrived in Europe via the Dutch East India Company. In The Netherlands, the pug became the official dog of the House of Orange, and by 1688, William and Mary had introduced the pug to England. Their popularity spread quickly throughout the British Isles, and during this period the little dog may have been bred with the old type King Charles Spaniel.
The Victorians made dogs acceptable as pets in Britain and, as a result, they are largely responsible for the degree of genetic disorders in dogs today. They bred dogs to achieve a fashionable look or to emphasise a cute, childlike appearance as seen in the pug, the King Charles spaniel and other lapdogs. – A Potted Relationship of Dog and Man Through the Ages
Reading Mansfield Park again, I came to realize that Jane Austen’s choice of a dog for Lady Bertram was a stroke of genius, for Pug is the canine reflection of herself. The tiny dog’s affectionate and inactive natures makes it the perfect house-bound dog. They are known for preferring human laps over engaging in outdoor exercise. Unless they are trained from puppyhood to be more independent, Pugs suffer from separation anxiety should their humans leave them for very long. Just recently, when I took my terrier to a dog park to exercise and play with his own kind, I saw a Pug contentedly sitting in his mistress’s lap, observing the commotion and rambunctious activity around him with a look that I can only describe as Pug-eyed horror. Though a young dog, he was not at all inclined to move. His mistress, a young woman, sighed, saying this was her first Pug and that she’d had not idea how very disinclined they were to do anything but sit, eat, and sleep. She did add that he was a perfect apartment pet.
Today’s Pug looks different from their 18th & 19th century counterparts, who were longer in leg and less wrinkled of face. Many had their ears clipped, a practice banned in England in 1895. Today’s Pug is stockier (tending to obesity in older age), needs a thorough cleaning of its facial folds to prevent infection, and is prone to illnesses due to overbreeding. Nevertheless, this affectionate pet is still popular, gentle with children and considered an excellent little guard dog.
More on the Topic
- The 19th Century Dog Occupying High and Low and, Yes, Even Cruel Places
- Mansfield Park 2007: Another Perspective by Ellen Moody
- The Dummification of Mansfield Park
- A Potted Relationship of Dog and Man Through the Ages
- Pugnacious: Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide
- Factual Imaginings: Tuesday Trivia! Pugs!
- Georgian England’s Top Dogs
- Anecdotes of Dogs, by Edward Jesse, Esq, 1858, Project Gutenberg ebook
- Competition for a Gainsborough Pub