A Dog of Flanders

A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida, is a classic and timeless story from Belgium and was a special book to read. The language is so beautiful, and the story so heartfelt and heart-wrenching. I had heard of this book before but never read it. I’m so glad I found it as I was looking for books to read for each country in the world.

When old Jehan Daas had reached his full eighty, his daughter had died in the Ardennes, hard by Stavelot, and had left him in legacy her two-year-old son. The old man could ill contrive to support himself, but he took up the additional burden uncomplainingly, and it soon became welcome and precious to him. Little Nello—which was but a pet diminutive for Nicolas—throve with him, and the old man and the little child lived in the poor little hut contentedly. It was a very humble little mud-hut indeed, but it was clean and white as a sea-shell, and stood in a small plot of garden-ground that yielded beans and herbs and pumpkins.

The story is of an very poor old man, Jehan Daas, and his grandson, Nello.  Into their lives comes a dog they find that had been cruelly treated and then abandoned along the roadside. They nurse the dog back to health, and the dog becomes their loyal companion and family member, each one of them needed in the effort to earn enough money to live. Although poor and often hungry, Nello is happy living with his grandfather and his dog, Patrasche.

Nello loves art and loves the great works of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter who lived, worked and is buried in Antwerp. His influence is felt everywhere, and inspires Nello to teach himself art.

And the greatness of the mighty Master still rests upon Antwerp, and wherever we turn in its narrow streets his glory lies therein, so that all mean things are thereby transfigured; and as we pace slowly through the winding ways, and by the edge of the stagnant water, and through the noisome courts, his spirit abides with us, and the heroic beauty of his visions is about us, and the stones that once felt his footsteps and bore his shadow seem to arise and speak of him with living voices. For the city which is the tomb of Rubens still lives to us through him, and him alone.

Nello longs to see the two famous Ruben’s paintings in the Cathedral of Our Lady, in Antwerp, but they are kept behind a curtain and are only available to see if you can pay the fee.

As Nello grows older, and his grandfather grows more feeble, the boy and his dog work hard to make a living. Although life is a struggle, Nello teaches himself art and loves all of nature around him, so he is a happy person.  But life takes a cruel turn for this little family, and Nello and his devoted dog do the best they can to deal with it all.

I did love this little story. The dog is such a wonderful character, and the author lets us know what the dog is thinking and why he does some of the things he does. Nello is a gentle, sweet character, full of good cheer, talent, and hope… He is almost too good for this world.

A statue of Nello and Patrasche in Hoboken, Belgium.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a classic from Belgium.

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