As a child this was one of my favourite books, and also one of my favourite TV series, in common with many other kids. The classic novel, Black Beauty, published in 1877, was by English author Anna Sewell, and was her only published work. (She died around 5 months after it came out in print). Apparently it sold around 50 million copies and became one of the best-selling books of all time. The novel is famous for its forthright, didactic tone on animal welfare, and also the treating of humans with kindness and respect. It was one of the books which influenced the pony book genre of children's literature.
Anna Sewell came from a devout Victorian Quaker family in Yarmouth, England, and her sympathy towards animals, particularly horses, was partly due to her own disability. At the age of 14 she fell and injured both her ankles. The injury was never successfully treated, and so she became unable to walk properly or stand for any length of time for the rest of her life. Consequently she became almost wholly dependent on horse-drawn carriages, and due to spending a lot of time with horses, and learning about them, she developed a deep respect for them, and concern for their treatment. The novel is narrated in an autobiographical way, from the horse's viewpoint, which at the time broke new literary ground.
Although it has become known as a popular children's book, Black Beauty was not in fact written for children, according to the author, but in order to promote the welfare of working horses, which it certainly succeeded in doing. It was said to have influenced concern for animals in the general community at the time, and to have been instrumental in the abolition of the cruel check-rein, or bearing rein, a strap used to keep horses' heads artificially high, fashionable in Victorian England, but painful and damaging to the horses' necks. The story deals with the life and times of a handsome black stallion, named Beauty, and is told from his point of view, as a foal on a farm, through his days of hardship as a cab horse in London, to his happy retirement in the country. Each short chapter recounts an incident in Black Beauty's life, which contains a lesson or moral, which is related to kindness and understanding treatment towards horses. The author gives detailed observations and descriptions of equine behaviour, which give the novel a very authentic, believable feel.
There have in fact been several film and TV adaptations of this popular and seminal work, most of which I myself am familiar with. The one I best remember, however, is the TV series of the 1970s, when I was growing up. I think it must have influenced me in my concern about the treatment of animals, as it did so many others.
To quote: “.... there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham...." Chapter 13, last paragraph. Amen to that!
Anna Sewell was a very talented and passionate author, and it is a shame she did not publish any other works. This one, however, is a great testament to her intelligence and compassion.
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Picture courtesy of acsreads.blogspot.com