Feb 4, 2008

Black Beauty

by Anna Sewell

Although this classic is now commonly thought of as a children's story, I don't believe that was its original intention. Anna Sewell wrote it in order to bring to light the conditions horses lived in when they were as widely used for transportation as cars are today. I suppose you could call her one of the earliest animal-rights activists. She wanted to promote kindness to animals (and between people) and do away with the use of checkreins, which forcibly held a horses' head high, often damaging their necks; and other cruel practices such docking horses' tails. Through telling the story of one horse's life, Sewell demonstrated how kind, indifferent or cruel treatment affected a horses' health, soundness and well-being. She even showed how ignorant owners could harm their animals unintentionally. Black Beauty traded hands often, living in turns on a farm, on a rich estate as a carriage horse, in the city pulling a London cab, in a "rental" stable hired out for day use, hauling delivery carts for a butcher, etc. His equine acquaintances even share experiences as a mount in the military, a children's pet pony, and racing in steeplechases.

I've read this book many times. Recently I found a beautiful copy at the public library, the Viking Whole Story for Young Readers edition, 2000. In addition to containing lovely pen-and-ink illustrations by William Geldart, it has text, diagrams and miniature reproductions of gorgeous classical paintings in the margins. These give further explanations of things mentioned in the story which may have been common knowledge in Sewell's day but aren't now. I found it delightful and very informative. If you're interested in reading Black Beauty to understand how horses were used in the 19th century, I would highly recommend this edition.

Rating: 4/5                  
206 pages, 1877

more opinions at:
Ardent Reader


  1. Anonymous2/04/2008

    Ya know, my grandma bought me a beautiful edition of this book when I was a child. I think I'm going to reread it now. The illustrations are *gorgeous*. Thanks for the nudge!


  2. Big confession -- I never read Black Beauty! Never went through that horse stage. I remember in third and fourth grades, when we'd have silent reading, where we could read a book of our choosing for our own entertainment...some girls would start crying bitterly, like their hearts might break and had to leave the classroom. I thought it sounded a little like "Lassie-Come-Home", which I loved. I should try this!

  3. I've given you the "you make my day award" :)

  4. I love the Book Thing!! (I can read this post in Google reader, but can't find it on your blog?) I haven't been there since my daughter was born, I miss it!

    Your copy of Cry, the Beloved Country could be my old book, I donated that book a few months ago and it was that same edition.

  5. Nyssaneala- That's funny, I bet it's the very copy I've got. Paperback one?

  6. Bybee- even though there are lots of sad parts and the horse gets mistreated, it actually has a happy ending!

    Trish- I hope you enjoy it. I love it when I read a book with great illustrations.

  7. This is a book I've always been curious about. Your review makes me want to give it a try!


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