Anna Sewell's moving story is one of the best-loved animal adventures ever written
Black Beauty is a handsome, sweet-tempered colt with a strong spirit. As a young colt he is free to gallop in the fresh green meadows with his beloved mother, Duchess, and their kind master. But when his owners are forced to sell him, Black Beauty goes from a life of comfort and kindness to one of hard labour and cruelty. Bravely he works as hard as he can, suffering at the hands of men who treat animals badly. But Black Beauty has an unbreakable spirit and will, and is determined to survive . . .
Anna Sewell (1820 – 1878) was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. When she was about fourteen, she sprained her ankle and it was treated badly. That, and a bone disease, meant that Anna could never walk properly. In those days, before the car, horses and one’s own two feet were the main means of transport. As she couldn’t use her feet, Anna began to rely heavily on horses to pull her around in a cart or trap. Soon she grew to love horses and to be appalled by the careless and cruel treatment they often received from humans.
In 1871 a doctor told Anna that she had only eighteen months to live. She was very weak but very determined to write a book, “to induce kindness, sympathy and understanding treatment of horses”. Five years later, she was still working on Black Beauty, her only book. By this time she was so weak that she couldn’t get out of bed and she could only write a few lines at a time. Her mother would then make a clear copy of Anna’s pencilled writing. Black Beauty was finished and published in 1877. Anna died a few months after publication so never knew of the book’s huge success. It was distributed by animal rights campaigners as well as through bookshops – it really did change people’s attitudes to horses and other domestic animals. At Anna’s funeral, her mother insisted that the uncomfortable bearing-reins should be removed from all the horses in the funeral procession.
Black Beauty was more than just a piece of do-good writing. Anna Sewell was a natural writer; she knew that if you have a point to make, you must first tell a good story that people will want to read. For well over a hundred years, readers have been proving that she got it right.