Tuesday, September 16, 2014


When Mom was a little girl, one of her favorite books was Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell.  Mom's mom used to read it to her, and it was a book she liked to hear over and over.  The other most favorite books Mom liked to have read to her were Old Yeller, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Bobbsey Twins seriesAfter a while, Mom learned to read these books and more all by herself, which is good because if she went all the way through school and never learned to read, that would be very sad.

Anyway, not too long ago, Mom got the urge to read Black Beauty again, so she bought a copy of the book on CD.  The Year of the Horse seemed like a good time to reread this old favorite book, and now that I have done a little in-depth research on it, I will tell you about the book and its author.

First edition cover, 1877

Black Beauty was published in 1877 by Anna Sewell.  It was the only book she ever wrote.  She spent the last few years of her life writing it while her health got worse and worse.  She died on April 25, 1878, only five months after the publication of her book, but at least she got to see its early success.  Ms. Sewell died of either hepatitis or tuberculosis.  Her book went on to sell fifty million copies, which made it the sixth best-selling book in the English language.

Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth, England.  She had one brother, who was an engineer in Europe.  At the age of 14, Anna fell while she was walking home from school in the rain.  She injured both of her ankles, and they never healed up properly.  So for the rest of her life, she had to walk with a crutch, and she could not walk far or stand for very long.  She began learning about horses, and they provided a good way for her to get around town.  Also, she drove her father to and from the train station every day so he could go to work.

This copy of the first edition of the book
was dedicated by the author to her
mother.  In June 2006, it was autioned off
at Christie's in London for £33,000.

Ms. Sewell's mother, Mary Wright Sewell, wrote best-selling children's books.  Anna helped edit these, and this was her introduction to writing.  Anna Sewell never married, even though she met lots of artists, writers, and philanthropists while she was visiting European spas.  She wrote Black Beauty between 1871 and 1877.  As her health got worse, she sometimes could barely get out of bed.  She wrote on little scraps of paper, and her mother copied these into a nice manuscript.  Local publishers, Jarrold & Sons, published the book when it was finished in 1877.

Beauty spent several years as a cab horse.
Life was hard for both the horses and the cabbies.
Black Beauty was not intended to be a children's book.  It was meant for people who drove and took care of horses.  It talked a lot about animal welfare and also about how to treat other people with kindness and respect.  The narrator of the book is Black Beauty himself, who tells his whole life story, which includes many different masters, grooms, and drivers.  He also does a lot of different types of work.  In each part of his life, Beauty talks about the good ways and the bad ways a horse can be treated.  He has some other horse friends that tell him their own experiences, such as when Captain talks about being a war horse.

One of the worst things for horses in harness was the "checkrein" (or "bearing rein"), which was a strap used to make the horse hold his head up really high.  This was supposed to make him look flashy, but it was very uncomfortable for the horse and could ruin his health.

Anna Sewell's house in Old Catton,
where she lived the last part of her life.

After reading the book, lots of people got angry about the conditions that horses were made to work in, and laws were passed to do things like ban the use of checkrein.  This happened in the U.S., too, where  two million copies of Black Beauty had been sold by 1879.

 Even today, people still recognize the impact the novel had.  The authors of The Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Claudia Johnson and Vernon E. Johnson, called Black Beauty "the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time."

I think it's a very good thing that Ms. Sewell wrote a story about a horse named Black Beauty.  Her book helped a lot of horses to have better lives, and I hope they are grateful!


  1. my mom said she read Black Beauty many times when she was a child. She loved it almost as much as Lassie Come Home. Mom said she doesn't remember reading anything that didn't have an animal as the main character when she was a girl. (Except for the CS Lewis books, but since most of the supporting cast were animals those were also part of her favorites.) Anyway, she's glad you posted this info about Black Beauty.

    --Zest! superstar and princess of everything that matters

    1. Dear Zest!
      We just now discovered that your comment went into our SPAM folder! That is so wrong, because your comments are not spammish at all. But anyway, I'm glad your mom liked Black Beauty: the book, and liked reading my blog entry about it. My mom also read mostly books about horses and dogs when she was a kid, especially all the Walter Farley books about the Black Stallion, the Island Stallion, and all the other Stallions!
      Your friend, Dorrie

    2. OMG!!! I am not at all spam. although, i hear it's good for breakfast.


    3. Dear Zest!
      I have heard the same thing about Spam, but we never have it at our house -- especially now that Mom is trying to be a vegetarian, for some stupid reason.

      Are you at the Basenji National? Have you won any big prizes yet?

      Your friend, Dorrie