Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Fiction — print. Western Publishing Company, 1955. 285 pgs. Gift.

I’ve had a copy of this book for years but, despite being an avid horseback rider in junior high, I was never into books about horses the way my mom was. I do remember seeing the movie version of this novel at the birthday party of a fellow horseback rider several years ago (and scenes from the movie still plague me!), but this was my first time reading Sewell’s novel.

Told from the point of a view of a horse named Black Beauty (but also at one point called Blackie and Jack), the novel explores the grotesque treatment of horses during the nineteenth century in London. Black Beauty spends most of his life as a cherished horse whether he’s a gentleman’s horse or pulling a cab through the streets of London. Yet a series of unfortunate events also land him in the hands of men who work horses to death and women who demands for fashionable appearances strain his muscles and patience. The action of some owners kill some of his friends prematurely or break their will to live any longer.

A beautiful piece of literature that, unfortunately, still has great relevance to our world today. The animal lover in me was greatly angered by this novel’s turn of events. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to read about Black Beauty being abused by his owners!And the practice of docking a horse’s tail or a dog’s ear not only still goes on today but has transcended into the treatment of animals in our food system. (But that’s a topic for another day…)

This biting satire of conditions in 1877 is now shelved as a children’s novel but, honestly, I do not know if I could have handled reading this novel as a child. I’m still haunted by scenes from the movie, scenes that sometimes sneak up on me and I’m left wondering where those scenes were from, and for me reading has always been more vivid experience than seeing a movie. My imagination would have had a field day with this book, and I probably would not have slept for weeks. I also wonder if I would have seen Sewell’s political and societal commentary rather than the simple story…

The illustrations by Wm. M. Hutchinson in my 1955 edition of the novel are absolutely beautiful and definitely add to the story. I hope they continued publishing them with newer editions of Sewell’s novel.

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5 thoughts on “Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

  1. This was always one of my favorite animal stories, even though it is so heartbreaking to read about the cruel treatment. I don’t remember when I first read it; probably in high school. I definitely would not read it to my six-year-old yet!

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    1. No, I imagine not. I never had any inkling to read the book before, but I do understand it’s importance and am very glad it continues to be read by many. But, if I ever have children, I imagine I will wait a long while before reading it to them or giving them a copy.

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  2. I read this book when I was about 10 years old. I must have read it at least ten times. While it has very sad parts, it opened my eyes to a cruel world where animals are concerned. You might also want to read “Beautiful Joe” about an abused dog that takes place around the same era. There is a dog park dedicated to him in Canada.

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