Anna Sewell's Black Beauty
Children's book review by Jane Finch.
The harsh world of the horse in Victorian London
There are numerous editions of this book. The one I am reviewing is the hardcopy, wonderfully illustrated by Scott McKowen, and is the unabridged version.
Well, first of all get the Kleenex ready, this is a real weepy.
I grew up with this book because as a child I lived close to where the author, Anna Sewell, lived, and where she wrote Black Beauty. As a young girl I carried the book around with me, often certain I saw the horse in the distance, galloping across the fields.
Every girl will devour this book, especially if she is a horse lover.
Black Beauty is an ebony horse who has a varied life from growing up as a colt on a farm in England, to pulling cabs in London. The story is told in the first person and from Black Beauty’s point of view.
Considering Anna Sewell wrote this book in 1877, the idea of a story about a talking horse in those days was unheard of and quite daring for an author.
But this is no Mister Ed story. Anna Sewell originally wrote it for adults who worked with horses, with the aim of teaching workers about animal welfare.
However, the book became a children’s classic, with over 50 million copies sold.
Each chapter is reasonably short, and deals with an incident in Beauty’s life. There is a sharp contrast from the idealistic farm life to the harshness of pulling a cab in the busy streets of Victorian London.
The story relates the cruel treatment of horses at that time, which was what the writer was attempting to convey.
Black Beauty started his working life as a carriage horse for a wealthy family, but after an accident he is no longer felt worthy or suitable. There follows an array of various owners and circumstances, some kind and some cruel. Throughout his trials, Beauty tries his best to please his owners but often this is not recognised and at times what he sees and how he is treated is heart breaking.
There are a variety of other horses that have all suffered greatly at the hands of man.
One of the aspects I always look for in animal stories are the allegorical references, and Anna Sewell does not disappoint here. This is not just about how man treats animals, but it is about treating each other with kindness and respect.
Anna Sewell died shortly after Black Beauty became successful, although I doubt she would have envisaged it would become such a classic.
Suitable for age 9-12 years, adults will love this book too, if they can bear the emotion.
Read more of Jane's reviews.
Webmaster's note: I'm providing the first chapter of Black Beauty for you below, straight from the horse's mouth!
by Anna Sewell
Chapter 1: My Early Home
The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master's house, which stood by the roadside; at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank.
While I was young I lived upon my mother's milk, as I could not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold we had a nice warm shed near the grove.
As soon as I was old enough to eat grass my mother used to go out to work in the daytime, and come back in the evening.
There were six young colts in the meadow besides me; they were older than I was; some were nearly as large as grown-up horses. I used to run with them, and had great fun; we used to gallop all together round and round the field as hard as we could go. Sometimes we had rather rough play, for they would frequently bite and kick as well as gallop.
One day, when there was a good deal of kicking, my mother whinnied to me to come to her, and then she said:
"I wish you to pay attention to what I am going to say to you. The colts who live here are very good colts, but they are cart-horse colts, and of course they have not learned manners. You have been well-bred and well-born; your father has a great name in these parts, and your grandfather won the cup two years at the Newmarket races; your grandmother had the sweetest temper of any horse I ever knew, and I think you have never seen me kick or bite. I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play."
I have never forgotten my mother's advice; I knew she was a wise old horse, and our master thought a great deal of her. Her name was Duchess, but he often called her Pet.
Our master was a good, kind man. He gave us good food, good lodging, and kind words; he spoke as kindly to us as he did to his little children. We were all fond of him, and my mother loved him very much. When she saw him at the gate she would neigh with joy, and trot up to him. He would pat and stroke her and say, "Well, old Pet, and how is your little Darkie?" I was a dull black, so he called me Darkie; then he would give me a piece of bread, which was very good, and sometimes he brought a carrot for my mother. All the horses would come to him, but I think we were his favorites. My mother always took him to the town on a market day in a light gig.
There was a plowboy, Dick, who sometimes came into our field to pluck blackberries from the hedge. When he had eaten all he wanted he would have what he called fun with the colts, throwing stones and sticks at them to make them gallop. We did not much mind him, for we could gallop off; but sometimes a stone would hit and hurt us.
One day he was at this game, and did not know that the master was in the next field; but he was there, watching what was going on; over the hedge he jumped in a snap, and catching Dick by the arm, he gave him such a box on the ear as made him roar with the pain and surprise. As soon as we saw the master we trotted up nearer to see what went on.
"Bad boy!" he said, "bad boy! to chase the colts. This is not the first time, nor the second, but it shall be the last. There—take your money and go home; I shall not want you on my farm again." So we never saw Dick any more. Old Daniel, the man who looked after the horses, was just as gentle as our master, so we were well off.
End of Black Beauty, chapter one
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