“Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell

Wikipediablack beauty tells us that this 1877 novel was written in the last years of the author’s life, whilst she remained in her house as an invalid. An immediate best-seller, over fifty million copies have been sold, making Black Beauty one of the best-selling books of all time. The story is that of a horse from his carefree days on an English farm, to his difficult life pulling cabs in London, to a happy retirement in the country. Each short chapter recounts an incident in Black Beauty’s life containing a lesson or moral typically related to the kindness, sympathy, and understanding treatment of horses.

Our classics group read this in 2015 and three people attended the meeting in August. Despite the small number it was an interesting discussion which lasted at least as long as most meetings. We thought the idea of the narrator being Black Beauty himself worked really well. As all of us had read the book as children, our discussion included a comparison of how we had read it as children with how we read now. All had enjoyed the book as children (whether we were keen on real life horses or not) and all enjoyed it again as adults.

Three more readers missed the meeting but still sent in comments. Edited versions below…

Helen –

I have read the book and I really enjoyed it, surprisingly as I did not think I would. I liked the fact that it was written literally out of the horses mouth and was the reason people started noticing how horribly horses were often treated back in the day, and is either the or one of the first examples of a book written from an animal’s perspective. This gives the novel historical value as it gives a good insight to the time period it was written, I did not however feel the book was dated. I think that it has a number of themes: morality, hard work, charity, temperance and behaviours and how we should treat not only animals but society as a whole. However, the book did not leave me feeling down; rather I felt a little more uplifted and felt that I learned something about humans and animals. I was sad at times for example when Ginger died and just wanted Black Beauty to have a nice home which he seemed to have in the end and re united with Joe. I am not a horse fan, but I can really say that BB really touched me.

Hilary –

Like Helen I’m not really a horse-lover – but found the book, which seems very familiar so I must have read it years ago,  was quite engaging – not riveting, rather repetitive at times in fact. Interesting pictures of some parts of Victorian life.  It reminded me of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse in many ways. Probably it was the first of all the cute animal themed books where animals are given human characteristics, never too sure about that but probably most of us survive it none the worse.
The SPCA was founded 1824 and became ‘Royal’ in 1840, Anna Sewell was born in 1820 so some of the ideas about animal cruelty in the book would have fitted well with the thinking of the day.
‘Brave’ in tackling social issues and original in telling the tale through the horse’s mouth.

Barbara:

I enjoyed this, I read it as a child and then read it to my children. It is very moving, sentimental? but positive, and I had not appreciated that it was written for the purpose of exposing the cruelty that existed for these animals, who after all were essential to economic and social life. There is a lot of moralising but it is far more palatable than the other Victorian children’s novel we read about 2 years ago “At the Back of the North Wind” by George Macdonald. Surprisingly they were written at about the same time, ie 1871 and BB in 1877.

Overall, out group gave the book scores ranging from 6 to 10, resulting in  an average of 7.8 from the six readers.

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