Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (1877)

Black Beauty coverA book of four distinct parts, this was Sewell’s first and only novel and was written in the final years of her life. Various sources report that more than 50 million copies have sold worldwide, but despite that and despite the fact that I was/am a huge animal-lover, I wasn’t that into horsey books and hadn’t ever read this one.

And this is a very horse-y book with a heavy message of treating horses (and thus, by extension, all animals) well. In return, they will treat you well. Absolutely nothing wrong or dated about that message.

So – this is the story of Black Beauty, a horse who is relating his life and adventures in very short chapters. It’s written rather simply with basic sentence structure and although it’s Victorian in age and spirit, I think young and fairly confident readers would do fine with it today. (It’s also good to keep in mind that Sewell did not write this as a “children’s book”, but more of a tool to bring attention to animal mistreatment.)

SPOILER AHEAD:

I quite enjoyed this read and was pulled into the story, although I do imagine that should I have read this when I was a child, I would have been haunted by the description of the death of Ginger, one of Black Beauty’s horse friends.  I also would have felt awful reading how badly horses and other animals were treated by cab drivers in industrial London and by farmers who only work to the bottom line, and it would have been quite likely for tears to have been involved for this particular reader at some point.

SPOILER DONE.

Not a fabulous read, but not a bad one, by any means. I always enjoy a good animal-based book, and this had a happy ending which was a relief. (I was unfamiliar with the narrative arc of the story and so wasn’t sure whether to expect a fatal ending or not. Thank goodness it all ends up ok for Black Beauty, although I hope I didn’t give you a spoiler about that if you haven’t read it.) However, fair warning in that there are some hard-to-bear descriptions of animal cruelty earlier in the story.

So – pretty good and if I was a horse-mad child, I would have been interested in reading this during my childhood. I went through my Pullein-Thompson horse book stage and also read lots about fell and mine ponies, but just not this one.

Warning to sensitive animal-lover readers: be aware – if you’re sensitive about animal treatment, this will not be an easy read, but it is historically accurate. Thank goodness times have changed for the most part.

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