Black Beauty

Written by Anna Sewell
Review by Jane Burke

This re-issue of a classic Victorian children’s novel tells the story of Black Beauty – a beautiful black horse whose life takes him from comfort and kindness through every stage of exploitation and cruelty to an unexpectedly happy ending. Unusually for the period, and still affecting today, it is written as though by Black Beauty himself; and what a character he is: noble, warm and honest, never afraid to criticise wrong-doing, but never mean or hasty in judgement.

Black Beauty may be recounting his adventures in human words but he is never less than a real horse, concerned about oats and hay and a warm straw bed as well as the sorrows of his human masters, which he realises only vaguely. When Beauty must gallop to fetch a doctor for his sick mistress, he understands only that he must run for dear life; when his beloved cab-driver Jerry is taken ill, and must sell-up all he owns, he understands only the sadness, and that he must be sold. But the reader understands all, and is caught up in the story, which has the relentless, absorbing pace of a race. What will happen next, and how will Beauty survive?

Written as a political manifesto against the foolish and unnecessary mistreatment of horses, and indeed against cruelty in general, Anna Sewell builds an unmatched picture of Victorian contemporary life, high and low, whilst introducing children to the concept that animals have thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears just as they do.

This book carries a surprisingly up-to-date ecological message – that ignorance about the natural world is one of the most dangerous issues facing us today, and that empathy for the creatures with which we share our planet should be uppermost in our dealings with them.  Highly recommended for readers of ten years old and upwards.