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    Now thee must go a little faster; thee would be sorry for us to be late at the station.
            -young Anna Sewell prompting her horse to go faster

One of the great unanswered questions of life is the mysterious attraction that horses hold for young girls.  Sure, we all know that there's some kind of psychosexual component, but why horses in particular?  At any rate, Black Beauty & the rest of those equine tales (Black Stallion, National Velvet, etc.) were never central to my childhood reading, but my wife fondly recalls her father reading it to her--a topic I feel it is best to avoid commenting on.

Anna Sewell was left crippled by a childhood accident and depended on horses to get around.  A Quaker, she was apparently extremely sensitive about any violence towards animals.  As the quote above indicates, she even used prompting rather than prodding to guide her own rides .  In the closing years of her life, suffering intense pain herself, she wrote this book to call attention to the mistreatment of horses and it became a genuine publishing phenomenon.  She uses a first person (first horse?) narrative to completely anthropomorphize Black Beauty, a well bred and even tempered stallion who passes from owner to owner.  Over the course of the book, Beauty's owners display varying standards of treatment from kindness to neglect to open brutality.  But Beauty perseveres and happily ends up back with his original owners.  Along the way, Sewell also gets the opportunity to take some potshots at hunting, drinking, poverty and the like.

It's easy to see how the story became a classic, thanks to its sympathetic portrayal of Beauty and his fellow horses.  But it is fundamentally based on a lie.  Animals aren't human and horses aren't even particularly intelligent by animal standards.  We shouldn't mistreat them because to do so is unnecessary and counterproductive.  But to pretend that they have complex personalities and emotions does them no service and sort of cheapens the dialogue about what "rights" animals should have.   The book makes for a pleasant read, provided you don't let kids take it to seriously.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Children's Books
Book-related and General Links:
    -Buy it: Audio Book--CD
    -Anna Sewell: A Horse's Best Friend
    -ETEXT: Black Beauty (World Wide School)
    -ANNOTATED ETEXT: (Self Knowledge)
    -REVIEW: Raving Reviews: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell Review by Emma, aged 9, Burbage, England.
    -REVIEW: of THE ANIMAL ESTATE The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age. By Harriet Ritvo (Vicki Hearne, NY Times Book Review)

    -Buy it: DVD
    -Buy it: VHS
    -INFO: Black Beauty
    -REVIEW:   BLACK BEAUTY  (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: Black Beauty (1994) A Film Review by James Berardinelli
    -REVIEW: Edwin Jahiel  BLACK BEAUTY


I think the person who wrote this reveiw has obvoiusly never been near a horse as if they had they would realise that horses are sensitive animals that do have complex personalties. They should consider going down to their local stables and actually observe horses before thay make such bluind comments in a review.

- Anonymous

- Jul-16-2006, 14:50


it seems like you have something against horses. can you prove that horses do not have complex personalities? even if not, there is nothing wrong with treating them as equals, as we should. the book was to show us how a horse would probably have felt being treated the was Black Beauty as.

- no one

- Apr-18-2006, 20:39




- Oct-11-2005, 12:10


As an English teacher, I think you've missed the point. The point is not anthropomorphism, but personification. Your review seemed rather curmudgeonly from my viewpoint. Is it safe to assume that you avoid Disney films because the animals are humanized? Ooo de lally, golly what a day.

- Mrs K

- Jan-15-2004, 08:47