How we became animal lovers

Writing Black Beauty, Anna Sewell and the Story of Animal Rights, Celia Brayfield

Writing Black Beauty, Anna Sewell and the Story of Animal Rights, Celia Brayfield, History Press, 2023, £20.

“Black Beauty,” a first novel by a little-known author, has sold 50 million copies in 50 different languages since it was first published in l877 and in online lists of non-religious best-selling books it is usually in the top 25. Black Beauty is still in print and has been read by generations of little girls who want (or have) a pony. And unlike many of the best sellers like Tale of Two Cities or Don Quixote, it is a book that directly changed the world for the better – for some horses, at least.

Writing Black Beauty is the story of how this book became popular enough to change the way people treated carriage horses. Anna Sewell was not an established author when she wrote it: indeed, it was her only published book. It was her mother who was a prolific author, with titles like Walks with Mama, Patience Hart’s First Experience in Service, Mother’s Last Words and Thy Poor Brother. These were books with a message about improving the lot of the working class and they sold many copies at the time. Yet it was her daughter’s book, Black Beauty, also a book with an improving message, that remains in print today.

On the face of it, this book was an unlikely success. Anna was the invalid of the family. Although like most middle-class people of her period she could ride and drive a pony and trap, she was not a particularly talented horsewoman. She had little or no experience in writing for publication either in journalism or books, though she had acted as a kind of unofficial editor of her mother’s work. Although the family had connections with the animal welfare movement, Anna Sewell herself was not one of those in the forefront of the humanitarian campaign.

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