Black Beauty is still a favourite book from childhood, more than 140 years after it was first published.
It’s a novel that changed our world, becoming a beacon for the animal welfare movement. The story is narrated in the first person as an autobiographical memoir by the horse itself.
But how much do you know about Anna Sewell, the woman who wrote it?
Intended to ‘induce kindness’ in a Victorian audience who relied on horses for transport, travel and power, it remains a dearly loved children’s classic. Writing Black Beauty by Celia Brayfield is the story of the remarkable woman who wrote this phenomenal book.
Brayfield will be at Bridport Literary Festival in the Bull Ballroom on Wednesday 8 November at 10.30am when she will be introduced by BridLit director Tanya Bruce-Lockhart.
Born in 1820 to a young Quaker couple, Anna Sewell grew up in poverty in London. She was 14 when she fell and injured her ankle, leaving her permanently disabled. Rejecting the limitations that Victorian society forced on disabled people, she developed an extraordinary empathy with horses, learning to ride side-saddle and drive a small carriage.
Rebellious and independent-minded, Anna left the Quaker movement as a young woman but remained close friends with the women writers and abolitionists who had been empowered by its liberal principles. It was not until she became terminally ill, aged 51, that she wrote her own book. It was published in 1877, but Anna tragically died just five months later.
After modest success in Britain, Black Beauty was taken up by American activist George Thorndike Angell, who made it one of the bestselling novels of all time. Using newly discovered archive material, Celia Brayfield shows how Anna Sewell developed the extraordinary resilience to rouse the conscience of Victorian Britain and make her mark upon the world.