About the Author
Anna Sewell (1820-1878)
Anna Mary Sewell (1820 – 1878) was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. At age fourteen, she slipped while walking home from school and severely injured both of her ankles. Sewell remained disabled for the rest of her life, most likely due to mistreatment of her injuries, and could not walk or stand without a crutch. Her need for horse-drawn carriages and her constant close proximity to horses led to her increased awareness and concern for their humane treatment. She wrote Black Beauty from 1871 to 1877 amid declining health and died five months after her only novel’s publication.
Black Beauty (1960)
Sewell’s introduction to writing began in her youth when she helped edit the works of her mother—a deeply religious, popular author of juvenile best-sellers. Sewell spent the last seven or eight years of her life—confined to her house as an invalid—writing Black Beauty. The book, a fictional autobiography of a gentle highbred horse, had a strong moral purpose and is said to have been instrumental in abolishing the cruel practice of using the checkrein. (From Biography.com)
Questions for Black Beauty
Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty hoping to improve the treatment of horses in England. Would its openly sentimental style be as effective today as it was in 1877? Why or why not?
Why doesn’t Black Beauty’s mother tell him that Rob Roy—the horse lamed and subsequently killed in the hunt—is his brother and her son? How does his later discovery of their relationship make her silence more poignant?
Ginger’s bad temper is her downfall, and at Birtwick Park she tells Black Beauty, “if I had had your bringing up I might have been of as good a temper as you are, but now I don’t believe I ever shall” (p. 23). Do you think that personality and temperament are established by childhood experiences and fixed forever after?
Sir Oliver, an older horse, had his tail cut short when he was just a young colt because “docked” tails were the fashion at the time. Railing against man’s injustice to animals, Sir Oliver asks, “Why don’t they cut their own children’s ears into points to make them look sharp? Why don’t they cut the end off their noses to make them look plucky”? How—if at all—have attitudes toward fashion in animals and humans changed since then?
Part of the novel’s power comes from the fact that its lessons in kindness are as relevant to humans as horses. How has reading Black Beauty made you rethink some aspect of your own life?
(Questions from PenguinRandomHouse.com)
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