Black Beauty, a Gateway Drug

I read Black Beauty in 3rd grade. Not sure if that’s remarkable or not. I think I can safely say, though, that it was my gateway drug into Victorian Literature as a genre. Parents, warn your children about Black Beauty, or the next thing you know, they’ll blackbeautyreading Charles Dickens!

Anna Sewell’s classic novel tells the story of Beauty, who is, of course, a horse. A talking horse. Well, a narrating horse. Beauty tells his story, starting on the wonderful farm with his kindly owners and handlers. He meets Merrylegs and Ginger, who become his friends. Life is not always wonderful, though, and Beauty eventually is passed on to owners who care more for fashion than animal care. He learns that humans are sometimes cruel for no reason at all, and that others are kindly, no matter their station in life. Ginger’s story is easily still on my list of Top Ten Traumatic Things I’ve Ever Read, and that’s after almost fifty years.

Black Beauty is Sewell’s only published work, and she died about five months after its publication after a lifetime of poor health. Her intended audience was horse owners, with the message of the humane treatment of animals. It has since become a children’s classic. I know it was, for me, an introduction to Victorian life and literature, and I credit it for sparking my love for Dickens, Eliot, Collins, Gaskell, and sure, even Anne Perry.


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