About Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty:
There can be few people who have not heard of Anna Sewellâs book Black Beauty, even in our twenty-first century nuclear age. Many, though, may consider the work to be sentimental Victorian slush. But if that is the case, why does it live on? Black Beauty was written in a vastly different age to this and was a product of its time. The daughter of Mary and Isaac Sewell, Anna was born on 30th March 1820, in Great Yarmouth. When Anna was fourteen both her ankles were severely strained â injuries from which she never recovered. She was left an invalid for the rest of her life. In those days, well-bred women were considered weak, prey to the vapours and incapable of handling their own affairs. They were chattels of fathers and husbands. Annaâs mother Mary, though, had backbone enough to stand out from the rest of her sex. She became famous in her own right with childrenâs books because she did not take at all kindly to the Victorian maleâs chauvinistic behaviour. Mary Sewell achieved considerable fame, which must have rubbed off on Anna. For some years they lived at Abson in south Gloucestershire at a property known as Blue Lodge. While there, Mary Sewell started a series of mothersâ meetings which were held at nearby Wick. They were very popular and Anna would attend. While at Blue Lodge, Anna saw a man killed by a cart, an incident she never forgot and which she incorporated into Black Beauty. From Abson, mother and daughter moved to Englishcombe Lane at Bath. It is not clear how long they lived there but ultimately they moved back to Norwich. Because of her disability Anna could only get about on horseback, or by pony and trap. This was the age of the horse, as the railways had not yet moved into the powerful position they would eventually hold. Anna must have seen the most appalling sights, including cruelty to horses from savage treatment or starvation. These were carefully stored in her mind for her book. She must also have pondered how a horse, through various changes of ownership, could go from being in great shape to almost being at deathâs door. This is vividly brought home in the book when Black Beauty meets Ginger for the last time. Two practices in particular cut into Annaâs heart. One was the savage and unnecessary practice of docking horsesâ tails. The excuse given was that the tail would not then get caught up in the harness, but carriage horses today donât have this problem. Perhaps the real root of the habit was pure fashion. A horse with no tail has no protection against biting flies. The second evil was the use of the bearing rein. The well-off liked their carriage horses to hold their heads high, and they achieved this with the vicious bearing rein which, when attached to the bridle in a certain position, meant the horse could not stretch. Its head was clamped high, agonising the neck muscles. It was a cruel invention, and Anna fought it tooth and nail â with her pen. Many call Black Beauty a semi-autobiographical work. Certainly Anna laboured long and hard at her only book. It took six years to write, mostly on scraps of paper when she was back in Norwich. It was her mother Mary who patiently wrote out the manuscript. Black Beauty was published in 1877 and became an instant success. It was backed from the start by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as it was known then. The Victorians swarmed to buy the book and it soon sold 100,000 copies. It was translated into French, Italian and German, a considerable feat for those days. But Anna did not live long after her book came out, dying in 1878. Black Beauty was her only work but it is doubtful if even she realised what an effect it was to have on people. It has been filmed and the story remains evergreen. Above all it is a social history of the way people lived. What an epitaph for Anna Sewell.