I’d read this book almost a decade ago, and it made an impression on me, for it gave a voice to those who could not communicate in a way we could understand. Black Beauty isn’t a novel with a plot, but a series of vignettes—a timeline of one horse’s life. Rather than The Five People You Meet in Heaven, it’s the multitude of people one horse meets on Earth who pass through his life, and how each person (or animal) illuminated Beauty’s understanding of the world.
The first time I read Black Beauty, I had expectations of something other than what I read—something more along the lines of National Velvet. However, upon recursive reading, I saw that Beauty was Every Horse—a creature who makes friends with most of those he meets, for he has a servant’s heart, and is almost a Christ-like figure in his willingness to bear upon him the sins of men (and flightiness of women), complete with stripes from a whip, and the white star on his head, as if he was touched by the finger of God. However, I saw Beauty like an innocent child who is shuttled to a series of foster homes, giving me a feeling of nomadic insecurity.
Sewell weaves a Christian narrative in a way that shows that what is good for God is also good for horses and humans: “If workingmen don’t stick to their Sunday…they’ll soon have none left.” (Loc 1612). Humans, like animals, are often valued for their productivity, rather than the value God has placed on them, “For ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 16:20). To have a day of rest actually increases productivity. Sewell’s “spirit sense” has universal appeal in that even though it comes across as didactic at times, it does so in a way that employs common sense rather than religious dogma (i.e. “The Golden Rule” vs. “The Ten Commandments”): “There is no religion without love, and people talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham…” (Loc 582).
If one is expecting an exciting horse story, this isn’t the one; War Horse is closer to that. What I loved more about Black Beauty is that the horses have verbal communication between themselves (something not in War Horse). We’re not just privy to Beauty’s lots, but those of his friends and handlers; the story of Ginger, who considers Beauty her only friend, is one that would touch any animal lover.
Black Beauty highlights how what happens to humans can affect a horse’s life, for inasmuch as a horse may be considered part of the family, they are still property. Anna Sewell did a wonderful thing when she wrote this, and for that alone, it should get five stars; each little chapter reveals a simple truth, put plainly. The book doesn’t contain many literary elements such as metaphor or foreshadowing, but it’s a charm bracelet with a clasp connecting Beauty’s life. The anthropomorphism device and the spare writing style puts the reader in Beauty’s horseshoes in startling verisimilitude.
The brightest moment of the text for me was (next to the ending)—just as in “War Horse”—that wonderful familiarity when someone from our past who was kind to us, crosses our paths through happenstance.
A few of my favorite quotes from the texts are, as follows:
- Ignorance is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness (Loc 806). Sewell speaks through her characters when she says that humankind is responsible for their own ignorance.
- A real gentleman has got “time and thought for the comfort of a poor cabman and a little girl” (Loc 1696). That goes for ladies, too.
- “…but he is blind as to what the workingmen want; I could not in my conscience send him up to make the laws” (Loc 1829). This resonates today, because of all the elites in Washington who don’t seem to have stake in the laws they pass. Moreover, the working class is also given a voice in this book (horses being a part of that station).
Black Beauty left such a mark on me that the end result of this inspiring story was my research paper—the best work I’ve written for a college course thus far: “Divine Equestrian: The Beauties and Beasts of Burden”. One of my friends, who is a lover of horses (I, being more of a beach babe, have always admired these glorious animals from a distance), requested a copy and wrote this wonderful Christmas message (as I sent out stories, poems, and recipes in lieu of throwaway cards someone else wrote this holiday) on my timeline: That was the most inspiring thing I’ve read about horses, ever. Yes, they are majestic, divine creatures who speak directly to your heart. Thank you for sharing your beautifully written paper with me…