Two hundred years ago this year a woman was born in Norfolk who would bring about an interesting change in fiction. Her name was Anna Sewell and her novel Black Beauty (first published in 1877) was groundbreaking in that the story was told from the point of view of the horse (something successfully used by Michael Morpurgo in War Horse).
Anna Sewell captures the beauties of the Norfolk countryside in her book. She hated cities and disliked the growing industrialisation of her age, but she especially hated cruelty to horses in the cities. Although Black Beauty is today in the world’s top ten bestselling novels for children, it was actually written for adults. Sewell wanted to encourage sympathy for horses that were used as tools and ill-treated by cruel owners. Her call for action was successful – animal welfare began to improve and the book did bring a greater public awareness that kindness to animals was something to be aimed for.
As a result of an accident in childhood, Anna Sewell struggled to walk and suffered terrible health problems. She died only five months after her only book was published, and was buried in a Quaker graveyard which has since been bulldozed. There’s a memorial to her in Norwich and a memorial horse trough in her name in the USA.
I only know of one biography of Sewell – Dark Horse: A Life of Anna Sewell by Adrienne E. Gavin (2004).
I must admit that as a child I found Black Beauty almost too painful to read. The treatment of poor Ginger was just too awful. Was it one of your favourites? It’s interesting to think about other novels told from the point of view of an animal – parts of White Fang, Watership Down, Orwell’s Animal Farm – what other animal stories, told from the point of view of the animal, can you think of? Let me know by leaving a comment.
And another interesting anniversary this year is the 100th birthday of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie’s first published novel and of course the book which first introduced the world to the memorable Hercule Poirot.