Saturday, May 15, 2010
Based on our theme this week and a growing interest in YA (Young Adult) literature, I decided it was time to visit my old friend, Black Beauty. I don't know what age I was when I first read it, but be assured it made a huge impression on me.
What about you? Did you love this book? Were you a horse-crazy girl?
Never one to turn down a visit to Victorian England, I recently reconnected with my sweet childhood friends (via the magic of audiobooks).
Author Anna Sewell (pronounced SooWill), the daughter of quiet Quaker parents, was left lame from a fall at age fourteen. It's suggested her loss of mobility drove her intense interest in horses and animal rights. Her mother was an author of evangelical Children's books and with her help, Anna wrote Black Beauty when she was in her fifties. Love that! The process covered a six year period, due to her poor health, and the book was published a year after its completion in 1877. Unfortunately, her life ended just months afterward. Her one and only book went on to become the sixth all-time best seller of the English Language.
Miss Sewell’s goal was to encourage adults, especially those responsible for horses, to consider the way the animals were treated. She never expected, or knew, that it would go on to become a lingering young adult classic.
Beauty's story is not just about horses. Hearing it again, I’m amazed how relevant it is today and what a strong moral message it carries.
We follow, from his perspective, Black Beauty’s early years with his mother to his first new home with Squire Gordon. We learn to love his stable-mate, Ginger and his friend, the pony Merrylegs. When Mrs. Gordon becomes quite ill, the family must move to a warmer climate, and Beauty’s idyllic life changes when he is sold. He goes from place to place and has a variety of masters and jobs. The reality of what he and the other horses go through is not always pleasant, but as a child, I don’t recall thinking it a terribly depressing book. Black Beauty's time in London as a cab horse is exceptionally well done. Beauty works alongside the retired war horse, Captain, and is well cared for by his master, Jerry, a thoughtful cabbie and family man.
Black Beauty represents a character who learns to do his best at all times and keep a pleasant outlook. He reminds us of the importance of caring for others and cherishing friendships. In the end, after some very difficult years, Beauty finds a pleasant place to live out his last years. The depth of period detail, horse knowledge and Beauty's thoughtful intelligence and gentleness makes for a memorable read and touches our hearts, just as Miss Sewell intended.
For myself, Black Beauty gave me many, many hours of enjoyment long after I’d read the book (and I’m not sure how many times I read it!) because it inspired some of my favorite make-believe. I’ve talked before about the old barn across the road from my house where I played “Black Beauty” in the basement level stalls. When the huge barn on a hillside was torn down in my teen years, I wept at the loss of such a beautiful structure and the memories it held for me. A child without siblings for playmates might well develop a bigger imagination than they would otherwise and I can still remember that musty basement stable and endless days of pretending.
Black Beauty increased my love of reading, my love of horses and probably some Anglophilia. I imagine this is true for a lot of us. Knowing my great grandmother had come to the U.S. from Victorian England as a child probably contributed to that.
I hope you’ve a fond memory of Black Beauty or some of the other books we’ve discussed this week. Take a look back over our recent posts if you have time. And visit next week as well.
Remember to pass on the love of reading to a child you know. Television, videos, and electronic toys have their place but there is nothing as rich as a child’s imagination fueled by a good book!