Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
Why the hell did a relative give me a gigantic novel when I was six years old? I have no idea. Honestly, it’s not that big. My version is only 208 pages. But as a small child, the novel looked daunting.
However, I was slightly obsessed with horses when I was a child, and everyone knew this. So I tackled it one day when I was sick of looking at it and wondering what went on inside. It seemed to take forever to read it. I think I took several days.
Of course, as soon as I finished, I immediately re-read it, and went through it quite quickly.
This is not the first book I read by myself – I’d read children’s books and the little Beatrix Potter tiny books, but this was the very first adult novel I read. I received it at the same time I received the Animals of Farthing Wood (see previous post) and this was the lesser of two evils (my version of AOFW was 300 or so pages, so it was also a large book for my tiny six year old hands).
Black Beauty is subtitled The Autobiography of a Horse for a reason – it was the first book told from the 1st person point of view of an animal. Even with my own writing, I find I infinity prefer writing 1st person to 3rd person. This book solidified my love affair with animals, and horses in particular. It taught me all about animals cruelty and the ignorance of men.
It’s a simple book. It follows the life of Black Beauty from foal to retired stallion (actually I’m not sure if he’s a gelding, because although he never fathers another horse in the book, someone wrote a bunch of sequels about his offspring). Black Beauty is a beautiful, good-natured, hard-working, loyal horse and unfortunately, he gets handed around a bit after his initial owners have to leave England for warmer weather. He goes through good owners and bad owners. My favourite section is probably when his friend Ginger, an ill-tempered, abused chestnut mare, rebels against the bearing rein (which is a cruel invention!), and also probably when Beauty is a London cab horse.
The chapters are short and to the point. Sewell was certainly writing a book to educate, and each chapter has a lesson to learn at the end, often a moral one. The short chapters make it approachable for children, and a quick read for adults. My own copy travels everywhere with me – it’s always in my carry-on luggage when I fly. I simply adore it.