Anna Sewell (1820-1878)

British author who wrote the 'original' pony story, Black Beauty - although it was not written with the intention of being a children's pony story, it's purpose instead being to highlight the treatment of horses in 19th century England. Nevertheless it arguably sowed the seeds of the whole genre. For more information about the early development of the pony novel and it's roots in Black Beauty please click here

Ms. Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth in 1820. From an early age she was crippled in both legs, and throughout her life suffered continuing ill health. As a child she grew to love horses, and began to become concerned about their treatment. Her compassion was perhaps fostered by her mother Mary, a devout Quaker, abolitionist and purveyor of good works. Her mother may have  inspired her literary side also, being a popular writer of children's books herself.

When  Ms. Sewell's compassionate nature and interest in literature were combined, the result was to become one of the classics of literature. She began writing Black Beauty in 1871 and finished it in 1877. The book was never intended to be  children's novel, it was instead meant to be an instructional or polemic work designed to induce empathy for the plight of the working horse. The fact that Ms. Sewell wrote the story from the horse's viewpoint was intended to heighten the sympathy of the reader for the horse.

The book became an instant success upon publication and did indeed become instrumental in helping the plight of the often overworked and sometimes cruelly treated horses of the time, especially in the eventual abolishment of the bearing rein. Sadly, the author died soon after the book's publication and it was to be her only novel. But it's literary legacy lives on both in the continuing popularity of the book itself and in the pony book genre in general.

As the book has been reprinted so many times, I am not going to attempt to list all the various editions or show pics of the hundreds of covers! There is however a link to the Fantastic Fiction website which has cover scans of many of the different editions.

The book itself is still in print after all this time and has inspired a large number of film and TV adaptations. A number of authors have penned stories about various relatives of Black Beauty including Christine, Diana and Josephine Pullein-Thompson, and Phyllis Briggs. There were also annuals produced which were based on the 1970s TV series, which it has to be said has only the most tenuous link to the original Black Beauty!

Lots of info on the internet about the author and Black Beauty and also you can find out more by reading the biographies by Susan Chitty and Adrienne Gavin.

Horse & Pony Books:

The book has been reprinted many many times, in many languages too numerous to mention! Some notable reprint editions include:

1912 Jarrolds edition illustrated by Cecil Aldin
1940s Peter Lunn editions illustrated by Lionel Edwards
Undated Ward Lock edition illustrated by Stanley Lloyd
1958 Blackie edition illustrated by Sheila Rose
1973 Brockhampton edition illustrated by Victor Ambrus

1st American edition published by Lupton in 1887
1946 World edition illustrated by Wesley Dennis
1952 Scribners editions illustrated by Paul Brown

SUMMARY: Told from the viewpoint of the horse Black Beauty, this is his life story from foalhood through the various ups and downs of his life, as he falls on hard times through the unkind treatment of humans. Can the better side of human nature save him? NB - The character of Black Beauty was based on her brother's horse and that of Merrylegs on her own childhood pony.

PONYMAD VIEW: A true classic although at times heart-rending.


Read Black Beauty for free on-line

Collector's info:
Very easy to find if you are just looking for a reading copy. For collectors, a huge variety of editions with some lovely illustrations. Prices range from peanuts to top dollar!

For the above noted editions:

First UK and American editions - for the rich collector only! It is possible however to get some very early printings for a reasonable prince.
Peter Lunn/Lionel Edwards editions - fairly easy to find in the UK and can be cheap without jacket. Harder in USA.
Ward Lock/Stanley Lloyd edition - fairly easy to find and can be cheap without jacket.
Blackie/Sheila Rose edition - not that common but usually cheap.
Brockhampton/Victor Ambrus edition - quite a hard edition to find, although not usually too expensive if you can find it.
World/Wesley Dennis edition - fairly easy to find in the USA, harder in the UK but not usually too expensive.
Scribners/Paul Brown edition - Rare in the UK, can be found without too much trouble in the USA but usually expensive.

Books about the author:
These two biographies compliment each other somewhat, one being written by an expert horsewoman and fellow horsy author, Susan Chitty, the other by an expert on literature, Adrienne Gavin.

By Susan Chitty
Updated and reprinted in paperback by The History Press in 2007.
Still in print.
SUMMARY: First biography of Ms. Sewell written by a fellow horse-lover and equine author.

By Adrienne Gavin
SUMMARY: Biography written by the foremost literary expert on the author. This has excellent reviews.

Collector's info:
Easy to find in the UK and USA. The Susan Chitty biography is still in print in the UK and can be bought new.