Black Beauty, first published in 1877, is a realistic animal story that focuses on the animal itself, not on a child’s interaction with an animal like so many other animal tales. Also unique is the presentation of the story using a horse as the first-person narrator; in other words, as if the horse wrote the story. The original title page for the novel read: Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse, translated from the original equine, by Anna Sewell. The genre of animal autobiography had been seen in a limited fashion before, but Black Beauty is considered the first novel of this type. The style of presenting an animal as an animal rather than giving it human traits has been followed by similar stories such as Beautiful Joe, The Incredible Journey, and Bambi. Further, Sewell’s novel has been an influence on animal stories of all kinds, including those of popular modern writers such as Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame.
Sewell’s intention in writing the book was to promote the humane treatment of horses. Called the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Horse,” Black Beauty is credited with having the greatest effect on the treatment of animals of any publication in history. The book resulted in legislation protecting horses and a changed public attitude about animal pain and the traditional and fashionable practices that caused suffering for horses.
Black Beauty was the only book that Sewell wrote, and she sold the manuscript for only twenty pounds. It is still one of the most widely read books in the world, with numerous translations and multiple media versions. Barely a year goes by without a new print edition being published, thus continuing the life of this timeless classic.