In what time is Black Beauty set?
Anna Sewell, who was born in Yarmouth, England, in 1820, sets her novel, Black Beauty in this Victorian Age. This setting is central to the narrative of a horse's life as it was a time before automobiles, so the horse was an indispensable part of city and rural life. For the upper classes, horses were a means of transportation, of course, but they also were representative of the style and affluence of their owners. Unfortunately, the bearing rein was a popular device in these times. Because it held the horses' heads in an elevated position, the animals were unable to pull carriages in a natural manner which would afford them the most efficient use of their body's strength. Tails were often bobbed; however,without long tails the horses were unable to swat flies from their bodies.
For the rising middle class of this Industrial Age, horses were essential, too. But, few people understood and appreciated horses; instead, they were often rented from stables and the drivers knew nothing of how to treat them. In the cities, laborers used horses until they could perform no longer. They were beaten and overworked, hauling heavy loads, pulling cabs, going into the mines, etc. Truly, the abuse of horses became a serious problem in Victorian England.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was published and 1877 and was set in Victorian England, the modern day of the time. The Victorian Era is defined by the reign of Queen Victoria and spans from 1837 to 1901. This was a time before the industrial revolution when horses were relied upon for transportation, a fact which lends urgency to the events of the novel. The era also gave rise to a major push for the humane treatment of animals, evidenced by legislature like the UK's Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835. Black Beauty is the narrator of his own life and his perspective on his treatment by his various owners makes animal cruelty and humane treatment one of the main themes in the novel.
The story begins with Black Beauty's birth and traverses the course of his life into old age and, essentially, retirement. So, though the text does not give specifics, we can say with certainty that the novel spans several years within the Victorian Era.