Anna Sewell

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Anna Sewell Biography

Anna Sewell's famous novel Black Beauty was published shortly before her death in 1878. Although she published only one work, Black Beauty’s status as a classic of children’s literature has earned Sewell a place in posterity. Interestingly enough, the novel was not specifically written for children, though in working with her mother, also a young-adult author, Sewell was doubtlessly accustomed to writing in that vein. One of Black Beauty’s many charms is that the story is narrated by the titular horse. In the telling of his many adventures, Sewell created a world of warmth and kindness for children of countless generations.

Facts and Trivia

  • Sewell was injured in an accident in her teens and never fully recovered. Some have attributed her love of horses to her relative inability to walk.
  • Sewell learned about writing in part by helping her mother edit her own work.
  • During her retreat to Europe, Sewell came in contact with artists and writers, and this exposure is also believed to have contributed to her authorship of Black Beauty.
  • Sewell became increasingly ill during the writing of Black Beauty, and it is only through her mother’s transcription and dictation that the novel was completed.
  • Sewell died just months after the release of Black Beauty. Though she was aware of its early acclaim, she never knew of the phenomenal success it would become.


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Anna Sewell was born on March 30, 1820, in Yarmouth, England, to Quaker parents of gentle beliefs and practices. She lived in a combined house and clothing shop in London until moving with her family to Dalston in 1822. Her humanitarianism developed early, as is evidenced by an event that occurred in Dalston. When Sewell and her brother Philip learned of the Irish potato famine, they forfeited a long awaited vacation in order to send money to Ireland. Fortunately for the children, an uncle soon sent them to the seaside at his own expense.

Similarly, Sewell displayed sensitivity toward the treatment of animals early in her life. At nine years of age, she refused to allow a man to retrieve a blackbird he had shot in her yard and scolded him for his cruelty. As both a child and an adult, Sewell often spoke out against the abuse of horses.

Sewell never married, remaining with her parents throughout her life except when visiting relatives or attending health spas and clinics for her weak ankle. Injured in a fall when she was fourteen, her ankle never healed. When the family moved to Lancing in 1845, the injury worsened, and Sewell was often barely able to walk. She got around with a pony and a cart that she allegedly guided in the same way that Black Beauty's favorite drivers handled him: she simply held the reins in her hand, voicing the directions for the horse to follow.

Sewell began writing Black Beauty at the age of fifty-one, during one of her worst periods of invalidism. Ill and often fatigued, she dictated much of her work to her mother. This laborious process limited Sewell's production to a few pages a day, and Black Beauty required six years to complete. In 1877 she sold all the rights to Jarrold's, a London publisher, for just twenty pounds. The fifty-eight-year-old Sewell died on April 25, 1878, in Old Catton, England, happy with her book's early success.

During Sewell's funeral, her mother noticed that the horses in the procession all wore bearing reins. Knowing that Sewell would dislike the use of the harmful reins in her own funeral procession, she insisted on having them removed.

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