Anna Sewell Biography

Anna Sewell

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.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 361 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Born in Yarmouth, England, on March 30, 1820, Sewell lived in several cities due to her father Isaac’s restlessness and financial misfortunes. She spent summers with her grandparents at Dudwick Farm and based Birtwick Park in the novel on Dudwick House. Until 1832, Sewell’s mother, Mary, provided her education, emphasizing natural history, moral virtues, and self-reliance. In school, Sewell had exposure to mathematics, foreign languages, and art. Sewell demonstrated a talent for art, but her mother saw art as a frivolous activity and dissuaded her daughter from painting. At age 14, Sewell had an accident that permanently damaged her ankles and made walking difficult for the rest of her life, even though she was taken to European spas on several occasions to seek rehabilitation.

Around 1850, Sewell’s mother began a successful career as the author of moralistic books and verse for children. Sewell served as her mother’s editor and was otherwise very interested in literature. Living as an invalid did not prevent Sewell from pursuing a few outside interests. Sewell taught Sunday school and evening classes to workers and participated in her mother’s temperance activities. She learned horse driving from her brother Philip and would converse about horses with other drivers she encountered when on errands. It is from this experience and from reading American minister Horace Bushnell’s “Essay on Animals” that she developed her knowledge about and...

(The entire section is 337 words.)