Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty in 1877. It was to be her first and only book. Sewell, who grew up in Quaker family of north England, was an invalid for most of her life. Since she could not stand for long periods of time, she learned how to ride and drive horses and loved to take every opportunity to do just that. She did not marry; instead, she chose to remain with her mother—a woman Sewell had great affection and respect for—and the two took care of each other. She dedicated this book to her mother for the sympathy and kindness her mother expressed and taught her daughter to express.
She completed the book only a few months before her death, though she lived to see it become an immediate success. Black Beauty was one of the bestselling English works of her time and indeed of all time. To this day it remains a popular children’s book and is the foundation for pony literature.
Although many regard it as a novel clearly intended for children, Sewell did not explicitly limit her book to a children audience. Instead she stated that she intended for this book to encourage readers to deal with horses sympathetically and to understand their needs and wants. To that end she has a horse—Black Beauty—narrate the story. This anthropomorphic trait puts the reader directly in a horse’s horse-shoes and forces them to look at the world through the eyes of an often mistreated workhorse.
While the expressed purpose of the novel is to teach against cruelty towards horses, it also is meant to teach about other moral issues. Sewell’s characters and stories raise issues like labor rights, political ethics and religious philosophy. These discussions are never complex; rather, Sewell keeps them simple, often making it clear what she thinks the good position is in these cases. Thus the book reads as a consciously educational, easy-to read-tale, which is perhaps why many have categorized it as belonging to children’s literature.