79 pages 2 hours read

Anna Sewell

Black Beauty

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1877

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Summary and Study Guide


Black Beauty was written by English novelist Anna Sewell, and published in 1877. It quickly became extremely popular, and led to increased activism and public concern for the humane treatment of horses and other animals. It went on to become one of best-selling novels of all time, and has been adapted numerous times into films and theatre productions. Sewell used her novel to explore themes such as kindness and responsibility, and to critique social problems such as alcohol abuse, animal cruelty, and the impacts of the Industrial Revolution. This guide references the Oxford World Classics edition. Abusive treatment towards animals is referenced in the guide.

Black Beauty is set in England in the 19th century, and is narrated in the first-person by a horse named Black Beauty. Beauty begins his life by describing a happy childhood growing up on a farm with a loving mother. When he is old enough, he is trained to carry a rider, or pull a cart or carriage. While some aspects of this training are stressful, Beauty is trained to be confident, patient, and calm. He is determined to always work hard, and to do his best to please his owner.

Once his training is complete, Beauty is purchased by a well-off man named Squire Gordon. He lives some of the happiest years of his life on Squire Gordon’s estate. John Manly, a wise groom, cares for him, and he makes friends with the other horses there, including Ginger and Merrylegs. He has many adventures, including being ridden one night for a doctor to save Squire Gordon’s wife’s life.

Eventually, the illness of the Squire’s wife leads the family to move away from England. All of the horses, including Black Beauty, are sold to new owners. At his new home, Beauty is not treated as well, and he is eventually seriously injured in an accident caused by groom riding him while drunk. Due to the scars left from his injuries, Black Beauty is no longer considered fashionable, and is sent away from his comfortable life on country estates to a new life as a working horse in more urbanized centers.

Black Beauty encounters suffering and hardship, but his luck seems to change when he is purchased by a man named Jerry Barker. Jerry works as a hired cabdriver in London, and he is very kind and caring. Black Beauty stays with Jerry for three years, working hard, but also being treated with respect and affection. Tragically, Black Beauty encounters his old friend Ginger and sees that her life has been ruined by hard labor and neglect. Eventually Jerry falls ill, and after he recovers, he and his family decide to leave London and move to the countryside. Black Beauty is sold yet again.

Since he is older, and his health is becoming more and more fragile, Beauty quickly passes from owner to owner. He is treated worse and worse each time. One day, Black Beauty collapses while attempting to pull an overloaded cab. He nearly dies, but is purchased by a kindly farmer who can see that Beauty was once a beautiful and elegant horse. After being nursed back to health, Black Beauty becomes a gentle and reliable horse, and is sold to a pair of ladies. He is reunited with a former stableboy whom he knew during his time with Squire Gordon, and lives a happy and quiet life at last.