The PeopleAlchemist Edit: #theWomanAlchemist #MonthlyFeature #womanofthemonth – Anna Sewell
Hello, and welcome back to the #TheWomanAlchemist monthly feature.
This month I’d like to celebrate the birthday of Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse, the first significant animal story in children’s literature.
Anna Sewell was born in Norfolk, England, on 30 March 1820; she got her introduction to writing by helping her mother, a best-selling author, edit her work.
She was disabled from a young age and struggled to walk but could drive a horse-drawn carriage. Sewell spent hours driving her father to and from the station where he left for work, and her love of horses and concern for their humane treatment started from there.
Sewell wrote Black Beauty while confined to the house for the last few years of her life, bedridden and seriously ill. The book was first published in 1877, shortly before her death.
Black Beauty is the fictional autobiography of a gentle highbred horse before the automobile era. The horse first had kind masters but was sold to cruel owners who ill-treated and overworked him. In the end, however, he is sold to a kind owner and recovers from the ill-treatment and exhaustion.
Black Beauty is the perfect horse—respectful, willing, clever and brave. The novel feels authentic due to Sewell’s careful observation and extensive descriptions of equine behaviour.
Sewell wrote Black Beauty “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses” —after she read an essay on animals by Horace Bushnell, even though the novel is considered a children’s book.
Her sympathetic portrayal of the difficulty of working with animals led to an extensive outpouring of concern for animal welfare. It was instrumental in abolishing the cruel practice of using a “bearing rein”, a strap used in Victorian England to keep horses’ heads high, painful and damaging to a horse’s neck. Additionally, while candidly teaching animal welfare, it also teaches how to treat people with compassion, sympathy, and respect.
Unlike all the other female writers featured previously, Sewell only ever wrote this one book. So why choose her, you might ask?
Well, firstly, because this particular blog, #TheWomanAlchemist, is about promoting women and, lately, more focus on women’s writers, and she is one.
Secondly, although she wrote one just book, she did write it, despite her circumstances. She followed her passion and her conviction and is an example to anyone who wants to write a book but always finds a million reasons why they can’t.
Finally, let’s not forget that Black Beauty is one of the best-selling books ever, with fifty million copies sold.
I wouldn’t mind that at all for one of my books, would you?
A few of the previous #TheWomanAlchemist blogs celebrating women writers:
- Virginia Woolf
- Jane Austen
- Agatha Christie
- Daphne Du Maurier
- Mary Wollstonecraft
- Pam Grout
- Simone de Beauvoir