Writing Black Beauty

Anna Sewell and the Story of Animal Rights

The story of Anna Sewell, a remarkable woman from Norfolk who wrote a phenomenal book.

Writing Black Beauty
Anna Sewell and the Story of Animal Rights


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This is the story of a remarkable woman who wrote a phenomenal book. Born in 1829 to a young Quaker couple in Great Yarmouth, Anna Sewell grew up in poverty in London. She was fourteen when she fell and injured her ankle, which left her permanently disabled. Rejecting the life of a Victorian invalid, she developed an extraordinary empathy with horses, learning to ride side-saddle and to drive a small carriage. Rebellious and independent-minded, Anna suffered periods of severe depression as a young woman. She left the Quaker movement, but remained close friends with the women writers and abolitionists who had been empowered by its liberal principles.

It was not until Anna became terminally ill, aged fifty-one, that she found the courage to write her own book.  She had moved to Old Catton in Norwich to help her brother after his wife had died, and while living there, with declining health, she wrote the manuscript of Black Beauty. Tragically, she died just five months after the book was published in 1877.  Anna Sewell is buried in the Quaker burial ground at Lamas, near Buxton in Norfolk.

Black Beauty is now recognised as the first anthropomorphic novel, setting a trend that led to Paddington Bear, Charlotte’s Web and The Lion King. It had an extraordinary emotional impact on readers of all ages. After modest success in Britain, it was taken up by a charismatic American, George Thorndike Angell, a campaigner against animal cruelty who made it one of the bestselling novels of all time. Using newly discovered archive material, Celia Brayfield shows Anna Sewell developing the extraordinary resilience to overcome her disability, rouse the conscience of Victorian Britain and make her mark upon the world.


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