The Adventures of a Donkey was published in 1815.

When you know about this book you realise Black Beauty isn’t as original as it at first appears to be.

Book covers have become a little more fetching since the early 1800s.

Book covers have become a little more fetching since the early 1800s.

Margaret Blount lists the main similarities in her book Animal Land:

  • the animals are not held up as moral examples, but there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ones as there are good and bad humans, lack of speech being the only animal disadvantage
  • Arabella Argus’s donkey is one of these animal writers that takes up its pen as enthusiastically as a romantic novelist; and composition brings its own reward: ‘How authorship affects other Animals, I know not; with me, it was beginning to be an imperious feeling,’ writes Jemmy the Donkey. His narrative does not push the moral too far by the use of melodrama or pathos
  • the donkeys talk to each other and understand human speech
  • Jemmy’s mother advises him to be docile and obedient, as Black Beauty’s Jemmy is also advised by an older donky (Balaam) the Merrylegs of the story and he relates with some feeling what it feels like to be shod, with its strange noises, heaviness and height.
  • Considerable detail about riding, driving, saddling and being hired on donky races and the use of blinkers, on the traffice of the day in Fleet Street, Chancery Lane, Holborn and Russell Square, where at the side of the road donkeys drawing carts could be almost knee deep in mud. Jemmy, in a similar manner to Black Beauty, ends up broken-kneed and is bought at last by a kindly lady.

Anna Sewell herself was hugely influenced by her own mother, Mary Sewell, who appears to have been unhappy during the short periods of her life when she had no poor to help. Anna was permanently lame and often ill and overshadowed by the active Mary. She bore a troubled life witih great courage and patience, just like Black Beauty.


Even if I personally never wish to be sent another book about a little lost kitten, Black Beauty laid the foundation for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Amanda Craig


If Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed the way white people began to see black people, novels such as Black Beauty changed how we see animals.

Amanda Craig



Black Beauty was the first animal story of major importance, published 1877.

It was Anna Sewell’s only book. She wrote it in the last years of her life ‘to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses’.

The story is written from the horse’s first ‘person’ point of view.

This is the last of the ‘moral books’. Though heavily moralistic on the care of horses, and even though it became outdated once the motor vehicle became a mode of transport, Sewell was forward-thinking in her condemnation of fox-hunting and war.

This is also the last great first person narratives in the Listen-to-my-life series.

Black Beauty had a heavy influence on the following:

Beautiful Joe

Beautiful Joe, published 1893, was a very popular imitation of Black Beauty, though about a dog, written by Margaret Marshall Saunders. But it now looks like a bad caricature of the worst parts of the original.

Then there’s Smoky by Will James (1926) about a cow-horse told by a cowboy. The setting is different but it’s also about animal cruelty.

My Friend Flicka book


My Friend Flicka (1941) by Mary O’Hara was published as an adult novel but found a child audience. It’s about a boy’s struggles to break in a half-wild filly. Its subplot is a father-son conflict. But since Flicka was  published it has been decided somewhere along the line that horse stories are for girls.

Horse Stories: Just for girls?

When it comes to the target audience of horse stories, there seems to be a transitional period around 1940. As well as My Friend Flicka, The Black Stallion was first published in 1941. Another influential horse story, Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, was published in 1935 and involves a boy and a girl working together.  This model seems to have lasted for some time until the more modern “pony club” genre for girls emerged.

The modern movie adaptations of My Friend Flicka (now shortened to Flicka) star girls rather than boys, with the subplots being either daughter-father or daughter-mother conflicts.

Here, a Russian picture book seems to be about a rocking horse that comes to life.

rocking horse

See also: Horses and Headlocks from The F Word blog, by a non-binary author looking into why even horses are gendered.