Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Review: Black Beauty
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Reasons for reading: have always meant to; Daring Book Challenge
Description: "Set in Victorian London, the novel follows the shifting fortunes of a horse as he moves from owner to owner. Narrated by the noble Black Beauty himself, the tale offers an animal’s perspective of the world, and highlights the thoughtless, even cruel treatment animals endured during that period."
First line: "The first place I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it."
My thoughts: The 2.5 stars represents my interest level/enjoyment of the book, not the quality. I wasn't a horsey girl, which is why I hadn't read it as a child, and I'm not a horsey adult. I can see why it's a classic, although I have to say I don't know if it's aged particularly well. Maybe that's not fair, but I definitely found the references to things like the Crimean War and Victorian elections rather beyond my scope, and I'm (apparently) a grown-up. There's also a lot of instances of drunkenness in the book, which prudish 21st century me found rather shocking.
But the fact that it's narrated by Black Beauty himself definitely adds interest and charm, so I'm sure that horse-loving kids can look past the Victoriana. I also found it interesting to read about all of the different places Beauty lived and worked - I tend to think of horses having one owner their whole lives, but of course that's not often the case and I'm sure it definitely wasn't the case back then, when people needed horses for daily transportation and work. While the message of treating horses (and people, too) with kindness is an excellent one, I found it really heavy-handed - most of the chapters are just slight variations on this theme - how nice it is to have a nice master, how awful it is to have a bad master - over and over again. But apparently this was new thinking in the 19th century, so I guess it was needed. The info at the back of my copy says that the story had a real impact on people's attitudes towards their animals and made people re-think things like cruel reining techniques, so it definitely deserves kudos for that. And I did like that Beauty got a happy ending, after some hard living situations.
Verdict: Not really my bag of oats, but I'm glad to have finally read this classic.