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Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell Anna Sewell[1†]

Anna Sewell (30 March 1820 – 25 April 1878) was an English novelist, best known as the author of the classic 1877 novel "Black Beauty"[1†][2†]. Born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, Sewell was part of a devout Quaker family[1†][3†]. Her only published work, “Black Beauty”, is considered one of the top ten best-selling novels for children, although Sewell intended the work for an adult audience[1†].

Sewell’s concern for the humane treatment of horses began early in life when she spent many hours driving her father to and from the station from which he left for work[1†][2†]. Despite being crippled at a young age and having difficulty walking, she could drive a horse-drawn carriage[1†][2†]. This experience contributed to her love of horses and concern for their humane treatment[1†].

Sewell lived long enough to see her only novel become a success, as she passed away just five months after “Black Beauty”'s publication[1†]. Her legacy continues to influence and inspire, particularly in the field of animal welfare[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Anna Sewell was born on March 30, 1820, in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England[1†][3†]. She was the eldest of two children in her family[1†][3†]. Her father was Isaac Phillip Sewell, and her mother, Mary Wright Sewell, were devout Quakers[1†][2†][1†]. She had a younger brother named Philip[1†].

The children were largely educated at home by their mother due to a lack of money for schooling[1†]. In 1822, Isaac’s business, a small shop, failed and the family moved to Dalston, London[1†]. Life was difficult for the family, and Isaac and Mary frequently sent Philip and Anna to stay with Mary’s parents in Buxton, Norfolk[1†].

In 1832, when she was twelve, the family moved to Stoke Newington and Sewell attended school for the first time[1†]. At fourteen, Sewell slipped and severely injured her ankles[1†]. For the rest of her life, she could not stand without a crutch or walk for any length of time[1†]. For greater mobility, she frequently used horse-drawn carriages, which contributed to her love of horses and concern for the humane treatment of animals[1†].

In 1836, Sewell’s father took a job in Brighton, in the hope that the climate there would help cure her[1†]. At about the same time, both Sewell and her mother left the Society of Friends to join the Church of England[1†]. Her mother expressed her religious faith most noticeably by authoring a series of evangelical children’s books, which Sewell helped to edit[1†][2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Anna Sewell’s career as a writer began in her youth when she helped edit the works of her mother, Mary Wright Sewell, a deeply religious, popular author of juvenile best-sellers[2†]. Despite her physical limitations due to an ankle injury, Sewell was actively involved in various good works, including helping her mother establish a working men’s club, and working on temperance and abolitionist campaigns[2†][1†].

Sewell’s most significant achievement, however, was the writing of her only published work, “Black Beauty”. She began writing “Black Beauty” in 1871, while living in Old Catton[2†][1†]. The novel took six years to complete, during which time Sewell was confined to her house due to a progressive disease[2†][4†].

“Black Beauty” is a fictional autobiography of a gentle, highbred horse, and it had a strong moral purpose[2†]. Sewell stated that one of her goals in writing the book was "to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses"[2†]. The book is said to have been instrumental in abolishing the cruel practice of using the checkrein[2†].

Although Sewell published only one work, “Black Beauty”’s status as a classic of children’s literature has earned Sewell a place in posterity[2†][5†]. Sewell lived long enough to see her only novel become a success, as she passed away just five months after “Black Beauty”'s publication[2†][1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Anna Sewell’s most significant work is undoubtedly her novel “Black Beauty”, which was published in 1877[1†]. This novel is considered one of the top ten best-selling novels for children, although Sewell intended the work for an adult audience[1†]. The book was written over a period of six years between 1871 and 1877[1†].

“Black Beauty” is a fictional autobiography told from the perspective of a horse. The story aims to promote kindness, sympathy, and understanding treatment towards horses[1†]. It is one of the earliest works in the “pony book” genre and has had a significant influence on society’s view of horses[1†].

Here are some of the main works by Anna Sewell:

Each of these works reflects Sewell’s deep love for horses and her advocacy for their humane treatment[1†]. Despite her limited bibliography, Sewell’s influence on literature and animal welfare is profound[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Anna Sewell’s “Black Beauty” is a seminal work in children’s literature and animal advocacy[1†][4†]. The novel, written over a period of six years, is a fictional autobiography told from the perspective of a horse[1†]. It was intended to promote kindness, sympathy, and understanding treatment towards horses[1†][4†].

The values of the Victorians, largely shaped by the Evangelical and Utilitarian movements, are reflected in "Black Beauty"[1†][7†]. These movements emphasized salvation, efficiency, self-control, and self-denial[1†][7†]. Sewell’s novel, which advocates for the humane treatment of horses, aligns with these values[1†][7†].

“Black Beauty” also addresses the social issues of its time. The Industrial Revolution provided many new jobs and opportunities for rural people, but it led them into urban slums[1†][7†]. The novel criticizes the abuse of horses, a serious problem that arose as people’s economic status improved, allowing them to afford their own horses[1†][7†].

Sewell’s passion is evident in her writing, likely fueled by her sense of urgency in communicating a lesson she felt compelled to deliver to the world before dying[1†][8†]. Her novel is a gripping and wrenching story that revolutionized the way people viewed animals and still has a lot to teach us about compassion[1†][9†].

Despite Sewell’s limited bibliography, her influence on literature and animal welfare is profound[1†]. Her only published work, “Black Beauty”, has left a significant impact on society’s view of horses[1†].

Personal Life

Anna Sewell was born into a deeply religious Quaker family[1†][3†]. Her father was Isaac Phillip Sewell (1793–1879), and her mother, Mary Wright Sewell (1798–1884), was a successful author of children’s books[1†]. She had one sibling, a younger brother named Philip[1†].

The family moved frequently due to financial difficulties, often accepting help from the Society of Friends[1†][4†]. In 1822, Isaac’s business, a small shop, failed and the family moved to Dalston, London[1†]. Life was difficult for the family, and Isaac and Mary frequently sent Philip and Anna to stay with Mary’s parents in Buxton, Norfolk[1†].

At fourteen, Sewell slipped and severely injured her ankles[1†]. For the rest of her life, she could not stand without a crutch or walk for any length of time[1†]. For greater mobility, she frequently used horse-drawn carriages, which contributed to her love of horses and concern for the humane treatment of animals[1†].

In 1836, Sewell’s father took a job in Brighton, in the hope that the climate there would help cure her[1†]. At about the same time, both Sewell and her mother left the Society of Friends to join the Church of England[1†], though both remained active in evangelical circles[1†].

Sewell assisted her mother, for example, to establish a working men’s club, and worked with her on temperance and abolitionist campaigns[1†]. In 1845, the family moved to Lancing, and Sewell’s health began to deteriorate[1†]. She travelled to Europe the following year to seek treatment[1†]. On her return, the family continued to relocate – to Abson near Wick in 1858 and to Bath in 1864[1†].

In 1866, Philip’s wife died, leaving him with seven young children to care for, and the following year the Sewells moved to Old Catton, a village outside the city of Norwich in Norfolk, to support him[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Anna Sewell’s legacy is primarily tied to her novel, “Black Beauty”, which has become a classic in children’s literature and animal welfare advocacy[10†][1†]. Despite being her only published work, the novel has sold more than 50 million copies[10†][11†]. It was written from her home in Old Catton in the 1870s while she was struggling with ill health[10†][12†].

Sewell’s novel has had a profound impact on animal welfare. It contributed to refinements to or in some cases abolishment of bearing or check reins used on carriage horses[10†][13†]. Her birthplace in Great Yarmouth has become a showcase for her work and the mission of Redwings, a charity dedicated to stopping cruelty to horses[10†][11†].

Redwings is continuing Sewell’s legacy in equine welfare today[10†]. They are launching their own copy of “Black Beauty” to raise money for horses in need and partnering with the University of East Anglia to bring “Black Beauty” to life for a new generation of readers[10†]. Visitors to Anna Sewell House can learn more about her impact on animal welfare and Redwings’ work today[10†].

Sewell’s universal message of compassion and understanding continues to resonate with readers of all ages[10†]. Her work has left an enduring legacy, demonstrating the power of literature to effect social change[10†][13†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Anna Sewell [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Anna Sewell: English author [website] - link
  3. SunSigns - Anna Sewell Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  4. Britannica Kids - Anna Sewell [website] - link
  5. eNotes - Anna Sewell Biography [website] - link
  6. Goodreads - Author: Books by Anna Sewell (Author of Black Beauty) [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Black Beauty Analysis [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Black Beauty Critical Essays [website] - link
  9. The Daily Fandom - The Importance Of Anna Sewell's 'Black Beauty' (1877) [website] - link
  10. Redwings Horse Sanctuary - Sounds of the Sanctuary: Anna Sewell's legacy [website] - link
  11. Great British Life - The Great Yarmouth house where Black Beauty author Anna Sewell born [website] - link
  12. Eastern Daily Press - Happy 200th birthday to Anna Sewell – a real Norfolk legend [website] - link
  13. Victorian Era - Biography of Anna Sewell: Authoress and creator of the iconic novel 'Black Beauty' [website] - link
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