Black Beauty: Summary, Main Characters & Author

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  • 0:01 Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • 0:54 Black Beauty Summary
  • 3:12 Major Characters: The Horses
  • 4:18 Major Characters: The Humans
  • 5:47 Impact of Black Beauty
  • 6:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

'Black Beauty,' the fictional 'autobiography' of a talking horse, was published in 1877 and remains a favorite children's book to this day. In this lesson, you'll learn about the book's plot and major events, get to know some of the main characters and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Think about some of the most beloved children's stories you might have grown up with featuring talking animals: the Winnie the Pooh stories, for instance, or the talking animals in The Chronicles of Narnia. Ever wonder whose idea it was to make animals talk in storybooks?

The magical idea of talking animals in children's fiction has a long history, but the novel often credited with popularizing the genre of the talking animal story is Black Beauty by English writer Anna Sewell. Sewell wrote Black Beauty in 1877, and it's referred to as an animal autobiography because, unlike animal stories that describe a child's interaction with an animal, the novel is narrated from the animal's point of view. The literary technique of giving animals human characteristics, like the ability to speak, is called anthropomorphism.

Black Beauty: Summary

The novel traces the life and adventures of Black Beauty, a horse in 19th-century England. It opens with Beauty's descriptions of his life as a colt (young horse) in the home of a kind master named Farmer Grey. He runs and plays in the meadow and receives lectures from his mother, Duchess, about the importance of being kind and gentle and never biting or kicking - basically the horse equivalent of an English gentleman.

When he is two years old, Beauty witnesses a hunting party going after a hare and the tragic death of one of the riders in a fall from his horse. The horse, also injured, is put down. The experience frightens him.

When Beauty turns four, Farmer Grey trains him to carry riders on his back and pull carriages. After being sent to a neighbor's pasture near the train station to get used to the sounds of the road, Beauty is sold to Squire Gordon at Birtwick Hall. This is where he gets his name; other than a white star on his forehead and a white hoof, his coat is shiny black.

At Birtwick, Beauty meets and befriends the other horses in the stable: Merrylegs, Ginger and Sir Oliver. Squire Gordon and his coachman, John, are kind men who believe in treating horses well, and Beauty's work with them is humane and happy until the Gordons must move to a warmer climate for Mrs. Gordon's health.

Beauty is sold to a number of different homes, from Earlshall Park, a fashionable home where his mistress, Lady Anne, works her horses hard, to a stable that rents out carriages and finally to a London cab driver named Jerry Barker, the first really kind master Beauty has after leaving Birtwick. His other masters and stable managers overwork him, neglect his care and hygiene and even steal from his oats.

After Jerry becomes sick and needs to leave the cab business, Beauty gets sold to a corn dealer and then to another cab driver who is lazy and treats his horses unkindly. When Beauty collapses from overwork, he's sold at auction to a kind farmer who nurses him back to health before selling him to the Blomefields, who were neighbors of the Gordons. Under the care of their groom, who had once been a stable lad at Birtwick, Beauty lives out the remainder of his days in a kind and loving home.

Major Characters: The Horses

'Black Beauty' features a colorful cast of characters, both horse and human. Black Beauty is the title character and narrator of the story. He's a well-bred horse, the son of a wise old mare named Duchess and said to be the grandson of a famous racehorse. He's named for his shiny black coat and also has a white star on his forehead and a single white hoof.

Beauty makes friends with several horses on his life journey. Merrylegs is a jolly fat pony who is a favorite of the Gordon's children at Birtwick.

Ginger is a beautiful, chestnut mare whose temper has been spoiled by ill treatment. She bites and kicks almost everyone until the Birtwick coachman learns to calm her and she learns how to be a gentle, hard worker through her friendship with Beauty.

Beauty's other friends include a wise old horse named Sir Oliver and Captain, a former war horse who served in the Crimean War before going into cab work.

Major Characters: The Humans

Farmer Grey is Beauty's first master and the one who trains him for work. It is from Farmer Grey that Beauty learns the importance of having a kind master in his work.

Squire Gordon is Beauty's first owner after Farmer Grey trains him. He and his wife have a happy home at Birtwick Hall and treat their horses well. The squire is an outspoken advocate for treating horses well.

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