Writing Black Beauty

Anna Sewell, the Creation of a Novel, and the Story of Animal Rights


The story of a remarkable woman who wrote a novel that not only became a classic, but also changed the way human society views and treats animals.

Born in 1829 to a young Quaker couple, 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 she became terminally ill, aged 51, that she found the courage to write her own book.

Tragically, she died just five months after the book was published in 1877. Black Beauty is now recognised as the first anthropomorphic novel, and 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.

About the author(s)

Dr. Celia Brayfield is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She is the author of nine novels and six non-fiction titles, including Rebel Writers: The Accidental Feminists, a biographical study of the young women writers of the 1960s.


"Few biographies are half as interesting, engaging and rewarding as this. At the core is Brayfield’s sympathy for her heroine, Anna Sewell, and her passion for social reform. That she managed to achieve more quietly with her limited physical horizons than most who jet about the world noisily relying on social media may be a useful message for today. It’s a masterclass in making the story of an otherwise uneventful life absolutely riveting. This is both a tragedy and a feel-good history, the infectious optimism is what remains."

Anna Sebba, New York Times bestselling author of That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

“Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty is one of the most famous standalone books of its kind. As Celia Brayfield shows in this thoughtful and absorbing story, it became a powerful weapon in the campaign to teach people to be kind to animals at a time when cruelty toward them was endemic.”

Helen Rappaport, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Days of the Romanovs

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