Black Beauty’s message still strong after 150 years

A special new edition of the classic 1877 novel Black Beauty has been released as an illustrated hardcover by The Folio Society, which specialises in publishing carefully crafted editions of the world’s finest literature.

One of the best-selling and most widely read books of all time, the new edition has been illustrated by Annette Hamley-Jenkins, with an introduction by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, who said it was “one of the greatest books ever narrated by a horse, with a fine message: be kind to animals, and they’ll be kind to you.”

Morpurgo discovered Black Beauty as an adult reader. An animal lover and one of the greatest children’s writers of the 21st century, he charts his appreciation of this enduring tale in his introduction to the new edition.

Many writers spend a lifetime working towards literary recognition; Anna Sewell wrote a single book and it is still one of the best-selling titles of all time, having sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. Its longevity is testament to the simple yet enduring theme of animals’ interaction with humans, and children still laugh and cry with the equine protagonist as sincerely as when Black Beauty was first published nearly 150 years ago.

Afflicted by a debilitating injury at a young age, Sewell spent much of her life unable to move freely and reliant on horses for transport. She grew to love and understand them, and her concern for their welfare planted the seed for the novel, which condemns animal cruelty. Adapted for film and television on numerous occasions, as well as being translated into 50 languages, Black Beauty helped change perceptions of animal welfare through greater empathy and awareness.

Black Beauty has an idyllic early life and spends his formative years living with his mother, Duchess, on a farm owned by a kindly man. However, at age four, it’s time for the colt to be sold: he must leave the only home he’s known to start his working life and it is now that Beauty learns of mankind’s propensity to maltreat animals.

A series of moving depictions by Hamley-Jenkins of Morpurgo’s War Horse was longlisted in the 2016 Book Illustrations Competition, leading to The Folio Society to commission her for its Black Beauty edition. Fifteen miniature portraits bring Black Beauty to life running through the book as the pages are fanned.

Black Beauty is available from The Folio Society for £34.95.