Anna Sewell was an English novelist, who had just one book published. Her children's classic Black Beauty (1877) is the most popular animal story ever written. It's a fictional autobiography of a gentle, highbred horse. She died of hepatitis in 1878, just five months after her book was published.
Anna Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. Her mother, Mary Wright Sewell, was a successful author of children's books. After a childhood injury, Anna was confined to her house as an invalid and got around mainly by a carriage horse. By tragic accident, she broke her ankle coming home from school at the age of fourteen. Her ankle was badly repaired, and as a result, she became severely disabled and her health remained weak for the rest of her life.
She depended on her pony and trap for any movement outside the house. This fostered her interest in and love of horses.
Anna Sewell spent the last years of her life as an invalid in the care of her mother. Her condition was so bad that she could barely get out of bed. At this time, she decided to write a book that would help draw attention to what she saw as the unkind treatment of horses prevalent in the Victorian era.
Black Beauty is considered one of the first English novels to be written from the perspective of a non-human animal. The concept, where the narrative comes from a thoroughbred horse, immediately captured the imagination of the reading public, especially young readers. Sewell herself claimed that the book was not intended for children. The novelist originally wrote it for those who worked with horses.
‘We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words,’ wrote Anna Sewell.
The book, which was written on pieces of paper or dictated directly to her mother, was finished in 1877. Sewell sold the novel to Jarrold & Son Publishers in Norwich when she was 57. She received a single payment of £40.
After publication, Anna Sewell became seriously ill. During the following months, she was in severe pain and was completely bedridden, and on April 25, 1878, she died at the age of 58. By the time of the author’s death a year later, the novel had sold 100,000 copies.