Black Beauty opens with its main character describing his first memory as that of a “pleasant meadow.” We learn about his life as a colt, Duchess, his mother’s advice on how to behave as a well-bred horse, and his master’s kind care. When Black Beauty is two, he witnesses the brutality of a hunt for a hare and the tragedy of one of the riders being killed in a fall from his horse. At age four, Black Beauty is broken in to the use of the saddle, bridle, and carriage harness. Then he is sent to a neighbor’s pasture near a railroad to get used to the sounds he might hear when out on the road and is thus prepared to start work.
Over the course of his life he meets with many hardships and recounts many tales of cruelty and kindness. He is mistreated to the point that his original beauty is replaced with tiredness. He meets some friends for life, but one, Ginger, has been so mistreated that she hates humans. She cannot stand them. Black Beauty and Ginger become friends but are sold to separate farms. The next time they see each other, Ginger is on the verge of collapse. The next day, she dies. Is Black Beauty destined for the same? Can his beauty be restored? Will he have a happy retirement in the country?
Characters to Personalise
Black Beauty - Black Beauty is the narrator of the novel and is a “well bred and well born” handsome black horse with one white foot and a white star on his forehead. Black Beauty is the son of a wise older mare named Duchess and the grandson of the winner of a famous race.
He begins his career as a carriage horse for wealthy people but Beauty’s life takes a downward spiral, thanks to a drunken groom who ruins Beauty’s knees in an accident. Fate sends him to even harder work where he collapses and is almost sent to the slaughterhouse, but is fortunate instead to be sold to a farmer who rehabilitates Beauty’s health and finds him a pleasant home for the rest of his life.
The people and horses that Beauty meets in each of his jobs all have stories to tell that illuminate the situation of horses in that time period and reveal the natures of the people who are charged with their care.
Duchess - Duchess is Black Beauty’s mother. She was named Duchess but was often called “Pet” by Farmer Grey because she was so amiable. An old horse, she advised Black Beauty to be gentle and good, to do his work with a good will, and never bite or kick.
Lady Anne - Black Beauty is Lady Anne’s riding horse for a while at Earlshall Park, but she calls him Black Auster.
Ginger - Black Beauty's first friend and companion at Birtwick Park. She is named for her chestnut colour and her habit of biting. Ginger is a more aggressive horse due to her traumatic upbringing. Beauty and Ginger meet for the last time as broken-down cab horses in London.
Merrylegs - A short, white, handsome pony who is polite to humans and horses alike. He is ridden by the young daughters at Birtwick Park, then sent to live with a vicar who promises never to sell him.
John Manley - Black Beauty's groom. Responsible for taking care of the horses in his stable, including Ginger and Merrylegs.