I read Black Beauty again as an adult. A child’s mom. A dog’s mom. It was so disturbing as to be painful. I still cringe at the thought of a bit in the mouth. The power of this book comes partly from being told in first person, i.e. the narrator is Black Beauty and we share his experiences. Written by Anna Sewell in the last years of her life, it was not meant to be a children’s book but to advocate for humane treatment of horses. She lived only five months after its publication, but long enough to see its success. The autobiography of Black Beauty triggered outrage and then change, an example of the power of a good book.
In my French class we have been studying a song by Francis Cabrel, “La Corrida.” We are with the bull as he waits in his black chamber – literally in the dark as to what will come. Hearing only the raucous sounds of the crowd, he is plunged into the light, amid a fanfare of trumpets. He is confused, then realizes he must defend himself; there is nowhere to escape. A peaceful bull from the country, he never learned to fight. At the end he hears the laughter as he groans, see the people dance as he falls. It is not a joyful song, to be sure, but powerful. Powerful writing that can make you cry. The images are so devastating that we need no picture.