Simply Irresistible

Black Beauty remains one of the most popular novels ever written. Anna Sewell’s  “autobiography of a horse” is estimated to have sold nearly as many copies (40-50 million) as the complete works of Charles Dickens (50 million.)

Not bad for protest literature. And protest literature it surely was. She wrote Black Beauty to “induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.”

Published in 1877 the novel contains detailed passages on how to care for horses and it was largely thanks to Black Beauty that England passed laws abolishing the mistreatment of horses including the “bearing rein” a strap that pulled the horse’s head down toward its chest to create an arch.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley, said that “Black Beauty helped people see animals in a new way. As soon as you say that an animal has a point of view, then it’s very difficult to just go and be cruel to that animal. … [It showed] readers that the world is full of beings who should not be treated like objects.”

There are many ways to make the world a better place and one of the most effective is through literature.

The novelist Thomas Hardy once remarked that “If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him alone.”

I can’t help thinking that within the heart of many a campaigner, researcher, social entrepreneur, service provider and public servant exists an artist capable of describing the world she wants so that it becomes simply irresistible for the rest of us to do something about it.

Here’s a Hippocratic phrase you may not be familiar with. Ars longa, vita brevis.” (Art is long, life is short.) Could be an oath for change-makers.

Looking for long term impact? Maybe it’s time to follow your dream and create a book, song (Strange Fruit) tv series (Will and Grace), movie (Free Willy), or painting (Guernica.)

By the way, Black Beauty was Anna Sewell’s only book. She wrote it when she was in her 50’s, confined to bed and in declining health as a result of a chronic mobility impairment.


But that’s the nature of art, it scrapes up against those ugly places and concedes their existence. Which is very different from performing, fetishizing or objectifying that ugliness, resulting in something closer, along the spectrum, to spectacle rather than art. (Madeleine Thien)

Musical accompaniment this post is Taanisi (Life is Short) by Twin Flames. Aren’t they simply irresistible?


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