Degree Granting Department
Rosalie M. Baum, Ph.D.
Debra Jacobs, Ph.D.
Patricia Nickinson, Ph.D.
Genre, genre criticism, Anna Sewell, Frederick Douglass, humanitarian literature, children’s literature
Published in November 1877, Black Beauty is one of the most popular and enduring works of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book, in which the eponymous narrator relates his life's story, sold well following its publication in England and in the United States; by 1985, sales were estimated at over forty million. While usually regarded as entertaining, Black Beauty has a strong crusading purpose: Anna Sewell herself said she wrote to improve the treatment of horses.
This study springs from an intuitive notion. While reading the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I could not shake a "curiously different sense of familiarity" that took me home to my well-worn copy of Black Beauty. The more I explored a relationship between Douglass's Narrative and Black Beauty, the more apparent it became that these two works were interrelated in ways that had yet to be explored in critical literature. Although comparisons between animals and slaves have long been made-slaves themselves recognized and used such comparisons-the relationship between animal autobiography and the slave narrative has only recently been recognized. In 1994 Moira Ferguson sketched several commonalities between the two genres. In 2003 Tess Cosslett made an explicit-if brief-comparison of the animal autobiography and the slave narrative, a comparison developed in depth in her 2006 study Talking Animals in British Children's Literature 1786-1914.
This thesis investigates that relationship further. It begins by briefly reviewing generic criticism, moves to a consideration of the various genres into which critics have placed Black Beauty, and then examines the text as a slave narrative, focusing upon James Olney's 1985 discussion of the conventions of the slave narrative. Finally, it considers Elizabeth W. Bruss's study of autobiographical acts as a literary genre for additional areas that establish my original "sense of familiarity." In short, this thesis confirms Black Beauty's rhetorical, formal, thematic, and social power within the genre of the American antebellum slave narrative.
Scholar Commons Citation
Blossom, Bonnie L., "Black Beauty as Antebellum Slave Narrative" (2008). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.