Animal Autobiographies

  1. I’m interested in thinking about Black Beauty as a novel (an animal autobiography) about class and about disability. The ability to do specific kinds of work, or to look a certain way (and move, breathe, act a certain way) while doing specific tasks seems to inform the exceptionalist light in which we encounter Black Beauty; he seems to be our narrator because of his individual physical and personal characteristics. I suppose I’m asking what this book seems to be saying (or not saying) about animals as workers here. Is there a right kind of animal laborer, or animal labor? Are there certain kinds of labor that the book would like us to think of as ‘benevolent’, or a means to an end?
  2. I was really stuck by how colloquially British Black Beauty read as, both as a first person piece of writing, and in its representation of class and the urban/rural divide. How does the particular species of animal speak to or (to think about prior readings) abstract national or racial specificity?
  3. Ursula K. Le Guin calls Black Beauty “the founding classic of the animal autobiography,” that teaches us “what horses undergo at our hands”. Yet I’m not sure that the book thoroughly condemns all animal ownership and subjugation so much as it bifurcates ‘good’ people and ‘good’ owners from ‘bad’ ones – this good/bad binary is often emphasized by details in physical appearance, intelligence, and living situation. What are we left to reconcile with from Black Beauty – the culpability so much Western industrial history shares in the abuse and exploitation of animals, or something else?

One thought on “Animal Autobiographies

  1. Carrie Hintz

    Hi Alexandra, These questions are very incisive and cut to the heart of the book. I agree with you that the book is not, ultimately, radical in its aims…not really about abolishing animal ownership…all Beauty wants is a humane owner and to be free of torturous practices. Like you, I was completely fascinated by the social class/ poverty/ work angle when I read the book this time…the segment where the worker dies without ever having a Sunday really hit hard! And, yes, I think there is a lot to do on the disability angle (and with Beautiful Joe next week) so I can’t wait to think about that as well. CH

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