Virginia Woolf once observed that the challenge of every writer or speaker was not to change the world but merely provide each reader or audience member with one provocative thought to write down, put upon their mantel and mull over. One life-changing thought is quite enough for any of us to take in on any given day.
As a true believer in bibliotherapy, audiotherapy and cinematherapy, I’m often asked who/what are some of my favorite writers, books, music, movies and so I’m delighted to send you to my favorite “Enquire Within” resource which seamlessly and artfully combines all my secret Rx for frazzled nerves—Jesse Kornbluth’s brilliant cultural concierge service known as HeadButler.com (@headbutler).
Full disclosure: Jesse’s been a friend for the last 20 years, but that doesn’t mean his writing doesn’t regularly dazzle me with peacock green admiration on a weekly basis, especially after all these years. Reading Jesse’s blog is as close to having a private tutorial by an Oxford or Cambridge don as I’m ever going to get (“don” – an esteemed British university professor, preferably “Oxbridge” as over-the-pond academic insiders call their ivory towers.)
But I’ve got Jesse K. and HeadButler and my personal professor/curator always sends fascinating new-to-me historical, social and cultural missives which I delight in following to coax the muse for a happy hour or two of homework. That’s because JK doesn’t just drop the whole story in my lap. I have to click. I have to follow the clues to be creatively rewarded. What’s a writer’s favorite part of writing? Research! Jesse encourages me to consider the wealth of usually overlooked “Great Old Stuff” books, films, music, history that I’ve forgotten or don’t know and wow! now I do and you will too, as well as thank me for sending you to a writer’s writer for the high-brow low down.
One of his recent posts was about the Victorian writer Anna Sewell’s masterpiece—Black Beauty—or “Black Beauty, his grooms and companions; the autobiography of a horse ‘Translated from the original equine’” published in 1877 and for the last 140 years, considered a children’s book about horses, particularly for girls.
However, Anna Sewell, who was invalid for most of her life, only began writing her one and only book at the age of 51, inspired by her love for her family’s pony “Bess” and passionately distressed over animal cruelty. Anna dictated the story to her mother (the Victorian "juvenile" writer Mary Wright Sewell) from her bed over five years and died just five months after it was published. Black Beauty became an immediate publishing phenomenon and international bestseller (it’s now sold over 50 million copies in 50 different languages). While considered a children’s “classic”, Anna wrote it to reveal the truth about the inner life of animals—their loves, losses, joys and suffering—as well as their poignant, unbreakable connection to our own lives, particularly for the adults who were in charge of their destinies—the grooms, stable hands and the hansom cab drivers holding the reins and snapping the whips. Perhaps she did realize before she died that she’d written more than a successful book—Black Beauty—inspired an international animal welfare movement that changed the treatment of horses—but writers rarely understand the emotional impact of their words. They just hope that somebody out there thinks one of their thoughts worth putting on the mantel for mulling over.
Jesse also has included with this post the most beautiful clip of the best cinematic version of Black Beauty ever, the 1994 American version by the amazing Caroline Thompson in her directorial debut (her screenwriting credits include Edward Scissorhands, The Secret Garden, The Addams Family and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey) with the compelling voice of Alan Cummings as “Black Beauty”. (This is after all, an autobiography of a horse) and Head Butler included convenient links for both the book and movie.
Spoiler alert: I cried at the clip and then watched another 6 times. Then I cried some more and ordered the movie. But they were good tears, tears of relief, after the heightened emotional tension we’re all feeling again this week. Sometimes in the “new normal” in which we live, we just need to be reminded of an old-fashioned story with a happy ending. That we are spiritually connected to one another and to the animals we share our lives with and this kingdom of Earth. If you’ve ever loved an animal and been loved by them in return, then you know what real love, grown up love is supposed to be and feel like. I certainly know what movie I’m watching this week and what book I’m eager to read again, especially since I’ve learned there is no such thing as a children’s book, only books for grown-ups old enough to be told the truth. Also, I don’t believe in coincidences but I do believe in mystical chains of chance. Those of you who have read last week’s blog about “Gleaning” will be able to read “Between the Lines” with me.
And Ludwig Wittenstein? (1889-1951), the illustrious Austrian born, British intellectual's intellectual considered "arguably" one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, who spent his entire life pondering the connection between “logic” and metaphysics (yet still only published one book, one article, one book review and a children’s dictionary). To discover that Ludwig Wittenstein was reading Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty as he was dying? This I did not know and it feels like a marvelous mystery waiting to be explored.
So here’s to a provocative connection worth mantel mulling as well as mystical connections worth pondering over a good bottle of wine. Be still my beating heart… And boundless thanks to Head Butler for, once again, putting me on the case.
Blessings to you and yours and may you discover something wonderful this week that's new-to-you! Please share it and let me know.