Study Guide

The Good Grooms in Black Beauty

By Anna Sewell

The Good Grooms

John Manly, James Howard, Joe Green

Along with a good master, a horse also hopes to get a good groom, and Beauty's lucky to have both at Birtwick Park. At Birtwick, Beauty's horse care team is headed up by the experienced groom John Manly, who's outstanding at his job and adores Beauty. Beauty tells us:

John seemed very proud of me […] I grew very fond of him, he was so gentle and kind. He seemed to know just how a horse feels […] When he brushed my head, he went as carefully over my eyes as if they were his own, and never stirred up any ill temper. (5.21)

John's attentiveness seems to be his defining trait, and he tries to pass along as much knowledge as possible to his stable boys—first James Howard and then Joe Green.

James, the first stable boy at Birtwick, is "just as gentle and pleasant" (5.22) as John. John himself says of James, "[…] a steadier, pleasanter, honester, smarter young fellow I never had in this stable" (14.9). All this awesomeness means that Squire Gordon recommends James for a job as a groom at a nearby estate, and John, Beauty, and the other horses are very sad to see him leave.

James is replaced by the very young, tiny, and inexperienced Joe Green. Only fourteen and a half, Joe isn't tall enough to do some of the tasks required of a stable boy, but John Manly is determined to train him nonetheless. Unfortunately, Joe makes a major rookie mistake early in his stable boy career, and neglects to give Beauty a warm blanket after a very strenuous nighttime ride. Beauty believes Joe is still a good kid, but even so, Beauty gets quite sick.

Joe himself is traumatized: "He can't eat his meals, and he can't smile," his father tells John. "He says he knows it was all his fault, though he is sure he did the best he knew" (19.4). John isn't particularly forgiving, but they all get over the incident, and Joe "[…] was so attentive and careful that John began to trust him in many things" (20.1). Joe even goes out of his way one day to try to prevent a traveler from beating his horses, and Beauty thinks "he had jumped all at once from a boy into a man" (20.17).

But before he can find out what kind of man Joe's going to be, Beauty must leave Birtwick. We think that's the last we'll see of Joe, but we get a happy surprise at the very end of the novel. When Beauty visits Miss Ellen and Miss Blomefield's, hoping to be sold, Joe Green turns out to be their groom. Joe recognizes Beauty and is ecstatic to see him again, and we all get out the Kleenex. Sweet Joe turns out to be "the best and kindest of grooms" (49.20) in Beauty's very last home.

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