My name is Beautiful Joe, and I am a brown dog of medium size.
–Marshall Saunders - Beautiful Joe - c.1893
Available on Gutenberg
Beautiful Joe is the story of a dog, a mongrel whose first owner abused him, going so far as to chop off his ears and tail. He was rescued and went on to live a much happier life. The author of this story, Margaret Marshall Saunders1 met the real Beautiful Joe while visiting her brother in law and his wife, the inspiration for Laura in the book. She was touched by Joe’s story, and having recently read Black Beauty2 decided to write “a dog’s own tale”.
A lot of comparisons to Black Beauty might be made, but to my mind this is much more simply written than Black Beauty, although I suppose I haven’t read that one in a long while. I could be misremembering.
Beautiful Joe is also much more didactic, its main purpose is to highlight the abuses and animal cruelty that were rampant at the time. Different chapters cover different episodes in Joe’s life, and sometimes cover different animals that were mistreated. Many were rescued by the same family that take in Joe, but some don’t get that happy ending. A lot of the dialogue between the characters is about how animals should be treated, and why they should be treated better. The book was originally an entry into a Human Society competition, and that focus is very much in evidence.
I liked a lot about this book, but it is very much of its time, and the author, and the family she writes about are clearly in a position of privilege in society. They may not be the richest, but they certainly don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, and a lot of their attitudes come across as very paternalistic, if only those poor people knew we could cure them. That grated a little on me.
But aside from that it is a certainly a touching story, and any dog lover will probably enjoy it.