Friday, 24 September 2010

Gelding - the invisible practice

I've been reading some of the early animal literature in the Hockliffe Collection, a collection of children's literature which is available on the net. There's rather more about dogs and cats - Mary Martha Sherwood's The Little Woodman and his Dog Caesar (1818), described as being as "thoroughly entertaining and as heavily didactic as it is possible to be," and Mary Pilkington's Marvellous Adventures; or, the Vicissitudes of a Cat (1802) being just two, but there is one about a pony. This is The Memoirs of Dick, the Little Poney (1799 - Anon).

Later children's literature about horses, most notably Black Beauty, does not shy away from cruelty, and leaves readers in little doubt about the miseries of the bearing rein or long and hideous hours of over work. It is strangely shy, though, about gelding. Black Beauty must presumably have been gelded - the vast majority of male horses are - but the subject is simply never mentioned. For Black Beauty, like many of his successors in horse literature, gelding appears to have happened by magic, buried in the blank pages between chapters.

Not so Dick.

"....they next proceeded to an operation, the exquisite torture and fatal consequences of which I still feel in reflection, though delicacy forbids me to explain it. Nature produced me a male, but my tyrants were not satisfied with her decrees, and they deprived me of all the privileges of my sex, except those of mere existence."

5 comments:

susannaforrest said...

I do love Dick. He's much more fun than Black Beauty, and so utterly a pony, for all his post-Rousseau philosophising.

Jane Badger said...

Yes, I do like Dick. I've just read it again. He has a sense of humour, which Black Beauty most definitely lacks, much though I love it. I love the frontis of him not jumping the cow too. I like the way he gets in not one, but two, deathbed scenes with tubercular children, one actually happening as the child gets off him.

Gillian said...

I've long had a vague memory that my childhood copy of Black Beauty had a single line reference to him being gelded. It was just something like 'I had the routine operation that men perform on young male horses to ensure their docility as adults.'

My copy wasn't particularly old - a 60's or 70's edition, and I've certainly never seen such a line in any other edition. I don't know why I should have imagined reading such a line though. The mere fact that there was a reference to gelding - very unusual, as you say - is why I remembered it. I can't think where else I might have read that line.

Oh well, one of life's little mysteries.

Moggypie said...

Memory can be tricky when one is summoning up what one read long ago! But it makes one wonder if some editor thought it was necessary to insert a line to make sense of things or to correct what he or she saw as an omission or oversight. Could very well have happened. Certainly the online scan of the original 1877 edition of BB does not include any reference to a gelding operation. I recall as a kid wondering why Beauty never fell in love with any mares...this was before I knew about geldings!

susannaforrest said...

Yes, I have the scene with the fading little girl in the book. Hard to resist. Also, not an endless victim, like BB. He's like Ginger with a happy ending.