National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1935) – a review

national velvet by enid bagnold cover

From the original review of National Velvet by Enid Bagnold in the Paris (TX) News, August,1935:  Those of us who loved the story Black Beauty when we were children will turn with delight to another fresh, vivid horse story of more recent date, National Velvet by Enid Bagnold.

She has written little up to this date, but this book will assure her of lifelong affection in the hearts of all people interested in stories about horses.

The story is highly fantastic and in improbable but appealing for all of that. A spindly child of 14, Velvet Brown is so foolish about horses that she has cut out all the pictures of them that she can find and has pasted them on cardboard. To her, they are real; she goes on far journeys on them, she leads them to pastures, she grooms them every day.


Winning her dream horse

Then to her great happiness and to her father’s disgust, she wins the piebald of Farmer Edes in the village raffle and at the same time inherits from a rich old gentleman five other horses. The father orders that Velvet and her sisters must care for the horses. He, a butcher, has no money for grooms. It is the unduly piebald that wins the heart of Velvet, for into his ear she whispers all her confidences and ambitions. He obeys her every whisper, jumps fences like a dream horse for her — like a winged horse.

The imagination of the child just been fired ever since Mi Taylor, her father’s hired man, who has never been on a horse in his life but who knows all about racing remarks in her presence when he first saw the runaway piebald take a fence, “a horse like that’d win the National.”


Elizabeth Taylor in the 1944 film version of National Velvet


Entering the National

The child aided by Mi, plots that the horse shall enter the National — the greatest race in the world. Skinny, frail little Velvet Brown prays to herself, “Oh God, let me be the best rider in England,” not for the money she would win — the prize never entered her head — but only that the piebald might be entered in the pages of history. It is in this way that Velvet becomes a national, an international figure.”

The bourgeois family life of the Browns is too realistic for pleasant reading, everyone forgets this as they lose themselves in the beautiful and absurd dreams of Velvet concerning her funny looking horse to whom she alone can talk.


A reader’s delight

The delight of the reader is heightened by the excellent and beautiful little drawings of horses to help illustrate the book — these help to make the whole improbable tale real — done by the 13 year old daughter of Enid Bagnold, Laurion Jones. National Velvet is indeed an entertaining horse story that will take its place in the hearts of readers along with black beauty of their childhood.


More about National Velvet



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