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National Velvet

1st edition cover
(William Morrow)

National Velvet is a novel by Enid Bagnold (1889 - 1981), first published in 1935.


Plot summary

National Velvet is the story of a 14 year old girl, Velvet Brown, who rides her horse to victory in the Grand National steeplechase. The horse which Velvet trains and rides in the Grand National is named The Pie, because he is a piebald color (black and white).

The original story focuses on the ability of ordinary persons, particularly women, to accomplish great things. Velvet is a teenager in the late 1920s, living in a small English coastal village of Sewels in Sussex, dreaming of one day owning many horses. She is a high-strung, nervous child with a delicate stomach. Her mother is a wise, taciturn woman who was once famous for swimming the English Channel; her father is a butcher.

Her best friend is her father's assistant, Mi (Michael) Taylor, whose father was Mrs. Brown's swimming coach, who helped her cross the channel. Mi knows all about horses as he was a steeplechase trainer and jockey. One day they both watch a fast, magnificent piebald stallion, running in a field along the water. Velvet is immediately taken by the horse, particularly when he jumps a stone fence to get out of the field. Mi says, in passing, that a horse like that could win the National. Velvet becomes obsessed with winning the horse in an upcoming raffle and riding him to greatness.

In addition to inheriting several horses from one of her father's customers, who left them to her in his will, Velvet actually does win her dream horse. After riding him in a local gymkhana, she and Mi become serious about entering the Grand National steeplechase at Aintree racecourse and train the Piebald accordingly.

Mi uses his connections to the horse training/racing world and obtains a fake clearance document for Velvet in the name of James Tasky, a Russian jockey. Velvet wins, but slides off after the winning-post due to exhaustion, and her gender is discovered in the first-aid station.

The racing world is both dismayed and fascinated by a young girl's winning its toughest race. Velvet and The Pie become a nine-day wonder, with Velvet and her family nearly drowning in notoriety (echoing her mother's unsought fame after swimming the English Channel), complete with merchandising. Velvet strongly objects to the publicity, saying The Piebald is a creature of glory who shouldn't be cheapened in tabloid trash and newsreels. She insists that she did not win the race, the horse did, and she simply wanted to see him go down in history. The National Hunt Committee finds no evidence of fraud, exonerates all involved, and Velvet and her family return to their ordinary lives; or rather, Velvet goes "on to her next adventures", for clearly she is a person to whom great things happen.

Film Adaptation

The novel was made into a more or less faithful highly successful film version in 1944, starring twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, with Donald Crisp, Anne Revere and a young Angela Lansbury. In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. National Velvet was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the sports genre.[1][2]

Television Adaptation

From 1960 to 1962, there was a half-hour B&W American television series, with Lori Martin, Ann Doran and James McCallion. In this version her horse was named King. This aired on NBC for 54 episodes.

Film Sequel

A 1978 film sequel, International Velvet, was made starring Tatum O'Neal as Sarah Brown, a young orphaned American living in England with her aunt Velvet Brown (Nanette Newman). Sarah and her aunt purchase the offspring descendant of the horse Velvet rode years ago. They name him Arizona Pie after Sarah's home state. Working with the horse, Sarah is selected to represent Britain in the equine Three Day Olympic Event. While working with the horse with trainer Capt Johnson (Anthony Hopkins), she falls for an American competitor, Scott Saunders (Jeffrey Byron). Though distracted by him, she wins the event. Later, after marrying Saunders, Sarah returns to England and presents the medal to her aunt Velvet as a keepsake and remembrance.



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