By the time Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol (1843), massive social and economic changes wrought by steam power were well underway. At the same time, however, automated power, such as steam-powered trains and boats, coexisted alongside animal-exploitation-based forms of transportation that were still very much in use, such as animal-powered vehicles. A term we use today to describe the power produced by a gas-powered automobile engine—“horsepower”—reflects the historical reality that, for thousands of years, animals were used as the primary means of land transportation for humans (other than humans simply walking under their own power!).
Horse-drawn carriages, of course, are a classic example of animal exploitation, abuse, and cruelty. Horses are made to suffer all manner of hardship through their training and subsequent life of labor as pulling slaves. Under the basic reasons for veganizing a work, just as in the example of horse-racing, passages including animal-drawn vehicles should, therefore, be edited to eliminate the exploitative content.
“Coach-and-six” description of Jabob Marley’s staircase
Horse-drawn vehicles make some appearances in A Christmas Carol. One of those is in a comparison that occurs early in Stave 2. Here’s the passage in the original form:
You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom.
This passage, complete with signature Dickensian colloquial embellishment, is intended to show that the staircase in Marley’s house is wide. The “coach-and-six” phrase refers to a horse-drawn carriage (the “coach”) and the horses forced to pull it (i.e., six horses; the phrase “coach-and-six” would indicate four horses). Use of an animal-exploitation based comparison is unnecessary, of course, to demonstrate that Marley’s staircase is wide; thus, a world of possible veganizing editorial choices are available here.
Veganizing with “steam engine”
Under the minimally invasive principle, ideally we would excise the portion of the passage as cleanly as possible and replace it with content that serves the intended function and fits the context. Thus, just as steam power and other forms of machine-generated power were in the process of replacing animal exploitation, replacement of this reference with a machine-produced power reference makes sense.
Meanwhile, Dickens himself uses the word “locomotive” later in the same paragraph, a reference that, while not inherently referring specifically to steam power, would have likely evoked steam-powered “locomotives” for many readers and listeners who had been exposed to the train engines that had, by 1843, come into widespread use. This “locomotive” reference presents a fortuitous opportunity to tie into the rest of the paragraph in accordance with the serendipity principle for veganizing a work. Thus, in this portion of the text of A Vegan Christmas Carol, the “coach-and-six” phrase has been veganized by way of replacement with the phrase “steam engine” such that the passage now reads:
You may talk vaguely about driving a steam engine up a good old flight of stairs. . . .
Time-and-place compatibility, and context-and-author awareness
This case serves to demonstrate another principle to retain when veganizing a classic text: that of not introducing anachronisms. We would not want to introduce a reference to, say, gasoline-powered automobiles into a Dickens work, since these vehicles were yet to come. In the present case, since steam engines of various sorts were already in widespread use at the time and location in which A Christmas Carol is set—Dickens himself had traveled to the U.S. in 1842 by way of a steam-powered boat—, such a replacement is a time-and-place-compatible substitute for the original phrase. Moreover, vehicles driven by a steam engine clearly appear in other portions of Dickens work, such that the veganizing choice made here embodies an awareness of the context and author of the original work.
Virtually every page—indeed, virtually every paragraph—of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol includes some salient moment. The work is so imaginative, so densely filled with action and meaning, and so widely known and beloved that almost every one of these salient moments is someone’s “favorite part.” Many people will recognize such a moment, perhaps even be eagerly anticipating it. When that passage arrives, readers and listeners may be disappointed if any heavy-handed meddling has been done. Thus, when veganizing such a salient passage, the light touch of a “minimally invasive” approach is particularly necessary.
“More of gravy than of grave about you”
Ebenezer Scrooge’s quip, in Stave 1, about there being “more gravy than grave” in Jacob Marley’s ghost is one such salient moment. Here, Scrooge is trying to argue with Marley’s ghost, seeking to establish the point that Marley’s ghost is actually just a figment of Scrooge’s imagination. Scrooge’s theory is that Marley’s ghostly visitation is but a hallucination, one that is likely to have been caused by some malfunction in Scrooge’s senses, perhaps the result of Scrooge’s stomach having been upset by something that he ate. Scrooge summarizes this argument in the final quip, which reads, in relevant part:
“There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
The line is brilliant for several reasons: alliteration and internal rhyme; apt summation of the argument being made; revelation of some of the internal workings of Scrooge’s mind. Changing but a single letter—the ending “-y” to “-e”—to achieve such a stroke is a fair instance of poetics.
Need to veganize
Generally speaking, a principle to which the Veganized Classics Series adheres is that, if a word has a vegan meaning and a non-vegan meaning that is plausible in the context of the original work, that word can remain unaltered. While vegan gravy does exist today, the reality is that “gravy” in its origin and in the time and place in which A Christmas Carol is set was made from and defined in terms of the juices of a dead body of an animal. A vegan gravy-like item would have been called something like a “sauce” in Scrooge’s day, such as the “apple-sauce” that is expressly mentioned later in the book.
Thus, the choice, while perhaps not absolutely necessary, was made to veganize this word in the making of A Vegan Christmas Carol.
“Gravy” to “grain”
The challenge in veganizing a passage with this level of artistry and memorability is to retain the essential meaning while also preserving its beautiful form.
Fortunately, the English language comprises a word for a plant-based item that works very well, both to retain the poetics of the line and the role that the line serves in the argument Scrooge is making: the word “grain.”
Originally, the poetics include recurrence of four identical letters: gravy and grave. The veganized form gets very close: grain and grave.
Moreover, the meter is slightly improved: “gravy than of grave about you” has three essentially unaccented syllables in a row—not a strong form, and one that is not used elsewhere in the sentence. But “grain than of grave about you” sets up a very pleasurable and catchy meter: / u u / u u /.
Editorial opportunism: capitalizing on serendipity
This instance exemplifies the sort of happy accident for which one should be on the lookout when veganizing a work. It’s editorial opportunism: if the language happens to present an opportunity to retain both the literary substance and the poetic form of a line, we should be ready to take full advantage of that opportunity. Such a happy accident allows the line to be read or heard by someone who already knows and loves the line without missing anything—or perhaps without even noticing that the line has been veganized.
This case can be used as another touchstone, a prime example of the type of serendipity we’re looking for when we are trying to veganize a passage, particularly one that is very well-known and well-written and, therefore, needs to be handled with delicate care.
A Vegan Christmas Carol: Veganization Note #1
Some editorial and re-authoring choices to be made in the veganizing process are pretty straightforward. In this series pertaining to A Vegan Christmas Carol, beginning with an example of this straightforward editing / re-authoring type makes sense, as it can later serve as a touchstone when facing more difficult choices.
“… panting like race-horses….”
The original text of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol includes the following passage, which refers to Scrooge and his workmate, Dick Wilkins, who are busily preparing their workplace for Fezziwig’s big Christmas party:
You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows [Ebenezer Scrooge and Dick Wilkins] went at it! They charged into the street with the shutters—one, two, three—had ’em up in their places—four, five, six—barred ’em and pinned ’em—seven, eight, nine—and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.
Clearly, the reference to racehorses will not survive the veganizing process: the so-called “sport” of horse-racing is violent, cruel, and often fatal for the horses involved.
Chosen method for editing / re-authoring the passage
At this point, the editor can either (i) delete the reference to horses and horse-racing altogether, thus “abridging” the underlying work to a small degree, or (ii) replace it with a suitable substitute of similar meaning, content, style, length, and so on. In either case, we would want to avoid excising any more material than necessary. In A Vegan Christmas Carol, the latter choice was made, such that the last phrase of the passage now reads:
… panting like two boys after a race…..
This approach allows us to keep the intended meaning of the last phrase, retain the strong visual image of “panting,” and even retain the reference to racing—all while excluding the animal exploitation imagery.
This type of “minimally invasive” approach provides an excellent example of what we’ll strive to achieve when veganizing other passages.
The process of veganizing a classic work of literature requires keeping in mind a number of disparate criteria. These range from historical considerations—for instance, what types of food were available at a particular point in time—to vocabulary—what types of words were in the given author’s toolkit—to many other considerations.
The upcoming series of posts will explain some of the choices that were made in veganizing Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for the first edition of “A Vegan Christmas Carol.”
Those who are not familiar with vegan literary theory are invited to review the article that sets the stage for the general field.
A Vegan Christmas Carol, which includes the full text of Charles Dickens’ Classic novella, will be available in late November 2018. Check back soon for more information.
In the meantime, please feel free to learn more about veganizing classic literature.