Category Archives: a christmas carol

“Solitary as an oyster” and other animal comparisons or expressions

In the process of veganizing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, numerous expressions that refer to animals presented themselves as items to consider.  For instance, in Stave 1,  the author compares Ebenezer Scrooge to an oyster, saying that Scrooge was “solitary as an oyster.”  Later in that chapter, Dickens uses the expression “dog-days” for the hot time of late summer. Another example comes from Fred’s Christmas party, in which Scrooge is implicitly compared to a “bear.”

Veganizing principle:  retaining animal comparisons and idioms that have no exploitative or speciesist meaning

Expressions that merely include a reference to an animal are not necessarily exploitative or non-vegan.  Indeed, an entire story could be written about an animal, of course, without having any negative intent toward or associations with that animal. Such benign expressions can be left intact.  And under the minimally invasive principle for veganizing a classic work of literature, such expressions should be left intact, since they represent the original author’s words and embody that author’s creative approach.  In short, when no clear and convincing need for editing a passage appears, the original text controls.

Thus, expressions such as “solitary as an oyster” (which expression, for example, implies nothing negative about oysters) and “dog-days” (an expression that apparently originated as a reference to the star Sirius, which was the chief star in a constellation said to look like a dog) have been left untouched in A Vegan Christmas Carol.  Even the comparison of Scrooge to a bear—presumably because of Scrooge’s grumpiness or ferocity—is not necessarily negative: bears can indeed be fierce, smart, and defensive fighters, and there’s nothing inherently non-vegan, demeaning, or otherwise speciesist about acknowledging these possible traits of a bear.  Accordingly, that comparison was also left intact as well.

Interview on Vegan Nation with Marlene Narrow

Marlene Narrow of Vegan Nation radio (WCUW) with author S. E. Harrison regarding A Vegan Christmas Carol aired December 13, 2018.

Vegan Nation – Marlene Narrow Interviews S. E. Harrison




Scrooge Quotes

Ebenezer Scrooge:  Revealing Quotes—“Decrease the Surplus Population”

In the beginning stave of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens reveals much about the inner workings of Ebenezer Scrooge‘s mind through Scrooge’s verbal expressions.  Here are some examples.

“If they would rather die… they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

This statement by Scrooge is in response to the gentlemen who, in Stave 1, enter the “Scrooge & Marley” office and ask for holiday donations.  One of the gentlemen says that many of the poor “would rather die” than go to the “prisons” and “workhouses” that Scrooge has previously suggested as a suitable place to house and care for the poor.

The statement is very effective at introducing us to the landscape of Scrooge’s mind.  He has already countered the gentlemen’s request for money by pointing to the fact that he pays taxes to fund certain institutions.  He then counters their attempt to, indirectly, call upon his pity.  Rather than say something like, “Oh, I didn’t know the prisons and workhouses were that bad,” thereby getting sucked into their pity trap, Scrooge counters again by upping raising the stakes per the above quotation, which indicates clearly that his pity is not available as a point of leverage for would-be fundraisers.

The entire exchange that culminates in this statement shows that Scrooge is very perceptive; he’s not oblivious to human need, cries for pity, and the plight of the poor.  Nor is he oblivious to the verbal tactics with which others attempt to manipulate him.  Nor is he too slow-witted to recognize and counter these attempted manipulations in the very moment in which they are happening.  He is, in short, very perceptive on multiple levels.

Meanwhile, the mathematical and financial relationships realities of the situation are very present and apparent to him.  He views society in terms of the money, math, and numbers. For instance, he’s readily aware of the fact that he is already paying to support certain public institutions. He recognizes, in a Mathusian way, that the resources that he and others pay into the system are not sufficient relative to the existing population.  He, at least ostensibly, views those who are outside of the reach of existing resources as “surplus.”  The fact that he chooses such a dehumanizing word shows that the numbers-based approach is both readily available to his standard way of thinking and also readily available to establish his negotiating position:  pity-based arguments will carry no wait with him.

This interchange, comprising just a few lines that pay off in the multi-layered response quoted above, thus reveals a great deal about Ebenezer Scrooge in a very short span.  It is but one of many examples of Charles Dickens‘ mastery.



Veganizing Process, #3: “Coach-and-six” and horse-drawn carriages

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.