Category Archives: context-and-author-aware

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




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.