Authors: Unknown Author
Gadsby: a story of over 50,000 words without using the letter ”E”
Ernest Vincent Wright
by the Author:
THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT of this story was written with the E type-bar of the typewriter tied down; thus making it impossible for that letter to be printed. This was done so that none of that vowel might slip in, accidentally; and many did try to do so! There is a great deal of information as to what Youth can do, if given a chance; and, though it starts out in somewhat of an impersonal vein, there is plenty of thrill, rollicking comedy, love, courtship, marriage, patriotism, sudden tragedy, a determined stand against liquor, and some amusing political aspirations in a small growing town.
In writing such a story, —purposely avoiding all words containing the vowel E, there are a great many difficulties. The greatest of these is met in the past tense of verbs, almost all of which end with "-ed." Therefore substitutes must be found; and they are very few. This will cause, at times, a somewhat monotonous use of such words as "said;" for neither "replied," "answered" nor "asked" can be used. Another difficulty comes with the elimination of the common couplet "of course," and its very common connective, "consequently;" which will unavoidably cause "bumpy spots." The numerals also cause plenty of trouble, for none between six and thirty are available. When introducing young ladies into the story, this is a real barrier; for what young woman wants to have it known that she is over thirty? And this restriction on numbers, of course taboos all mention of dates.
Many abbreviations also must be avoided; the most common of all, "Mr." and "Mrs." being particularly troublesome; for those words, if read aloud, plainly indicate the E in their orthography.
As the vowel E is used more than five times oftener than any other letter, this story was written, not through any attempt to attain literary merit, but due to a somewhat balky nature, caused by hearing it so constantly claimed that "it can't be done; for you cannot say anything at all without using E, and make smooth continuity, with perfectly grammatical construction—" so 'twas said.
Many may think that I simply "drop" the E's, filling the gaps with apostrophes. A perusal of the book will show that this is not so. All words used are complete; are correctly spelled and properly used. This has been accomplished through the use of synonyms; and, by so twisting a sentence around as to avoid ambiguity. The book may prove a valuable aid to school children in English composition.
People, as a rule, will not stop to realize what a task such an attempt actually is. As I wrote along, in long-hand at first, a whole army of little E's gathered around my desk, all eagerly expecting to be called upon. But gradually as they saw me writing on and on, without even noticing them, they grew uneasy; and, with excited whisperings amongst themselves, began hopping up and riding on my pen, looking down constantly for a chance to drop off into some word; for all the world like sea-birds perched, watching for a passing fish! But when they saw that I had covered 138 pages of typewriter size paper, they slid off onto the floor, walking sadly away, arm in arm; but shouting back:
"You certainly must have a hodge-podge of a yarn there without Us! Why, man! We are in every story ever written, hundreds of thousands of times! This is the first time we ever were shut out!"
Pronouns also caused trouble; for such words as he, she, they, them, theirs, her, herself, myself, himself, yourself, etc., could not be utilized. But a particularly annoying obstacle comes when, almost through a long paragraph you can find no words with which to continue that line of thought; hence, as in Solitaire, you are "stuck," and must go way back and start another; which, of course, must perfectly fit the preceding context.
I have received some extremely odd criticisms since the Associated Press widely announced that such a book was being written. A rapid-talking New York newspaper columnist wanted to know how I would get over the plain fact that my name contains the letter E three times. As an author's name is not a part of his story, that criticism did not hold water. And I received one most scathing epistle from a lady (woman!) denouncing me as a "genuine fake;" (that paradox being a most interesting one!), and ending by saying: — "Everyone knows that such a feat is impossible." All right. Then the impossible has been accomplished; (a paradox to equal hers!) Other criticism may be directed at the Introduction; but this section of a story also is not part of it. The author is entitled to it, in order properly to explain his work. The story required five and a half months of concentrated endeavor, with so many erasures and retrenchments that I tremble as I think of them. Of course anybody can write such a story. All that is needed is a piece of string tied from the E type-bar down to some part of the base of the typewriter. Then simply go ahead and type your story. Incidentally, you should have some sort of a bromide preparation handy, for use when the going gets rough, as it most assuredly will!
Before the book was in print, I was freely and openly informed "there is a trick, or catch, somewhere in that claim that there is not one letter E in the entire book, after you leave the Introduction," Well; it is the privilege of the reader to unearth any such deception that he or she may think they can find. I have even ordered the printer not to head each chapter with the words "Chapter 2," etc., on account of that bothersome E in that word.
In closing let me say that I trust you may learn to love all the young folks in the story, as deeply as I have, in introducing them to you. Like many a book, it grows more and more interesting as the reader becomes well acquainted with the characters.
Ernest Vincent Wright Los Angeles, California February, 1939
A work of writing that deliberately excludes particular letters is called a lipogram.
If youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn't constantly run across folks today who claim that "a child don't know anything." A child's brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult's act, and figuring out its purport.
Up to about its primary school days a child thinks, naturally, only of play. But many a form of play contains disciplinary factors. "You can't do this," or "that puts you out," shows a child that it must think, practically or fail. Now, if, throughout childhood, a brain has no opposition, it is plain that it will attain a position of "status quo," as with our ordinary animals. Man knows not why a cow, dog or lion was not born with a brain on a par with ours; why such animals cannot add, subtract, or obtain from books and schooling, that paramount position which Man holds today.
But a human brain is not in that class. Constantly throbbing and pulsating, it rapidly forms opinions; attaining an ability of its own; a fact which is startlingly shown by an occasional child "prodigy" in music or school work. And as, with our dumb animals, a child's inability convincingly to impart its thoughts to us, should not class it as ignorant. Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion; a man with boys and girls of his own; a man of so dominating and happy individuality that Youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl. It is a story about a small town. It is not a gossipy yarn; nor is it a dry, monotonous account, full of such customary "fill-ins" as "romantic moonlight casting murky shadows down a long, winding country road." Nor will it say anything about tinklings lulling distant folds; robins carolling at twilight, nor any "warm glow of lamplight" from a cabin window. No.
It is an account of up-and-doing activity; a vivid portrayal of Youth as it is today; and a practical discarding of that worn-out notion that "a child don't know anything."
Now, any author, from history's dawn, always had that most important aid to writing: an ability to call upon any word in his dictionary in building up his story. That is, our strict laws as to word construction did not block his path. But in my story that mighty obstruction will constantly stand in my path; for many an important, common word I cannot adopt, owing to its orthography.
I shall act as a sort of historian for this small town; associating with its inhabitants, and striving to acquaint you with its youths, in such a way that you can look, knowingly, upon any child, rich or poor; forward or "backward;" your own, or John Smith's, in your community. You will find many young minds aspiring to know how, and why such a thing is so. And, if a child shows curiosity in that way, how ridiculous it is for you to snap out: — "Oh! Don't ask about things too old for you!"
Such a jolt to a young child's mind, craving instruction, is apt so to dull its avidity, as to hold it back in its school work. Try to look upon a child as a small, soft young body and a rapidly growing, constantly inquiring brain. It must grow to maturity slowly. Forcing a child through school by constant night study during hours in which it should run and play, can bring on insomnia; handicapping both brain and body.
Now this small town in our story had grown in just that way:— slowly; in fact, much too slowly to stand on a par with many a thousand of its kind in this big, vigorous nation of ours. It was simply stagnating; just as a small mountain brook, coming to a hollow, might stop, and sink from sight, through not having a will to find a way through that obstruction; or around it. You will run across such a dormant town, occasionally; possibly so dormant that only outright isolation by a fast-moving world, will show it its folly. If you will tour Asia, Yucatan, or parts of Africa and Italy, you will find many sad ruins of past kingdoms. Go to Indo-China and visit its gigantic Ankhor Vat; call at Damascus, Baghdad and Samarkand. What sorrowful lack of ambition many such a community shows in thus discarding such high-class construction! And I say, again, that so will Youth grow dormant, and hold this big, throbbing world back, if no champion backs it up; thus providing it with an opportunity to show its ability for looking forward, and improving unsatisfactory conditions.
So this small town of Branton Hills was lazily snoozing amidst up-and-doing towns, as Youth's Champion, John Gadsby, took hold of it; and shook its dawdling, flabby body until its inhabitants thought a tornado had struck it. Call it tornado, volcano, military onslaught, or what you will, this town found that it had a bunch of kids who had wills that would admit of no snoozing; for that is Youth, on its forward march of inquiry, thought and action.
If you stop to think of it, you will find that it is customary for our "grown-up" brain to cast off many of its functions of its youth; and to think only of what it calls "topics of maturity." Amongst such discards is many a form of happy play; many a muscular activity such as walking, running, climbing; thus totally missing that alluring "joy of living" of childhood. If you wish a vacation from financial affairs, just go out and play with Youth. Play "blind-man's buff," "hop-scotch," "ring toss," and football. Go out to a charming woodland spot on a picnic with a bright, happy, vivacious group. Sit down at a corn roast; a marshmallow toast; join in singing popular songs; drink a quart of good, rich milk; burrow into that big lunch box; and all such things as banks, stocks, and family bills, will vanish on fairy wings, into oblivion.
But this is not a claim that Man should stay always youthful. Supposing that that famous Spaniard, landing upon Florida's coral strands, had found that mythical Fountain of Youth; what a calamity for mankind! A world without maturity of thought; without man's full-grown muscular ability to construct mighty buildings, railroads and ships; a world without authors, doctors, savants, musicians; nothing but Youth! I can think of but a solitary approval of such a condition; for such a horror as war would not, —could not occur; for a child is, naturally, a small bunch of sympathy. I know that boys will "scrap;" also that "spats" will occur amongst girls; but, at such a monstrosity as killings by bombing towns, sinking ships, or mass annihilation of marching troops, childhood would stand aghast. Not a tiny bird would fall; nor would any form of gun nor facility for manufacturing it, insult that almost Holy purity of youthful thought. Anybody who knows that wracking sorrow brought upon a child by a dying puppy or cat, knows that childhood can show us that our fighting, our policy of "a tooth for a tooth," is abominably wrong.