2-49. The Great Gadsby


In 1939, Ernest Vincent Wright finished his difficult novel, “Gadsby.” Not to be confused with “The Great Gatsby,” which was written earlier but didn’t become popular until later, “Gadsby” was a novel about a man who rallies a town’s youth to civic improvement. It sold well and received literary praise, despite the fact that it was missing something that virtually all other novels have: the letter ‘e.’

Throughout this 50,000-word book, the letter ‘e’ is missing. Wright explains in the foreword that he literally tied down the ‘e’ key on his typewriter to force himself to come up with other ways of saying things like “yellow” (saffron) or “cake” (loaf).

Here’s a sample of the writing:

And with that big Municipal Band a-booming and blaring, and a crowd of our old Organization girls pushing forward, did Branton Hills look good to Nancy? And did Nancy look good to Branton Hills? What a glorious tan, from days and days on shipboard! And was that old Atlantic ugly? Ask Frank, poor chap, who, as on that big Pacific, had found out just what a ship’s rail is for! And that stomachs can turn most amazing flip-flops if an old boat is too frisky!

Wright wrote this novel as a lipogram, writing that omits a letter, simply to see if he could do it. He points out that his effort might help aspiring writers hone their craft, and indeed, if you try to tell a simple story, for example, how to make a piece of toast, without the letter ‘e,’ you’ll quickly find yourself using unfamiliar sentence structures, which in time could become valuable tools.

So, if you’re sitting with a fresh cup of writer’s block and an endless scroll of empty screen in front of you, maybe try a paragraph without a vowel of your choosing. It might lead you to a place you want to be.



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