Friday, December 10, 2010

Gadsby: The Novel Without An "E"

A "Lipogram" is a written work--a sentence, paragraph, poem, or longer work--in which the author deliberately leaves out a particular letter, usually a vowel. ("Lipogram" is Greek for "missing symbol.") As Martin Gardner points out in the Colossal Book of Word Play, the most famous lipogram is the probably the first stanza of "Old Mother Hubbard."

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To get the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

But all writers, word buffs, and sane people must doff their hats to the man who raised the lipogram to unimagined heights. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ernest Vincent Wright, who wrote an entire 50,000 word novel without once using the letter "E." 

The novel is called Gadsby, and although it's quite rare, you can read it all online thanks to Spineless Books. Here's how it begins:

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.
The mind boggles. As a writer, I can't even imagine the process of creating an entire novel with such a remarkable and random limitation. I'd get five paragraphs in, and then wonder "I'm doing this ... why?" Of course, it's a completely pointless exercise, but it's a mightily impressive pointless exercise. It's like someone making a model of the QE2 out of toothpicks: you're simply in awe of all that misplaced effort. 


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