Word Nerd: The “no-E” novel
Believe it or not, there’s a 50,000-word novel that doesn’t contain a single letter ‘e’ in it, beyond the cover or the introduction explaining the constraints of the project.
The novel is called, “Gadsby” and it was published in 1939 to prove the point that it could be done. And Ernest Vincent Wright did just that.
Wright first thought to try writing a book without the letter ‘e’ after learning that it’s the most common letter in the English language. He heard that it occurs in books and other writings about five times more often than any other letter on average.
After discussing the idea with friends, he became more excited about the project. Almost everyone told him it couldn’t be done without being a total train wreck of a mess. They said he would have to throw out grammar and make a habit of creating awkward sentences.
Self-Published & Unlucky
Unable to find a publisher to put out such a gimmicky book, Write published it himself with a vanity press based in Los Angeles.
At that point, he ran into a bit of bad luck. First, the Wetzel Publishing Co. Warehouse caught fire. It destroyed most of that initial print run. Most, but not all of that first edition. Even severely damaged copies that survived the incident tend to fetch $4-5,000. Stop trying to make fetch happen, Gretchen!
The story is said to be a bit, ‘middle-of-the-road.’ But he didn’t set out to write amazing literature. He just wanted to see if he could do it. And he did! Wright also accomplished his goal of maintaining proper grammar throughout the book.
Wright’s bragging rights about the project only lasted about two years. That’s because of his untimely death at the age of 67. With few copies left in print and no author to actively promote the work, the novel fell into obscurity. The book is such a unique accomplishment, however, that it is getting a bit of recognition.
There is much to celebrate in this story:
- Mission Accomplished – It’s always inspiring to see others reach their goals. I love that ‘they said it couldn’t be done’ and he proved them wrong.
- Old Guys Rule – He was 65 when he published the first edition. For anyone who thinks they’re too old to do cool things or the time to achieve significant things has passed them by, this should be very encouraging.
- Stigma of ‘Vanity’ is largely gone now – Back when Wright published this book, he had to use a “Vanity Press.” It was a term supposedly coined by Johnathon Clifford, referring to the idea that people who can’t get published except by paying for it themselves (self-publishing) are doing it out of their own vanity.
- Publishing eBooks with print editions – If every physical copy of this novel were lost in that fire, we would only have its legend. But thankfully, enough survived for future readers to be aware of this work. It makes me appreciate the relative ease of today’s back-up and storage methods for digital works. Of course, these methods have issues of their own, but it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come.
- Indie Publishing has come a long way – Publishing electronically is so much easier for authors and readers alike. By referring to self-published authors as ‘indies’, we cut them off from any lingering stigma created by the ‘vanity press’ concept.
There’s “No-E” in Social
FYI: I got the idea for this post from a YouTube video: