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Gadsby

Ernest Vincent Wright. Gadsby. A Story of Over 50.000 Words Without Using the Letter E. Los Angeles, 1939.

A literary curiosity and a legendary rarity. The author E.V. Wright (1872-1939) wrote Gadsby in five and a half months, on a typewriter with the letter 'e' tied down, "so that none of that vowel might slip in, accidentally". He finished his work about the middle of February 1937, and the typescript was illustrated in The Los Angeles Times on 24 March. After seeking a publisher for 2 years Wright finally settled on a vanity press (Wetzel) in LA. It is said that the publication of Gadsby coincided exactly with the author's death on 7 October 1939; however a copy is known with an inscription dated two months earlier and the copyright-deposit copy was received five months later.

From the introduction:

"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 seabirds perched, watching for a passing fish! But when they saw that I had covered 138 pages of typewriter size paper, they slid 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!.."

A book much admired by the Pataphysicians and Oulipans especially Perec and Queneau who both searched for copies. The rarity is due to one of those warehouse fires that frequently occur in the history of unfindable books (Nabokov's Despair, Beckett's Murphy, Moby Dick and Forster's Alexandria to name a few -- enemy action is also a great rarity creator...) Wetzel's novelty warehouse went up in a mighty blaze (a fireman died) along with most copies of the ill fated novel, it was never reviewed and only kept alive by the efforts of a few avant garde French intellectuals and assorted connoisseurs of the odd, weird and zany.

It has been reprinted this century. Perec wrote an e-less book 'La Disparition' (Paris 1969). Possibly in honour of Gadsby it was also 50,000 words. These books with grammatical restrictions are now known 'Lipograms'. Craig Brown's recent book One on One - 101 chance meetings (Proust/ Joyce etc.,) each described in exactly 1001 words is a late Oulipo influenced work, so the tradition goes on...

Perec's work was translated into English sans e's as A Void by Gilbert Adair. Try writing just a paragraph without it - it is horribly hard and you must continually look for odd ways of saying things...[From our sister site Bookride with a few alterations and additions, they also have much on its value - however it is a hard book to find and a hard book to sell especially without a jacket.]

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