Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright

Not an “E-book” | From Wikipedia

I’ve read this lipogram novel called Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright. It is a 50,000-word novel without the most used letter in the English orthography—letter E. I’ve read this compelling novel out of curiosity—of course, I already know that there’s no letter E hiding in the story but I want to know how the author managed to write this novel without breaking the grammatical and lexical rules.

Because of the fact that the author can’t use the letter E, expect a lot of synonyms here. There are no “the” and “-ed” words. Also, the author practiced descriptive narration since his alphabet is limited. It’s amusing how he talks about a simple thing in a long way. Of course, he’s avoiding that letter E so there’s no choice but to lengthen some descriptions!

Check out how the author descriptively talked about fireworks:

“As twilight was turning to dusk, boys in an adjoining lot shot skyward a crashing bomb, announcing a grand illumination as a fitting climax for so glorious a day; and thousands sat on rock-walls, grassy knolls, in cars or at windows, with a big crowd standing along curbs and crosswalks. Myriads of lights of all colors, in solid balls, sprays, sparkling fountains, and bursts of glory, shot, in criss-cross paths, up and down, back and forth, across a star-lit sky; providing a display without a par in local annals.”

Words he used as substitutes to words with letter E:

  • Hand-clasps – handshakes
  • Anti-soporific condition – sleepy
  • Gnus – wildebeest
  • Simian – monkey
  • Physiognomy – facial feature or facial expression
  • Astonishing loaf of culinary art – cake
  • “So sorry, old chap” party – Bachelor Party
  • A big cousin of Old Jumbo – elephant
  • Thanksgiving National Bird – turkey
  • Sharp food grains – rice
  • Old woman – wife (The author explained that the term “old woman” is common among Irish folks)
  • Big Pathway known in Sunday School as ‘Our Straight But Narrow Way’ – Heaven
  • “…with angrily clanging gongs, or high-pitch whistlings obtaining a ‘right of way’ through all traffic…” – ambulance
  • “…two big brown baby orbs starting to grow moist…” – crying kid; with orbs referring to eyes
  • Black rings around his laughing orbs – hollowed or tired eyes, maybe as a result of crying, sadness or lack of sleep; or, eye bags
  • Morning Post – newspaper
  • Microscopic “bug” of prodigious hopping ability finds at a dog show – I guess the author refers to fleas here
  • A “big gang” of that amusing, tiny mimic always found accompanying hand-organs – referring to an animal I can’t figure out.

The Story

The book is about a humble town called Branton Hills. John Gadsby, the main character, is a resident of this town and he dreams that one day, his town will become as developed and as beautiful as the ones surrounding it. He did not wait for that someday to come, instead, he made that someday today! He firmly believes that the youth, though still unripe at age, can offer something and have the capacity to be the drivers of change and wisdom if only adults would believe in them and give them a chance. Gadsby became that adult by establishing a Youth Organization.

Gadbsy and his organization started some small projects like in agriculture where they used the earnings from the crops to support other projects. The youth also started helping senior citizens in their chores and needs; assisted schoolchildren by tutoring; and, offered free bus rides to the townspeople. From its humble beginnings, Gadsby and the Youth Organization became key figures in making the town a city! Branton Hills became a developed community with a museum, schools, nursing home, hospital, airport, park, gymnasium, and even a zoo—all because of the Youth Organization and now-Mayor Gadsby.

The Message

Branton Hills is a place of clean politics, good governance, good public service, united and harmonious citizenry and community, and a promising youth. Branton Hills is a utopia. It speaks to us that if a government knows how to reach out to the public, the public will cooperate with their projects; if a government is transparent and only wants to be of service to the people, the people will be willing to share something for the success of a project which in turn will benefit the whole community; and, if a government knows how to work without politics, then the community will do all its best to protect a town where utopia is not an idea but a reality.

Quotations (All long and no Letter Es!)

On Work:

“For mankind knows hardly a joy which will surpass that of approval of his work.” 

On Animals:

“I just can’t think of anybody abusing an animal; nor of allowing it to stay around, sick, hurt or hungry. I think that an animal is but a point short of human; and, having a skin varying but slightly from our own, will know as much pain from a whipping as would a human child. A blow upon any animal, if I am within sight, is almost as a blow upon my own body. You would think that, with that vast gap which Mankind is continually placing back of him in his onward march in improving this big world, Man would think, a bit, of his pals of hoof, horn and claw.” 

“Oh, how an animal that is hurt looks up at you, John! An animal’s actions can inform you if it is in pain. It don’t hop and jump around as usual. No. You find a sad, crouching, cringing, small bunch of fur or hair, whining, and plainly asking you to aid it. It isn’t hard to find out what is wrong, John; any man or woman who would pass by such a sight, just isn’t worth knowing. I just can’t withstand it! Why, I think that not only animals, but plants can know pain. I carry a drink to many a poor, thirsty growing thing; or, if it is torn up I put it kindly back, and fix its soil up as comfortably as I can. Anything that is living, John, is worthy of Man’s aid.” 

“Now just a word about zoos. Many folks think that animals in a zoo know no comforts; nothing but constant fright from living in captivity. Such folks do not stop to think of a thing or two about an animal’s wild condition. Wild animals must not only constantly hunt for food, but invariably fight to kill it and to hold it, too; for, in such a fight, a big antagonist will naturally win from a small individual. Thus, what food is found, is also lost; and hunting must go on, day by day, or night by night until a tragic climax—by thirst or starvation. But in a zoo, food is brought daily, with facility for drinking, and laid right in front of hoofs, paws or bills. For small animals, roofs and thick walls ward off cold winds and rain; and so, days of calm inactivity, daily naps without worrying about attack; and a carting away of all rubbish and filth soon puts a zoo animal in bodily form which has no comparison with its wild condition. Lack of room in which to climb, roam or play, may bring a zoo animal to that condition known as “soft”; but, as it now has no call for vigor, and its fighting passions find no opportunity for display, such an animal is gradually approaching that condition which has brought Man, who is only an animal, anyway, to his lofty point in Natural History, today. Truly, with such tribulations, worry, and hard work as Man puts up with to obtain his food and lodging, a zoo animal, if it could only know of our daily grind, would comfortably yawn, thankful that Man is so kindly looking out for it. With similar animals all around it, and, day by day, just a happy growth from cub-hood to maturity, I almost wish that I was a zoo animal, with no boss to growl about my not showing up, mornings, at a customary hour!” 

On Youth and Childhood:

“If you can’t find any fun during childhood, you naturally won’t look for it as you grow up to maturity. You will grow ‘hard,’ and look upon fun as foolish. Also, if you don’t furnish fun for a child, don’t look for it to grow up bright, happy and loving. So, always put in a child’s path an opportunity to watch, talk about, and know, as many good things as you can.” 

“Affairs which look small or absurd to a full-grown man may loom up as big as a
mountain to a child; and you shouldn’t allow a fact that you saw a thing ‘so much that I am sick of it,’ to turn you away from an inquiring child. You wasn’t sick of it, on that far-past day on which you first saw it.” 

“All that did a big lot toward showing Youth that this big world is ‘not half bad,’ if adults will but watch, aid, and coach. And I will not stand anybody’s snapping at a child! Particularly a tiny tot. If you think that you must snap, snap at a child so big as to snap back. I don’t sanction ‘talking back’ to adults, but, ha, ha!”

“But that did no harm, and a sad young mind found a way to match things up with an antagonist. Now, just stand a child up against your body. How tall is it? Possibly only up to your hip. Still, a man,—or an animal thinking that it is a man—will slap, whip, or viciously yank an arm of so frail, so soft a tiny body! That is what I call a coward!! By golly! almost a criminal! If a tot is what you call naughty, (and no child voluntarily is,) why not lift that young body up onto your lap, and talk—don’t shout—about what it just did? Shouting gains nothing with a tot. Man can shout at Man, at dogs, and at farm animals; but a man who shouts at a child is, at that instant, sinking in his own muck of bullyism; and bullyism is a sin, if anything in this world is. Ah Youth! You glorious dawn of Mankind! You bright, happy, glowing morning Sun; not at full brilliancy of noon, I know, but unavoidably on your way! Youth! How I do thrill at taking your warm, soft hand; walking with you; talking with you; but, most important of all, laughing with you! That is Man’s pathway to glory. A man who drops blossoms in passing, will carry joy to folks along his way; a man who drops crumbs will also do a kindly act; but a man who drops kind words to a sobbing child will find his joy continuing for many a day; for blossoms will dry up; crumbs may blow away; but a kind word to a child may start a blossom growing in that young mind, which will so far surpass what an unkindly man might drop, as an orchid will surpass a wisp of grass. Just stop a bit and look back at your footprints along your past pathway. Did you put many humps in that soil which a small child might trip on? Did you angrily slam a door, which might so jolt a high-strung tot as to bring on nights and nights of insomnia? Did you so constantly snarl at it that it don’t want you around? In fact, did you put anything in that back-path of yours which could bring sorrow to a child? Or start its distrust of you, as its rightful guardian? If so, go back right now, man, and fix up such spots by kindly acts from now on. Or, jump into a pond, and don’t crawl out again!! For nobody wants you around!” 

“If you would only stop rating a child’s ability by your own; and try to find out just what ability a child has, our young folks throughout this big world would show a surprisingly willing disposition to try things which would bring your approbation. A child’s brain is an astonishing thing. It has, in its construction, an astounding capacity for absorbing what is brought to it; and not only to think about, but to find ways for improving it. It is today’s child who, tomorrow, will, you know, laugh at our ways of doing things.” 

“Now this is a most satisfactory and important thing to think about, for brutality will not,—cannot,—accomplish what a kindly disposition will; and, if folks could only know how quickly a “balky” child will, through loving and cuddling, grow into a charming, happy youth, much childish gloom and sorrow would vanish; for a man or woman who is ugly to a child is too low to rank as highly as a wild animal; for no animal will stand, for an instant, anything approaching an attack, or any form of harm to its young. But what a lot of tots find slaps, yanks and hard words for conditions which do not call for such harsh tactics! No child is naturally ugly or “cranky.” And big, gulping sobs, or sad, unhappy young minds, in a tiny body should not occur in any community of civilization. Adulthood holds many an opportunity for such conditions. Childhood should not.” 

“Youth!! Ah, what a word!! And how transitory! But, how grand! as long as it lasts. How many millions in gold would pour out for an ability to call it all back, as with our musical myth, Faust. During that magic part of a child’s growth this world is just a gigantic inquiry box, containing many a topic for which a solution is paramount to a growing mind. And to whom can a child look, but us adults? Any man who “can’t stop now” to talk with a child upon a topic which, to him is “too silly for anything,” should look back to that day upon which that topic was dark and dubious in his own brain. A child who asks nothing will know nothing. That is why that “bump of inquiry” was put on top of our skulls.” 

“Youth, if adults will only admit that it has any brains at all, will stand out, today, in a most promising light. Philosophically, Youth is Wisdom in formation, and with many thoughts startling to adult minds; and, industrially, this vast World’s coming stability is now, today, in its bands; growing slowly, as a blossom grows from its bud. If you will furnish him with a thorough schooling, you can plank down your dollar that Youth, starting out from this miraculous day, will not lag nor shirk on that coming day in which old joints, rusty and crackling, must slow down; and, calling for an oil can, you will find that Youth only, is that lubrication which can run Tomorrow’s World.” 

On Humans:

 “Isn’t it surprising what an array of things a woman can drag forth, burrowing into attics, rooms and nooks! Things long out of mind; an old thing; a worn-out thing; but it has lain in that room, nook or bag until just such a riot of soap and scrubbing brush brings it out. And, as I think of it, a human mind could, and should go through just such a ransacking, occasionally; for you don’t know half of what an accumulation of rubbish is kicking about, in its dark, musty corridors. Old fashions in thoughts; bigotry; vanity; all lying stagnant. So why not drag out and sort all that stuff, discarding all which is of no valuation? About half of us will find, in our minds, a room, having on its door a card, saying: “It Was Not So In My Day.” Go at that room, right off. That “My Day” is long past. “Today” is boss, now. If that “My Day” could crawl up on “Today,” what a mix-up in World affairs would occur! Ox cart against aircraft; oil lamps against arc lights! Slow, mail information against radio! But, as all this stuff is laid out, what will you do with it? Nobody wants it. So I say, burn it, and tomorrow morning, how happy you will find that musty old mind!”

“A man thinks all dust stays outdoors.” 

“If you want to hold a crowd, just mystify it.” 

“But you know that any showing of such an innovation is apt to start gossip. Just why, I don’t know. It, though, is a trait of Mankind only. Animals don’t ‘bloom’ out so abruptly. You can hunt through Biology, Zoology or any similar study, and find but slow, -awfully slow,— adaptations toward any form of variation. Hurrying was not known until Man got around.” 

“As you turn into a daddy, soon now, you’ll find that, on marrying, a man and woman start actually living.” 

“By slow, thoughtful watching, you can gain much, as against working up a wild, panicky condition.” 

“A man should so carry on his daily affairs as to bring no word of admonition from anybody; for a man’s doings should put a stain upon no soul but his own.” 

“Just stop and think a bit. All such things as bulk, or width, you know by comparison only; comparison with familiar things. So, just for fun, go up in an imaginary balloon, about half way to that old Moon, which has hung aloft from your birth—(and possibly a day or two in addition)— and look down upon your “gigantic” city. How will it look? It is a small patch of various colors; but you know that, within that tiny patch, many thousands of your kind hurry back and forth; railway trains crawl out to far-away districts; and, if you can pick out a grain of dust that stands out dimly in a glow of sunlight, you may know that it is your mansion, your cabin or your hut, according to your financial status. Now, if that hardly shows up, how about you? What kind of a dot would you form in comparison? You must admit that your past thoughts as to your own pomposity will shrink just a bit! All this shows us that could this big World think, it wouldn’t know that such a thing as Man was on it. And Man thinks that his part in all this unthinkably vast Cosmos is important! Why, you poor shrimp! if this old World wants to twitch just a bit and knock down a city or two, or split up a group of mountains, Man, with all his brain capacity, can only clash wildly about, dodging falling bricks.” 

“It is curious why anybody should pooh-pooh a study of fossils or various forms of rocks or lava. Such things grant us our only vision into Natural History’s big book; and it isn’t a book in first-class condition. Far from it! Just a tiny scrap; a slip; or, possibly a big chunk is found, with nothing notifying us as to how it got to that particular point, nor how long ago. Man can only look at it, lift it, rap it, cut into it, and squint at it through a magnifying glass. And,— think about it. That’s all; until a formal study brings accompanying thoughts from many minds; and, by such tactics, judging that in all probability such and such a rock or fossil footprint is about so old. Natural History holds you in its grasp through just this impossibility of finding actual facts; for it is thus causing you to think. Now, thinking is not only a voluntary function; it is an acquisition; an art. Plants do not think. Animals probably do, but in a primary way, such as an aid in knowing poisonous foods, and how to bring up an offspring with similar ability. But Man can, and should think, and think hard and constantly. It is ridiculous to rush blindly into an action without looking forward to lay out a plan. Such an unthinking custom is almost a panic, and panic is but a mild form of insanity” 

 “A human mind was built for contact with similar minds. It should,—in fact,—it must think about what is going on around it; for, if it is shut up in a thick, dark, bony box of a skull, it will always stay in that condition known as “status quo”; and grow up, antagonistic to all surroundings.” 

“That was just grand, John, but I was thinking along a path varying a bit from that. You know that Man’s brain is actually all of him. All parts of his body, as you follow down from his brain, act simply as aids to it. His nostrils bring him air; his mouth is for masticating his food; his hands and limbs furnish ability for manipulation and locomotion; and his lungs, stomach and all inward organs function only for that brain. If you look at a crowd you say that you saw lots of folks: but if you look at a man bathing in a pond; and if that man sank until only that part from his brow upward was in sight, you might say that you saw nobody; only a man’s scalp. But you actually saw a man, for a man is only as big as that part still in sight. Now a child’s skull, naturally, is not so big as a man’s; so its brain has no room for all that vast mass of thoughts which adult brains contain. It is, so to say, in a small room. But, as days and months go by, that room will push its walls outward, and that young brain gradually fill up all that additional room. So, looking for calm, cool thinking in a child is as silly as looking for big, juicy plums amongst frail spring blossoms. Why, oh, why don’t folks think of that? … But God don’t do so; for God knows that, without a tiny hand to hold, a tiny foot to pat, tiny lips to kiss, and a tiny, warm, wriggling body to hug, Man would know nothing but work.” 

On Politics and Government:

“Many such an official, upon winning a foothold in City Hall, thinks only of his own cohorts, and his own gain. So it is not surprising that public affairs grow stagnant. Truly, cannot fathom such minds! I can think of nothing so satisfying as doing public good in as many ways as an official can. Think, for an instant, as to just what a city is. As I said long ago, it is not an array of buildings, parks and fountains. No. A city is a living thing! It is, actually, human; for it is a group of humanity growing up in daily contact; and if officials adopt as a slogan, “all I can do,” and not “all I can grab,” only its suburban boundary can limit its growth.” 

“What a City Council should do, and what it will do, don’t always match up.” 

“In this country, two things stand first in rank: your flag and your mail. You all know what honor you pay to your flag, but you should know, also, that your mail, — just that ordinary postal card—is also important. But a postal card, or any form of mail, is not important, in that way, until you drop it through a slot in this building, and with a stamp on it, or into a mail box outdoors. Up to that instant it is but a common card, which anybody can pick up and carry off without committing a criminal act. But as soon as it is in back of this partition, or in a mail box, a magical transformation occurs; and anybody who now should willfully purloin it, or obstruct its trip in any way, will find prison doors awaiting him. What a frail thing ordinary mail is! A baby could rip it apart, but no adult is so foolish as to do it. That small stamp which you stick on it, is, you might say, a postal official, going right along with it, having it always in his sight.” 

On War:

“Boys, at war, so far away, will naturally droop, both in body and mind, from lack of a particular girl’s snuggling and cuddling.” 

On Love:

“Many a man has known that startling instant in which Dan Cupid, that busy young rascal, took things in hand, and told him that his baby girl was not a baby girl now, and was about to fly away from him. It is both a happy and a sad thrill that shoots through a man at such an instant. Happy and joyous at his girl’s arrival at maturity; sad, as it brings to mind that awkward fact that his own youth is now but a myth; and that his scalp is showing vacant spots. His baby girl in a bridal gown! His baby girl a Matron! His baby girl proudly placing a grandchild in his lap!! It’s an impossibility!! But this big world is full of this kind of impossibility, and will stay so as long as Man lasts.” 

An applause to the author of this novel!

Ernest Vincent Wright | From Goodreads

You can read the novel here or here.


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