A Man Wrote An Entire Book Without The Letter ‘E’

“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance. As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.” —Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

In A Nutshell

You may not be overly familiar with an American author named Ernest Vincent Wright, but he once pulled off one of the greatest literary accomplishments conceivable. It was also one of the most peculiar self-imposed challenges you can imagine, as he penned an entirely novel of more than 50,000 words without once using a word that contained the most common letter in English, the humble “e.”

The Whole Bushel

One of the most famous literary challenges in history was when Dr. Seuss received a challenge from his publisher that he could only use 50 words to write an entire book. That’s all well and good, and it’s a tough challenge, to be sure. However, Ernest Vincent Wright would no doubt scoff, as he challenged himself to pen an entire 50,000 word novel without once using the letter “e.”

What’s more, he somehow managed to pull it off. The final product was Gadsby, which is about a man named, well, Gadsby, who tries to save his city with the help of a youth group. Yeah, Gadsby isn’t exactly, well, “Gatsby” but what do you expect from a self-published book with such insanely rigid writing constraints? It took Wright nearly six months to complete the work, and in his introduction pages he mentions how coming up with the numerous challenges that came up along the way.

One of the biggest challenges faced was replacing pronouns, since it’s tough to write a sentence, let alone a novel, without words like “he” or “she” or “her” and so forth. Additionally, he was forced to find ways to work around using past tense words that typically end in “-ed” which, as you might imagine, is more than a little tricky.

Still, Wright did manage to come up with 50,110 words and a full story without any cheats, making it one of the most successful lipograms in the history of writing. Wright self-published the book in 1939, though as anyone who has self-published before can relate, the book didn’t receive much attention, and even the attention it did get was merely to talk about whether it was some stunt. The novel was read primarily by people scouring it to find any slip-ups or cheats, so convinced were they that Wright simply must have used them.

The entire novel is available online to read for free, as it entered the public domain in 1968. It’s a good thing, too, as the warehouse that contained the majority of the copies burned down, destroying enough of the books that it has since become a rare book collector’s prize, with copies being valued at thousands of dollars due to their scarcity.

At the end of the day, of course, it remains a truly spectacular accomplishment. After all, “e” is the most commonly used letter in the English alphabet, with more than 11 percent of all words in the Oxford dictionary containing at least one “e.”

Show Me The Proof

Oxford Dictionaries: What is the frequency of the letters of the alphabet in English?
Bookride: Gadsby
Gadsby, Ernest Vincent Wright

  • 0EJA

    This entire article, except for the author’s name, was written without the letters J, K, Q, X, or Z. This is not surprising, though, as if you add V to these you have the six least commonly used letters int he English alphabet. V was only used twice anyway.

    • HanNorwood

      K was actually used several times. You are right about the rest though.

    • EvaAllard

      K was used 13 times give or take one. J was used once. X was used 4 times. Z was used once. V was used way more than just twice.

  • mo

    Someone also wrote an entire article about a book without so much as telling us if it was good. Anyone can write a book without the letter E. Is it any good though?

    • SelfieOlympics

      I think people like you, the ones who post on KN at least, purposely choose the asshole route when commenting these articles.

      He didn’t need to state if the book was good. Look at the topic sentence and title: the readers attention is focused solely on this guy writing a book without using the letter E. That’s the basis for his article and he delivered. There was no thesis present anticipating if the book was good or not.

      The book was cited so that the reader can check it out for themselves. Stop being lazy and go read it. The writer did his job. Great article.

    • mofo

      anyone? perhaps you should have written your sentence without the letter “e” just to comprehend the complexities involved with writing a NOVEL with those resistrictions.

    • NJB

      that’s like going to an ice-show where the skaters duct tape one of their legs up… it might be impressive, but it probably won’t be good….

  • Marozia

    Good for him!

  • sbw

    Considering we have a President who has run an entire country for 5 years without a brain cell, I find this quite a mundane accomplishment in comparison.

    • lbatfish

      ” . . . a 21st century President who ran an entire country for 8 years without a brain cell . . . “

      There . . . fixed it!

  • NJB

    Yawn… So what?! More dumb posts again. I am not happy with this rubbish blog and it’s ridiculous amount of sucking-up paid to common hacks. Wooo hooo, tough! A guy can author a friggin hardback book without using a dumb non-consonant that most folks hit way too quickly during normal writing anyway! Big whoop! I can’t hold this author against his own hard work but I doubt that pardoning a non-important, archaic, backwards-3-looking brick of a symbol could turn a boring story into a work of art… and if it’s boring, it’s junk… and if it’s junk, I don’t want to slush through this trash just to find a good story on a Friday night with my PC. I would want to play with my cat and turn off my PC if you had said I was gonna find a load of BS about stupid authors I don’t know anyway. Any book should hold it’s own against a full-bound top-sold book which contains normal writing. If you can’t fart out books using old ways, don’t try to add to a story by subtracting. If any of you do not concur that this is hogwash, I look forward to conflict via this post. Only you must do as I… You must omit!!!

    • NJB

      But seriously, cool piece… i was just trying to do the above comment without Es…. it came out negative….

      • I had to edit my comment at least six times and I’m still not certain if there is not an e in there somewhere. Reminds me of a story about a poet who wanted to write an epic poem using only the word ‘Dog’. Gotta love a challenge.

        • rj berger

          its not that hard to figure out. press “ctrl–>f (“command” f for mac)”. type “e” and it shows every “e” or whatever letter/word/number, symbol you type

    • No way. My human brain is not in that class, to quote Gadsby. Fair is fair, is anyone looking forward to translating this ‘classic’ to Dutch? Spanish? Danish? Russian? A highschool pupil from a big city? A pro author should and could. Go, improve it, go. You’ll find it difficult, but you’ll gain much sympathy .

      Grammar Lady, is this Okay? lol

    • Kris

      Good job not using ‘e’ in your comment. Clever.

    • master

      You chose to read the article. I suggest you make decisions that make you happy in life and not put down the hard working person that created this blog. Maybe go try making your own blog. It could be fun.

  • Can it be read on an E-reader?

    • lbatfish

      Technically, yes. However, all that you can see are blank pages, for some reason.

      • Wright, back in his day, took out that popular short sound by simply tying it down on his typing piano. How
        to do such a thing nowadays, on an I-pad, Samsung – or that saint Jobs-brand – what programming skills it claims! Is it still fun? Or just plain awkward?

        • lbatfish

          My strategy for making sure no “e”s ended up in the result would be to do a search-and-replace in which “e” was replaced with nothing. The words that used to contain an “e” would usually end up being non-real words and picked up by the spell-checker, so that they could be seen and replaced later on.

          On the topic of wildly-innovative Apple hardware, I offer you this vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BnLbv6QYcA

  • Hannah Harrison

    His one flaw….His name starts with E

  • CarlT

    George Perec wrote a book in French that did not use the letter ‘e’ and when it was translated into English as A Void – the translator kept to the restriction of not using the letter ‘e’ also . the book appeared in 1969 so I think this predates the example above

    • Joejoe4490

      And furthermore, “la disparition” by georges perec is 78 000 words long, which is longer than this english book.

  • Patrick Marsh

    This is amazing but the whole “Buffalo” thing being an entire valid sentence still makes little to no sense to me. how one word in repitition can be a sentence is just…my brain just hurts thinking about it.

  • I like the article

  • Fabula Fatalis

    Um… sorry to inform you, but if you take a quick look at the “full text” version, you will easily notice that there actually are some “e”s. For example once in the word “officers” and several times in the word “the”. Did nobody ever actually CHECK for “e”s? I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed…

    List:
    Page 22: “die” – though that one was probably accidental, since I guess he inteded to type “did”. Yet it proves his story of “tying down the “e” type bar to prevent “e”s from “slipping in”” was a lie. And a rather obvious one, too.
    Page 51: “THE boys” – now, that one was clearly not accidental.
    Page 54: “eluding”
    Page 103: “THE crowd” – again, I strongly doubt this was a mistake.
    Page 124: “THE pair”
    Page 213: “patrol officers”

    “Note : Not a word containing the letter “E” has appeared in this story of over 50,000 words.”
    Nope, that’s wrong. “Sorry, I’m so sorry, seems [he’s] not that clever after all.”

    • Scott Hess

      I’m sorry, but you are wrong. I see the site you went to, in which there are several words in there with E’s. Unfortunately, there are several words with zeroes as well. Such out 0ur, y0u, and many others. This is a less than perfect reprinting of Wright’s work. If you were to check an actual copy of it (which there a plenty available on the internet, or… right here, yes, on my shelf.)

      Page 22: Naturally any man is happy at a satisfactory culmination of his plans and so, as Gadsby found that public philanthropy was but an affair of plain, ordinary approach, it did not call for much brain work to find that, possibly also, a way might turn up for putting handicraft instruction in Branton Hills’ schools; for schooling, according to him, did not consist only of books and black-boards.
      Page 51: So I will bring forth such bright and loyal girls as Doris Johnson, Dorothy Fitts, Lucy Donaldson, Marian Hopkins, Priscilla Standish, Abigail Worthington, Sarah Young, and Virginia Adams. Among our boys, cast a fond look upon Arthur Rankin, Frank Morgan, John Hamilton, Paul Johnson, Oscar Knott and William Snow; as smart a bunch of Youth as you could find in a month of Sundays.
      Page 54: It is foolish, say, to install a class in Astronomy, for although it is a Night School, its pupils’ thoughts might not turn toward Mars, Saturn or shooting stars; but shorthand, including training for typists amongst adults who, naturally don’t go to day schools, is most important, today; also History and Corporation Law; and I know that a study of Music would attract many.
      Page 103: 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?
      Page 124:But Nina Adams saw it; and, calling for aid in carrying Virginia indoors, put in a frantic
      call for old Doc Wilkins, an old, long-ago school pal, who found Nina frantic from not knowing Virginia’s condition, nor why that pair of youths shot madly away without calling anybody.
      Page 213: His Honor was out of town; but on landing at our railroad station, and finding patrol cars drawn up at City Park, saw, in that crowd’s midst, a tiny girl, of about six, with a bunch of big shouting officials, asking:-
      “Who took that baby?”

      So as you see, no E’s present. I am sorry for the confusion.
      Enjoy some of these excerpts from a truly creative novel!

  • dr_mabeuse

    Couldn’t that author find anything better to do with his time? What a monumental triviality.