Pointless dedication

Take a look at this passage below and see if you notice anything unusual about it.

Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion; a man with boys and girls of his own; a man of so dominating and happy individuality that Youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl. It is a story about a small town. It is not a gossipy yarn; nor is it a dry, monotonous account, full of such customary “fill-ins” as “romantic moonlight casting murky shadows down a long, winding country road.” Nor will it say anything about tinklings lulling distant folds ; robins carolling at twilight, nor any “warm glow of lamplight” from a cabin window. No. It is an account of up-and-doing activity; a vivid portrayal of Youth as it is today; and a practical discarding of that worn out notion that “a child don’t know anything.”

Not notice anything, other than the author’s love affair with quotation marks? That is not a surprise because it is quite subtle. What is noteworthy is that passage does not contain the letter ‘E’ even though in normal English that letter is the most frequently used and occurs roughly 13% of the time. The above paragraph is taken from the 267-page 1939 novel Gadsby written by Ernest Vincent Wright where he avoided that letter entirely.

Such letter avoidance is not that unusual apparently. John R. Pierce in his book An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals, and Noise (1980, p. 48) gives other examples.

Gottlob Burmann, a German poet who lived from 1737 to 1805, wrote 130 poems, including a total of 20,000 words, without once its using the letter R. Further, during the last seventeen years of his or life, Burmann even omitted the letter from his daily conversation.

In each of five stories published by Alonso Alcala y Herrera in Lisbon in 1641 a different vowel was suppressed. Francisco Navarrete y Ribera (1659), Fernando Jacinto de Zurita y Haro (1654), and Manuel Lorenzo de Lizarazu y Berbuizana (1654) provided other examples.

When I read about such people, I have a reaction that wavers between admiration at the dedication and the single-mindedness that such acts require, and bemusement at the sheer pointlessness of it all. Since we knew in advance, in principle, that what they did could be done, there seems to be no reason to do these kinds of things other than to show that there exists someone somewhere willing to spend the time and effort to do it. The Guinness Book of Records seems to consist of a lot of items like this, making it a repository of human pointless dedication.