Lost Generation

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The "Lost Generation" is a term used to refer to the generation, actually an age cohort, that came of age during World War I. The term was popularized by Ernest Hemingway who used it as one of two contrasting epigraphs for his novel, "The Sun Also Rises." In that volume Hemingway credits the phrase to Gertrude Stein, who was then his mentor and patron.

In "A Movable Feast," which was published after Hemingway and Stein had had a famous feud and fallen apart, and indeed after they were both dead, Hemingway reveals that the phrase was actually originated by the garage owner who repaired Stein's car. When a young mechanic failed to repair the car in a way satisfactory to Stein the owner had shouted at him, "You are all a generation perdue." [1] Stein, in telling Hemingway the story added, "That is what you are. That's what you all are...All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation." [2]

The term therefore cannot and does not refer to all of the expatriate artists who lived in Paris after WWI. It clearly, as is seen from the original quote as reported by Hemingway, refers to his generation, those who were members of the age classes which were called to duty in the "Great War." This generation included distinguished artists such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Waldo Peirce, Alan Seeger, and, Erich Maria Remarque. It has alternately been used to describe the generation which participated in the Cultural Revolution in China.


In literature

The term originated with Gertrude Stein who, after being particularly impressed by the skills of a young car mechanic, asked the garage owner where the young man had been trained. The garage owner told her that young men were easy to train, it was those in their mid-twenties to thirties, those men who had been through WWI, who the garage owner considered a "lost generation" – une génération perdue.[3]

The 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises popularized the term, as Hemingway used it as an epigraph. The Sun Also Rises epitomized the post-war expatriate generation,[4] which according to Hemingway biographer and scholar Jeffrey Meyers, is "recognized as Hemingway's greatest work".[5] However, Hemingway himself later wrote to his editor Max Perkins that the "point of the book" was not so much about a generation being lost, but that "the earth abideth forever"; he believed the characters in The Sun Also Rises may have been "battered" but were not lost.[6]

In his memoir A Moveable Feast he writes "I tried to balance Miss Stein's quotation from the garage owner with one from Ecclesiastes." A few lines later, recalling the risks and losses of the war, he adds: "I thought of Miss Stein and Sherwood Anderson and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought 'who is calling who a lost generation?'"

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