Thursday, January 8, 2015

Literary Look: The Lost Generation

I'm back with my third installment of my original series, Literary Look. In this series I will discuss a particular movement in brief detail, highlighting the important figures, places, and works of art that defined the movement.

Previous Installments:
The Beatnik Generation
The Harlem Renaissance

Brace yourselves, this is one of my favorite movements- this is going to be a very lengthy post!

Today's movement is The Lost Generation. This movement spanned from approximately 1920 until 1930. The main cause of this movement was World War I. During WWI many young American men signed up to fight overseas with enthusiasm. Patriotism was running wild and many of the young men had never seen or lived through a war. They rushed to offer their lives and vigor for the good of the world, long before America officially entered the war- and were confronted with the horrible reality of war. Many of those who were lucky enough to have come back felt that their suffering and their friends and brother's deaths were for nothing. No real tangible gains had been made for anyone during the war, and this defeated attitude expressed itself in their art and contributed to the live-in-the-moment carefree attitude of the Jazz Age.

Paris was the hub of the Lost Generation. Although many of the most influential authors from this movement were American, they spent most of the 1920's in Paris, and wrote most of their work there too. Ernest Hemingway would write about his experiences in 1920's Paris shortly before his death in his memoir/essay A Movable Feast. 
Hemingway- far left
Major People and Their Major Works:
Gertrude Stein 

Stein was the first to coin the phrase "Lost Generation" and apply it to the younger generation. She was Ernest Hemingway's mentor and used the phrase within a conversation she had with him. Hemingway then used the sentence, "You are all a lost generation" as an epigraph for his novel The Sun Also Rises. Stein herself belonged to the generation above the lost generation, and was a very interesting women I would love to learn more about (but I digress). One of Stein's most well-known works is her memoir The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which she wrote about her years in Paris in the voice of her partner Alice.  

Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is one of the most well-known members of the Lost Generation, and although I don't particularly care for the way he treated the women in his life, I can not deny that he was a very powerful writer. His biography is quite interesting too. He was married four times, and cheated on almost all of his wives. He was very into nature and masculinity, and was fascinated with bull fighting (which just so happened to combine the previous mentioned elements.) Hemingway would have a long and successful writing career, up until he committed suicide at the age of sixty-one. 

Hemingway is well known for his "Iceberg Theory" of writing. His sentences were simple and often times short (representing the tip of the iceberg) but there was a larger and deeper meaning to all of his works (the unseen, submerged part of the iceberg) and let me tell you. critics still love to debate those meanings to this day. 
Major Works 


A Movable Feast- This is the non-fiction work I mentioned briefly above; it covers Hemingway's experience in Paris in the 1920's. He was very fond of this time and was well acquainted with Fitzgerald and other large literary names at the time. Hemingway wrote continuously while living in Paris with his first wife. He wrote for a newspaper, and worked on what would become The Sun Also Rises.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLean-- This is a fictional, although pretty accurate, novel told through the voice of Hemingway's first wife of their time in Paris. I read this one a while ago and really loved it. This books really captures the tone of Paris in the 20's, and the personality and attitude of Hemingway. I would recommend checking this out if you are interested in Paris or Hemingway. There is another book Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck which is about Hemingway's maid in the 1930's while he was in the Key West, and married to his second wife, but i haven't read it so I can't properly recommend it yet. (Let me know if you have read it.)

The Sun Also Rises-- This is the Hemingway novel that helped to popularize the term "Lost Generation" with it's epigraph (Mentioned above in Stein's section). This novel takes place in Spain and centers around The Running of the Bulls ceremony. The characters are all based on real people that accompanied Hemingway to Spain to see The Running of the Bulls (The Paris Wife features this trip to Spain), but interestingly enough Hemingway decided to leave his wife out of the novel. 

In Our Time-- This is the final Hemingway work I will mention in this post, although he has many more. This is a collection of short stories, and one of his earlier works, that are strung together by vignettes. I really enjoyed this piece by Hemingway and found it very unique and thought provoking.


F. Scott Fitzgerald 

F. Scott Fitzgerald is another interesting author. He and his wife Zelda enjoyed lives of luxury beyond their means, and to support this life and pay his wife's psychiatric bills, Fitzgerald was forced to write a lot of short stories for magazines because they offered a quick turn around. Fitzgerald felt this prevented him from concentrating solely on his novel writing and resented his short stories (which is possibly why some of them are so weird). Another man who probably wasn't very nice to his wife, but has a beautiful writing style. Fitzgerald has written some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. Fitzgerald struggled with alcoholism for much of his life, and would die of a heat attack at the age of forty-one. 

Major Works
Flappers and Philosophers-- This is a collection of Fitzgerald's short stories, and is very representative of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald's most well-known story is most likely The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, which is not in this collection, but is also worth checking out.   

This Side of Paradise-- Fitzgerald's first novel is a semi-autobiographical look at his time at Princeton. This novel offers a great look at the youth in America after WWI, which was the real Lost Generation. Many explain the carefree and reckless behavior of the 20's youth as a side effect of the war. 

The Great Gatsby-- Gatsby is arguable the American novel, and is Fitzgerald's most well-known work. If you haven't read this yet, you should immediately. The themes in this book capture the Roarin' Twenties perfectly (if you're not American, or aren't familiar with the Roarin' Twenties, I highly recommend a bit of research before reading this one.) I could talk about this novel for days on end, but I won't- I will just advise you read it as soon as humanly possible.        

T.S. Elliot  and Ezra Pound

Elliot's poem The Wasteland was published in 1922. Many people read this poem as a representation of the disillusionment that accompanied the post-war generation. I've never read anything by Elliot, but I really want to soon. Elliot was close friends with and often exchanged writings with Ezra Pound, who was very active in politics and a poet.

Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies-- If you are familiar with the 1920's, or have read anything by Fitzgerald, I really recommend you check out Vile Bodies. This is a satirical look at the "Bright Young Things" or the youth of the 20's and their total lack of planning for the future. The atmosphere of this book is amazing- and the humor is so witty. There is one page of the book that explained the attitude and reasoning of an entire generation so beautifully and eloquently that it stopped me in my tracks. 

And that's where I'm going to wrap it up for now! I know that was an extremely long post (and I left a lot of things out I would have loved to put in) so thanks for sticking with me.

Leave me any requests for future Literary Looks, and check out my previous ones linked at the top of the post. oh! and leave me your recs. from this era if you have any for me.

Here's a great link to the PBS Literary Movement Timeline if you want more information on literary movements. 


  1. Thanks for writing this, it's really interesting! I have to admit despite studying Literature at university the only authors here I've read are Elliot and Fitzgerald; the modern classics, and especially American Literature, aren't really my forte. In fact the only American classic I've read and enjoyed is Of Mice and Men; I read The Great Gatsby during my A Levels and, sadly, really didn't like it. :\

    I may check out some of Fitzgerald's shorter fiction, though, because I think I'd enjoy that more than his novels. In fact I'd like to check out all of the authors you mentioned - I'm ashamed to say I have yet to read any Hemingway, but given that he wasn't a very good husband I feel less guilty now ;) - and learn more about this literary period. :) I love the '20s history-wise, so it's about time I read some more of the literature of the time!

    Great post, Mallory! :)

    1. Yes! I recommend everything from this period! I feel like those who didn't take twelve years of American history classes in school are really at a disadvantage when it comes to enjoying American Lit since it seems to be so tightly tied to historical events and periods. I would recommend a little research on Gatsby and the 20's, and the American Dream- and then rereading Gatsby- you might change your mind! It truly is an amazing piece of work.

      Hemingway really was a jerk- but I try to separate the art from the artist because you can't deny his talent for story telling.
      thanks for stopping by

  2. You've seen Midnight in Paris right? SO GOOD. I love that books The Paris Wife. Great post. :)

    1. I Haven't! I NEED to! I'm going to buy it like right now.
      thanks for stopping by!