Lost Generation refers to a group of writers who came of age during World War I and dealt with the social changes the war brought.
The term is also used to refer to a group of American expatriates living in Paris in the 20s. It was there, with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, that the term came into being. Specifically, the Lost Generation includes writers born between 1883 and 1900.
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Definition and Explanation of Lost Generation
The term was coined by Gertrude Stein and popularized by Ernest Hemingway. The former, according to Hemingway, heard someone at a garage use the French phrase “génération perdu” to refer to the younger generation. Hemingway remembers Stein turning to him and saying, “You are all a lost generation.” The phrase appears as the epigraph to The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. See the examples below for why The Sun Also Rises is a great example of this period of literature.
What Does “Lost Generation” Mean?
The phrase “lost generation” was used to refer to this group of writers because of the time period in which they were born. They came into a world with a set of values that were no longer relevant after WWI. They were supposedly “lost” in that the normal path through life prior to WWI no longer seemed relevant. This period of changed corresponded with literary modernism.
Who Were the Lost Generation of Writers?
Writers in the Lost Generation, who sought out a new kind of life, some by moving abroad and others as they dealt with a world ravaged by war and the loss of hope, included:
- Gertrude Stein
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Ernest Hemingway
- T.S. Eliot
- Ezra Pound
- Jean Rhys
- Sylvia Beach
- Archibald MacLeish
- Hart Crane
- E.E. Cummings
- John Dos Passos
Examples of Lost Generation Poems
This short piece is one of Pound’s best. It is also usually cited as his most famous and as the perfect example of what Imagism, a movement he pioneered, was based around. It is only two lines long and describes a crowd of faces at a metro stop accompanied by powerful and strange imagery. Some other wonderful Ezra Pound poems are: ‘Salutation,’ ‘The Encounter,’ and ‘A Pact.’
One of the less famous writers of the period, Hart Crane, was an interesting character who in ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ meditates on the bridge and how it appears at different times of the day. By the end, the bridge becomes a very obvious symbol of modernity, and the new world society is entering into. Another good Hart Crane poem is ‘The Broken Tower.’
This poem is one of Cumming’s best-known. It was published in 1923 in Cummings’ first collection, Tulips & Chimneys. It speaks about a dangerous relationship through a hunting metaphor while also making use of Cumming’s typographic experimentation. Some other interesting E.E. Cummings poems are ‘my father moved through dooms of love,’ ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town,’ and ‘maggie and milly and molly and may.’
T.S. Eliot is one of the most famous writers who is usually associated with the Lost Generation. This poem is a great example of this period of writing. It was published in 1922 and speaks about the First World War using five different speakers in a range of settings. Some other notable T.S. Eliot poems are ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ ‘Ash-Wednesday,’ and ‘Journey of the Magi.’
Examples of Lost Generation Novels
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
As stated above, this novel is intimately tied to the coining of the phrase the “Lost Generation.” It is well-loved for its realism and Hemingway’s ability to capture the mindset and actives of fast-living youths, specifically in Paris, where he and many of the other members of the Lost Generation lived. Interestingly, when speaking about the novel, Hemingway stated that he didn’t believe the characters in his book were lost. Rather, they were “battered” but still centered.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This novel is often cited as one of the last works that read distinctively of the Lost Generation. It was published in 1934, well into the decade where the style started to slip away. It was also the author’s last novel. The title comes from a John Keats poem, and the book mirrors the story of the author and his wife. Fitzgerald considered it his best novel.
The Lost Generation Literary Themes
The Lost Generation is often remembered for their writings related to the First World War and the broader changes that came over society during and after it. These works are often autobiographical, or at least include some features related to the writer’s life. Another important theme was decadence, as seen in much of Fitzgerald’s work. The death of the American dream is another popular theme. The characters in their novel soften come to conclusions, slowly or more quickly, that life is not what it was described to be.
Related Literary Terms
- Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused on Europe and North America.
- Imagism: a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language.
- Symbolism: the use of symbols to represent ideas or meanings. They are imbued with certain qualities, often only interpretable through context.
- Poem Subject: the main idea, goal, or thing about which the poem is concerned.
- Magic Realism: a genre of fiction writing that is interested in imbuing the modern realistic world with magical, fantastical elements.
- Free Verse: lines are unrhymed, and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But, that doesn’t mean it is entirely without structure.
- Watch: The Lost Generation of Writers Explained
- Watch: Ernest Hemingway, Wrestling with Life
- Listen: E.E. Cummings: Selected Poems