I recently began reading Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. In it, Hemingway and his contemporary Americans are described as a ‘lost generation’:

It was when we had come back from Canada and were living in the rue Notre-Dame-des-Chanps and Miss Stein and I were still good friends that Miss Stein made the remark about the lost generation. She had some ignition trouble with the old Model T Ford she then drove and the young man who worked in the garage and had served in the war had not been adept, or perhaps had not been serieux and had been corrected severely by the patron of the garage after Miss Stein’s protest. The patron had said to him, ‘You are all a generation perdue.’

’That’s what you are. That’s what you all are,’ Miss Stein said, ‘All of you young people who served in the war. You are all a lost generation.’

’Really?’ I said.

’You are,’ she insisted. ‘You have no respect for anything. You drink yourself to death ...’

’Was the young mechanic drunk?’ I asked.

’Of course not.’

’Have you ever seen me drunk?’

’No. But your friends are drunk.’

’I’ve been drunk,’ I said, ‘but I don’t come here drunk.’

’Of course not. I didn’t say that.’

’The boys patron was probably drunk at eleven o’clock in the morning,’ I said. ‘That’s why he makes such lovely phrases.’

’Don’t argue with me, Hemingway,’ Miss Stein said. ‘It does you no good at all. You’re all a lost generation, exactly as the garage-keeper said.’

What does this mean? How does one lose oneself, or even a whole generation? What is it that they have lost? And where did they lose it? In other words, what did Gertrude Stein mean by saying this and what did Hemingway mean by including this exchange and what does it mean in the later context of American history? More broadly, are there any other references to this in Hemingway’s work?


I was surprised to learn that the Lost Generation is a literary term that refers to a number of writers from the post war era, including Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis. It doesn’t really answer my question in the depth that I would like but it does say that Hemingway used the term in the epigraph to his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

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    Please stop tagging this question inappropriately. It's nothing to do with D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature, and is about Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. If you do it again, a mod will probably have to lock the question, which would prevent votes or answers. – Rand al'Thor Feb 19 '19 at 16:07
  • @Rand al’Thor: As you can see the reason why I tagged it as classic American literature has nothing to do with what you think it is but everything to do with where it stands in literature itself. Personally I don’t see the point of tagging when there is a search feature. If you want to add a tag ‘Classic-American-Literature’, I’ll add that in. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 19 '19 at 16:28
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    @MoziburUllah No, we don't use x-literature tags like that: this site has community consensus not to use tags like american-literature. The tag studies-classic-american-literature is for a specific book which is unrelated to your question. In any case you shouldn't be removing the relevant book and author tags. I've reluctantly flagged for a mod to lock your post to prevent further bad edits. – Rand al'Thor Feb 19 '19 at 16:31
  • @Rands al-thor: The above was the tag term I was looking for but the only remotely close term was the tag that I did add in. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 19 '19 at 16:34
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    I'm not sure if the Lost Generation is worth a tag (it's not primarily a literary term), but you do have enough rep here to create tags yourself. And yes, DH Lawrence titled a book that, and that's what the tag is for. – Rand al'Thor Feb 19 '19 at 16:44

This referred to a lack of purpose and drive which was a consequence of having witnessed pointless death on such a huge scale.

In the aftermath of the war there arose a group of young persons known as the "Lost Generation." The term was coined from something Gertrude Stein witnessed the owner of a garage saying to his young employee, which Hemingway later used as an epigraph to his novel The Sun Also Rises (1926): "You are all a lost generation." This accusation referred to the lack of purpose or drive resulting from the horrific disillusionment felt by those who grew up and lived through the war, and were then in their twenties and thirties. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.
- Lost Generation - Writers Inspire

As the OP mentions in the question this term also exists in literature and refers to some writers and poets and authors who lived during this era.

In literature, the "Lost Generation" refers to a group of writers and poets who were men and women of this period. All were American, but several members emigrated to Europe. The most famous members were Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Eliot.
- Lost Generation - Writers Inspire

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