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.