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The Lost Generation in Literature

In his memoir titled A Moveable Feast (1964), Ernest Hemingway recounts how writer Gertrude Stein first heard the term “génération perdue” (directly translated to ‘lost generation’) from her Parisian mechanic. She explained the concept by saying:

"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" (Hemingway).

Hemingway would go on to popularize the term in his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, which tells the semi-autobiographical story of Hemingway and his group of expat friends in Europe between world wars. Stein’s phrase is used as the epigraph in his novel. Coming-of-age during World War I, those of the Lost Generation are characterizes as psychologically ‘damaged’, restless wanderers, and morally corrupt. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains: “The generation was ‘lost’ in the sense that its inherited values were no longer relevant in the postwar world and because of its spiritual alienation from a United States.” Writers explored themes of decadence and self-indulgent lifestyle, the bursting of the American dream, and more fluid gender roles.

Time period: It is generally accepted that those born between 1883 and 1900 were part of the Lost Generation, many of them Americans who served during the First World War. Generally, writers who make up this generation wrote their most enduring works during the 1920s.

Notable events: WWI, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, WWII.

Notable Writers: Ernest Hemingway; Gertrude Stein; F. Scott Fitzgerald; T. S. Eliot; John Steinbeck; Aldous Huxley; James Joyce; Virginia Woolf; J. R. R. Tolkien.

Notable Works:

  • The Sun Also Rises (1926) by Ernest Hemingway

  • The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • “The Waste Land” (1922) by T. S. Eliot

  • Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf


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