The Lost Generation

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November 15, 2012 by Aaron

“You are all a lost generation.”
– Epigraph, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Among the Canon of Literature, different smaller categories emerge. The Lost Generation is one such smaller piece, or sub-canons, as I will refer to it henceforth. The Lost Generation consists of many well-known authors, many of which are required reading in high schools and colleges around the world. There is a simple reason for this, it’s just damn good literature. It also created a movement, which has extended and changed, shaping the world we have today.

The Lost Generation’s Most Renowned Authors:

Ernest Hemingway – World renowned author and man’s man. While Hemingway wasn’t writing, he was traveling, drinking, hunting, fishing, and starting fights–James Joyce and Hemingway would frequently pick fights in Parisian bars with larger men for the sport. He wrote, among many works, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, winning the Nobel Prize in literature shortly after surviving two plane crashes.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – Hemingway and Fitzgerald were close during their time in Paris. Close enough, even, for Fitzgerald to ask Hemingway to take a look at his penis after a raving insult from his wife Zelda, calling it “too small to please any woman.” Fitzgerald finished four novels in his lifetime, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night, and his most famous work, The Great Gatsby. His last work, The Love of the Last Tycoon was published posthumously. His alcoholism, prevalent since his young adulthood, attributed to his health issues and eventual death in 1940.

Many, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald expatriated to Paris where a thriving arts district was the birthplace of many classics we read today. By the time Hemingway and his young wife were arriving, James Joyce was finishing his manuscript of Ulysses, T.S. Eliot was scrawling his poems in the cafes, Gertrude Stein, already a celebrated author of Three Lives (who insisted she’d coined the term The Lost Generation before Hemingway, which was probably true) had yet to meet Hemingway. She later became the godmother of Hemingway’s son.

On Being Lost:

The Lost Generation designation applies to those young men and women who came of age during World War I. The war had taken its toll on the world, and left a sense of displacement or abjection among the early adults of the era. Throughout the literature of this group came themes of parties, night-life culture, drinking, and fighting. Almost a boyishness trapped in the words written by older, wise men. They were yearning to replace something they had lost, an innocence that could never be replaced.

Their writing was what inspired the beginning of the rebelliousness woven heavily into The Beat Generation’s literature, shortly after these years. The same dejection, felt by a younger crowd, would inspire drug use, changes to the perception of sexuality, and an almost complete refusal of materialism so cherished in American culture.

But Why Read Them Now?

Like I mentioned earlier, its damn good writing. It inspired William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac to shed social norms and live vagrant, hedonistic lives. Without the work of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, America wouldn’t have been ready for the next step in literature. As building blocks, everything written before The Lost Generation is reflected in this work, and everything after will be forever changed because of it.

As a writer (self-proclaimed) it is important to read as much as possible. The purpose is to get ideas, not content, but contextual. If I love Hemingway, perhaps I could add a dash of him, but maybe not so much Charles Dickens. We forge our own styles, but to do so, you must understand what has been done before. This is why The Canon of Literature is so incredibly important: we see the rules so we can eventually break them on our own.

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