The Lost Generation and Gertrude Stein




Gertrude Stein is definitely the mother of this 'Lost Generation', but can we really say that she is an integral part of that generation? Indeed, the more we advance in time, the more we realize that Gertrude Stein continues her own way and developed her own writing style, on her side. During the 1920s and the beginning of the 'Lost Generation', didn't she merely chaperone, at the same time with her own work of author, these young novices in search of renewal and inspiration in Europe?


There are several young literary joining the movement of the 'Lost Generation'. They are called Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William C. Williams, for the most famous of them all and have been influenced by the work and ‘avant-gardiste’ writings of Gertrude Stein.


William C. Williams



William Carlos Williams crossed the path of Gertrude Stein when he began to study the construction of these works and the 'being and speaking Aboriginal'. William admired Stein's ability to play with the American language and words. Stein, like William, turned her gaze toward the object, not a particular American object, but an object that captures only components of colors and shapes, an object  dismantled at the same time with  the sound equipment and graphic the 'describes' is dissected and studied . On the assembly line followed one another the spares that beats fast and accurate as machines handle and assemble. Stein was this machine that would make American writing 'something' that would be like the modern American civilization. William said, speaking of The Making of America, that "Miss Stein makes Americans like Ford. She puts hair on the treadmill and out comes an American. She exposes each wheel, each nut of his life and his daily". According to Stein, being innovative and being American were to become synonymous. It is this relationship idea that inspired Paterson one of William C. Williams’ poems.



Ernest Hemingway



In this same regard, Ernest Hemingway, a great admirer of Gertrude Stein, said in 1948: "It makes us happy to write and she had discovered a way of writing that could be used every day. She could never fail because she instituted her own rules and played with them". Ernest Hemingway was the most emblematic figure of this 'Lost Generation'. Gertrude Stein was his mentor. As already mentioned, Ernest Hemingway is the one who unveiled under the form of an anecdote the term of 'Lost Generation' which Gertrude Stein had told him. Ernest Miller Hemingway, better known under the name of as Ernest Hemingway, is born July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, USA. In 1918, he joined the Italian Red Cross and went to Paris in June 1918. There he met Gertrude Stein who could help the young writer up the rungs of a career and she introduced him to the expatriate artists and writers of the Montparnasse Quarter. The First WORLD WAR had a profound impact on him, as he was an ambulance driver during the war. The 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises popularized the term of ‘Lost Generation’, as Hemingway used it as an epigraph. Due to the book’s tremendous success, the success of the sentence was guaranteed. The Sun Also Rises epitomized the post-war expatriate generation. The plot centers on a group of expatriate Americans and Britons in continental Europe during the 1920s. The people he wrote about had survived the WWI, he did as himself. The story epitomizes the post-war expatriate generation for future generations. In this book, as in some of Gertrude Stein’s books, Hemingway gives a great part to America. Indeed the American West is given a symbolic nod with the naming of ‘Hotel Montana’ (“The taxi stopped at the curb. I saw the sign HOTEL MONTANA on the second floor” - p 240. ‘The Sun also Rise – Ed. The Scribner Library) referring to Montana States even if though they are in Spain. In 1924, thanks to Hemingway, excerpts from The Making of Americans, by Gertrude Stein, are published in the Transatlantic Review. The next year, the full version is published. However, Hemingway eventually withdrew from Stein's influence and their relationship deteriorated into a literary quarrel that spanned decades. He committed a suicide in 1961, leaving the greatest books of the century.






We can’t talk about the Lost Generation without introducing F. Scott Fitzgerald. Born in 1896 in Saint Paul, he is, according to a lot of critics, considered as the leader of the literary movement. F. Scott Fitzgerald published in 1920 This Side of Paradise. This book is writen in divided into three parts and shows the young generation of the 1920's masking their general depression behind the forced exuberance of the Jazz Age. This book is emblematic of the period of the 'Lost Generation'. We see the main character, Amory Blaine, evolve in an environment in which he feels safe, in which he trusts till all his projects and ambitions are thwarted by events. We feel the main character's ill-being of that time: "Life was a damned muddle . . . a football game with every one off-side and the referee gotten rid of--every one claiming the referee would have been on his side." The protagonist of the book is clearly the author. Both are from the Midwest, studied at Princeton, lived a short romance with a debutante and served in the army before going through one more disappointing relationship with another sentimental young debutante. This new piece of information allows us to clearly confirm that Fitzgerald was a complete writer of the 'Lost Generation'. Indeed, even in the texts written by the authors of 'Lost Generation', the darkest there is a specific theme which emerges and which is almost always closely autobiographical (individual identity, love, eroticism, daily life, Americanisms etc.), which is clearly demonstrated here. In 1925, he published his second book considered his masterpiece : The Great Gatsby, a book often seen as “an early exemplar of the modernist techniques of the Lost Generation”. Gatsby is a rich man, he is important – socially speaking – but all this happiness is an illusion which hides a sad loneliness. Now, what is interesting is the reason of this loneliness : World War I. The war is crucial for Gatsby’s development. He was a soldier ; nobody could tell if he was from upper-class or not, he made some money, built his social life. During the war, he had taken habits that he would not be able to keep when he would come back in America. Gatsby found himself unable to break into the East Egg Society. This contrast between “during the war” and “after the war” is totally characteristic of the Lost Generation. After the war, “decay” is a very recurrent theme in the novel. It is logical as the central topic of The Great Gatsby is the death of the American Dream. The most exemplar is “the valley of ashes”: "This is a valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat…" The place is supposed to be between East and West Egg, besides it has little to do with American landscapes. One can find another characteristic of the Lost Generation in this “jumbled symbolism”. Describing the valley of ashes, Fitzgerald draws a perverted, dying American dream. This very special kind of pessimism can be found in descriptions like this one, but also in the different characters, such as Tom, whose vision of the future is an apocalyptic one : “’Civilization’s going to pieces,’ broke out Tom violently. ‘I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things.” Finally, there is still one theme which will definitely bind the Great Gatsby to the Lost Generation : violence.. Tom’s violence, the cars’ violence, the feelings’ violence, the violence of the end of the book… And this is a selective list. Fitzgerald had opened his eyes and saw – at least thought that he saw – the real America, with its sins and flaws. “Violence is everywhere” is kind of a leitmotiv in the Lost Generation movement. And Fitzgerald is not an exception, he strongly shows “Lost Generation”‘s aspiration, and has done so since his first novel This Side of Paradise.


Through the study of great leaders of each movement of the Lost Generation, we can say that Gertrude Stein has indeed been a great source of inspiration for these young novices. It can be concluded in a first time, that she is much cited as one that has influenced the movement as that actually directly belong to it. 

Indeed, because of her 'avant-gardiste' side, Stein has founded, by herself, this movement in the margins of society. Some critics say that she was always innovative and 'experimental' in her works. Due to her innovative writing, she greatly differs from the authors of her time, which is the primary characteristic of this movement. She was ahead of her own movement even before the authors she had chaperoned came in France. Indeed, her writing is the basis of this movement. Her representative work of this movement is The Making of America. She wrote this piece in the early 20th centuries. As we have already stated above, the movement has to deal with the following themes :

-          self-exile

-          indulgence

-          spiritual alienation

-          and they are mostly autobiographical

When she began to write The Making of America, she had just arrived from America. Stein sought in Paris a liberation from the strictures of the American society that made her feel like an outcast. And that’s what we find in this work. This book is about the history of three generations of two wealthy families. The Dehning and Hersland families’ American history began with their immigrant grandparents’ separate journeys to America. Both families settled in Bridgepoint. Years later, the two families came together when Julia Dehning, who was connected with the old world because she was named after her grandmother, wanted to marry Alfred Hersland. The Making of Americans is a philosophical and poetic meditation on identity, on what it means to be a human living an everyday, mundane life. And as shown earlier (see section on exile), the text tackles the theme of exile and there are autobiographic winks. For example :  Gossols, the Western city that the Hersland family calls home, is said to be a stand-in for the Steins' hometown of Oakland.

Stein began her career with stories of female love triangles: QED (1903) and Fernhurst (1904). QED is a semi-autobiographical account of an affair she had. Indeed, before Stein left America in 1903 for Europe, she had been involved in an agonizing love affair which is recounted in QED. Stein was in love with May BOOKSTAVER, but that love wasn’t mutual. She is named ‘Helen THOMAS’ in the story. Through QED, Gertrude Stein puts herself on stage through Adele who’s a talkative girl and who describes herself as being a man in a female body and who behaves perfectly, reasonably and just : “The whole duty of man consists in being reasonable and just. I know Mabel that you don’t consider that an exact portrait of me but nevertheless it is true. I am reasonable because I know the difference between understanding and not understanding and I am just because I have no opinion about things I don’t understand”. We are there meeting the young and naïve girl, (as she describes herself at that time), Gertrude Stein, who’s trying to have the intention and love of the other one.      

After this highlight episode of her life, she moved to Paris permanently with HER brother Leo. There, she discovered a new genre : the Cubism. Through this group, she began a fruitful relationship with the art and literature of the time. This fascination for Cubism was born from the admiration Stein felt for Picasso. This genre consists in showing an object from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a broader context. In Tender Buttons (1914), Stein joined this kind of 'avant garde' movement, filling the criterion of it. She forces the reading of his short poems fragmented, lacking a center in order to find the object : guitar etc.:




A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The différence is spreading. » (Object – Tender Buttons – Gertrude Stein)

This latest work marks the progress of Gertrude Stein in a new genre although she had just created the 'Lost Generation'. Therefore, we can say that Gertrude Stein is the pioneer of this new movement of the early 20th century, but she doesn't directly take part in it.



Copy of Gertrude Stein's work Tender Buttons

It is this ambiguity that revolves around the character of Gertrude Stein, which has made her an emblematic figure of the 1900s.

Make a free website with - Report abuse