The phrase “Lost Generation” originates from a conversation Gertrude Stein overheard between a French garage owner and his employee in the early 1920s. While Stein was waiting for her truck to be repaired, the garage’s owner became displeased with the speed at which his employee, a young veteran of World War I, was working. The owner, in the ensuing argument, accused his employee’s generation of being “une génération perdue”—a lost generation. Stein, later recounting the story to Ernest Hemingway, adopted the label “Lost Generation” to describe the young generation that came out of the war (Hemingway, Moveable Feast 29). Hemingway then popularized the label in the epigraph to his first novel, The Sun Also Rises (Cowley 3).
In the years since Stein first applied the label “Lost Generation” to the World War I generation as a whole, the meaning of the term has contracted and now applies to expatriated American writers living in Paris during the 1920s. Various scholars have questioned the utility of such a narrow interpretation of the phrase. Philip Young, in particular, has argued that the Lost Generation understood in this narrow sense only includes e.e. cummings, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway (Monk 1). But since Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Dos Passos’ U.S.A. Trilogy, cummings’ The Enormous Room, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise comprise the key texts of the Lost Generation, a narrow interpretation of the term may be justified.
Lost Generation writers had many defining characteristics, but they may have been most famous for their dismal perceptions of the world, their lives in Paris, and their literature. They believed the world was fraught with failure and hypocrisy, and they saw themselves united “in rebellion against the stuffy people who were misruling the world” (Leland 12 and Cowley 8). Additionally, Lost Generation writers expatriated themselves to Paris after World War I because they saw America as “inhospitable” to art (Monk 28). Following the 1920 crackdown on American radicals under Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the Lost Generation did not feel free to publish in America (Leland 71). Paris, by contrast, offered the freedom to publish, as well as the opportunity for an exciting night life which the Lost Generation would not ignore. In fact, the members of the Lost Generation were dedicated participants in Paris’ night life who were frequently spotted at parties. But whatever else life in Paris may have included for the members of the Lost Generation, they always circled back to writing (Aldridge 3). Part of their writing activities involved starting new literary magazines, including Broom, transition, and This Quarter (Aldridge 13). Although for the most part, the Lost Generation rejected the guidance of previous generations, they tended to listen more to their innovative literary predecessors (Cowley 9). Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, and James Joyce were particularly influential on Lost Generation writers (Bradbury 14).
Over the years, many critics and writers have attempted to interpret why the Lost Generation was “lost.” Most explanations have read World War I as a catalyst for the Lost Generation’s disillusionment. One common explanation is that the war took away all absolute principles (Aldridge 13 and Cowley 9). Ernest Hemingway codifies the idea that the war took away abstract value systems in A Farewell to Arms: “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates” (Hemingway, Sun Also Rises 185). Furthermore, Gertrude Stein writes that René Crevel, was left to define his own principles, “the war having destroyed for his generation” the traditional value systems (Stein 226). Similarly, in Exile’s Return, Malcolm Cowley relates the loss of the pre-war world with the Lost Generation’s alcohol-drenched and party-centered lifestyles. He hypothesizes that the war had destroyed the world in which the Lost Generation was prepared to live and had equipped them instead for a life of travel and excitement. The life of excitement, therefore, was the only way they knew to live (Cowley 9).
The war experience also affected the Lost Generation’s relationship with other generations. Because they had the unique experience of World War I, they felt irreparably disconnected from previous generations, which allowed them to criticize the world from outsiders’ perspectives. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in “The Scandal Detectives,” “the gulf is infinite and unbridgeable” (qtd. in Cowley 7). But at the same time that feelings of separation alienated them from the rest of the world, it tightened their connections with each other, resulting in their proclamations of “kinship with one another” and “separation from older writers” (Cowley 6).
Despite the Lost Generation’s perceived separation from the world, or perhaps because of it, Lost Generation writers found similarities with the writers of the World War II generation. World War II writers “felt an immediate kinship with the Lost Generation, and their work attempted to build upon “the stream of protest” the Lost Generation writers began (Aldridge viii). Ultimately, Lost Generation writers contributed some of the most innovative literary works of the twentieth century to the Modernist canon and strongly influenced the war writers who came after them.Jaclyn Crumbley
- Aldridge, John W. After the Lost Generation: A Critical Study of the Writers of Two Wars. Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
- Bradbury, Malcolm and David Palmer, eds. The American Novel and the Nineteen Twenties. New York: Edward Arnold, 1971.
- Cowley, Malcolm. Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. New York: Viking Press, 1970.
- Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1964.
- Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1995.
- Leland, John. Hip: The History. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
- Monk, Craig. Writing the Lost Generation: Expatriate Autobiography and American Modernism. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008.
- Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. New York: Vintage, 1990.
- Beach, Sylvia. Shakespeare and Company. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.
- Djos, Matts. “Alcoholism in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises: A Wine and Roses Perspective on the Lost Generation.” Hemingway Review 14 (Spring 1995): 64-78.
- Fitch, Noel Riley. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. New York: Norton, 1983.
- MacLeish, Archibald. "Expatriates in Paris." Riders on the Earth: Essays and Recollections. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978.
- Putnam, Samuel. Paris was our Mistress: Memoirs of a Lost and Found Generation. New York: Viking, 1947.
- Tomkins, David. The ‘Lost Generation’ and the Generation of Loss: Ernest Hemingway’s Materiality of Absence and The Sun Also Rises.” Modern Fiction Studies 54 (Winter 2008): 744-765.
- Soto, Michael. "Hemingway among the Bohemias: A Generational Reading of The Sun Also Rises." Hemingway Review 21 (Fall 2001): 5-21.
The Italian Front
On May 23, 1915, nearly a year after the onset of World War I, the nation of Italy – previously neutral – declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thereby opening the four-hundred mile theater of war that would come to be known as the Italian Front. It was a political maneuver for which the Austro-Hungarian Empire was ill-prepared, and the new front helped to divide the armies of the Central Powers between three major foes: the French (aided by the British), the Russians, and the Italians.
Italy’s entry into the war was unexpected for a number of reasons. The nation was remarkably young compared to the Empire against which it would declare war – the fractured city states of the Italian peninsula had only become a united nation around 1861 (Nicolle 3). Furthermore, although Austria-Hungary was a traditional opponent of Italy’s, the two had entered into “a purely defensive relationship” with one another and with Germany in 1882, thereby creating the Triple Alliance (Nicolle 3). By 1914, however, Italy was beginning to express territorial ambitions that were once again in direct opposition to those of Austria-Hungary, and when World War I broke out and began to escalate, Italy refused to enter the war on the side of her allies, citing that the treaty was purely defensive and did not compel Italy to enter into aggressive warfare (Nicolle 3).
Italy needed to avoid open warfare with the nations of the Great Britain, France, and Russia. The Italian peninsula was too vulnerable to sea blockade and was dependent on Great Britain for the importation of coal and other resources (Prior and Wilson 69). Because of this, “on 3 May 1915 Italy left the Triple Alliance, [though] there was still resistance in the Italian parliament to Italy entering the war” (Nicolle 4). Twenty days later, Italy cemented its allegiance to the Triple Entente by declaring war on Austria.
Italy experienced a number of quick successes against Austrian forces. The Italian Army at the onset of the war outnumbered its Austrian counterpart thirty-five frontline divisions to twenty-five, with twenty-one of those Italian divisions stationed along the twenty mile strip of land known as the Isonzo Plains (Nelson). Flanking and extending from the banks of the Isonzo River, this seemingly insignificant strip of land was important because it was one of the few areas along the Italian Front that was not dominated topographically by mountains (Grande Guerra). The successes of the Italians were compounded by the fact that the Austrian army was composed of up to six different ethnic groups that felt no particular love for one another or for their Germanic officers. Also, the Austrians were faced with a number of invasions on their Eastern Front perpetrated by the Russian army, forcing the Austrians to split their attentions between two fronts (Prior and Wilson 67).
Unfortunately, these early successes could not last forever. As the war progressed, the Austrians proved that what they lacked in a cohesive and well-trained army, they made up for with advantages in terrain and technology: Austrian forces occupied the high, mountainous ground on their side of the Isonzo River, and they were equipped with heavy artillery produced by the famous Austrian Skoda works (Prior and Wilson 72). Italy lacked not only such modern artillery but also sufficient numbers of machine guns, the weapon of choice in World War I (Prior and Wilson 69). Furthermore, the Austrians (with German assistance) were able to quell the Russian invasions and all but neutralize the Russian army in the East, allowing Austria-Hungary to dedicate more forces against their Italian foes.
Fighting in the Italian Front was not limited to the trench warfare that dominated the Western Front, though the “war of movement” did eventually bog down into the familiar forms of trenches and machine gun nests. Before this stagnation, fighting occurred in or on lagoons, marshes, rivers, plateaus, and mountains, and this range of locations led to a range of problems. Frostbite, landslides, flash floods, and avalanches all presented new dangers – avalanches alone often wiped out whole units of men, both Italian and Austrian. The mountainous terrain also impaired the armies’ abilities to supply their men. Pulley systems were developed to move guns and men, but everything was slowed down by the difficulty of the terrain. The trenches that did exist along the Italian Front were typically composed of rock or ice, materials which leant themselves well to bullet ricochets. Soldiers on this front needed to dodge bullets not just once but twice. These problems made it difficult for either the Italians or the Austrians to gain a distinct advantage over the other, and fighting inconclusively for years (Grande Guerra).
The back and forth nature of warfare along the Italian Front led to eleven battles for control of the Isonzo Plains, four in 1915, five in 1916, and two in 1917 (Italian Front). Sometimes referred to as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, the Battle of Caporetto in 1917 marked a low point for the Italian army. Attacked by combined German and Austrian forces, the Italians entered into a general retreat and “lost all the territory that they had managed – at a cost of one-third of a million dead and three-quarters of a million wounded – to acquire in the previous thirty months of offensives” (Prior and Wilson 163). This defeat did not crush the Italian army, however. With the aid of resumed Russian invasions in the East, the Italians were able to retake much of the lost territory and extend their reach into select areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Prior and Wilson 163). The forces that opposed them could barely be called an army. Disintegrating in the face of enemies they felt more akin to than they did to the Austrian aristocracy (the Slavic nationalities of the Empire shared a number of similarities with the Russians), the Austrian army had all but disappeared. The Empire was forced to sue for peace, and on November 4, 1918, Italy accepted the surrender of their historical foes (Prior and Wilson 201). The Italian Front was closed.
- Prior, Robin, and Trevor Wilson. The First World War. Ed. John Keegan. Washington: Smithsonian, 1999.
- Nicolle, David. The Italian Army of World War I. Oxford: Osprey, 2003.
- Nelson, Thomas. Italy and the World War. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920. 18 Feb. 2010 <http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/Italy/
- La Grande Guerra: The Italian Front 1915-1918. The Great War Society. 18 Feb. 2010
- The Italian Front. 1 Oct. 2006. U of San Diego. 18 Feb. 2010 http://history.
Women of the Left Bank by Shari Benstock
In 1986 Shari Benstock wrote a book about the lives of women in Paris during the years 1900 to 1940. The book focuses on the women who participated in the Modernist movement, and how they impacted the movement as a whole. Benstock attempts to reevaluate the movement in the context of feminist and deconstructive criticism. At the same time, Women of the Left Bank is concerned with the practical experiences that the women of Paris had during the early years of the twentieth century. By looking at these practical experiences and pairing them with theoretical inquiry, Benstock asserts that women were not passive in the Modernist movement but were in fact a driving and important force.
The book addresses several women who were a major part of the Modernist movement. They were: Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, Kay Boyle, Bryher, Colette, Caresse Crosby, Nancy Cunard, H.D., Janet Flanner, Jane Heap, Maria Jolas, Mina Loy, Adrienne Monnier, Anais Nin, Jean Rhys, Soliata Solano, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Renee Vivian, and Edith Wharton. It is apparent that each of these women, though grouped into “Modernist women,” had projects that were different, sometimes radically so. Though there were radically different approaches to a great number of things, including sexuality and gender norms, there were also some common characteristics that most of the women shared. All of them were intellectual, and most shared a common educational background with deference to the arts, specifically music, painting, and literature. Thirteen of the twenty-two women discussed in Women of the Left Bank self identified as lesbian or bisexual. Except for a rare few, most were inheritors or possessors of wealth. This meant that they were more financially stable than the men of the movement, who usually had to produce sellable art or literature in order to live. The most common trait among the women, however, was that they all attempted to decenter traditional modes of thought in their work, which could mean straight, male, female, immigrant, or anything else (Benstock 8). These characteristics, as well as their diverse experiences as writers, book sellers, printers, and radicals, make up a more complete story of the birth of Modernism (Benstock 3).
Women of the Left Bank’s criticism is first focused through the lens of feminism, and a feminist reading of the movement itself. The traditional narrative of the Modernist movement follows a quote by Sylvia Beach in which she is speaking of her role in publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses: “And after all, the books were Joyce’s. A baby belongs to its mother, not to the midwife, doesn’t it?” (Benstock 20). The traditional narrative betrays, excludes, and traps the women of the movement by pigeonholing them into roles that, for Benstock, did not exist (Benstock 6). The traditional narrative also follows the logic of Ezra Pound, who felt that Modernism was ultimately a masculine form of writing and expression (Benstock 21). However, Modernist tendencies flourished among women writers of the period, and though it was focused in the women of literary Paris, there were others, including Marianne Moore and Laura Riding who were working in the United States (Burke 99). Women of the Left Bank uses this history to destabilize the metanarrative of patriarchy associated with the Modernist movement, and to do so the book moves into the territory of deconstructive criticism.
Benstock utilizes deconstruction to pull apart the binaries that are inherent to the monolithic metanarrative of the Modernist movement. The binaries are inherent in Western thought, and so by interrogating the binaries, the critic is able to interrogate normative behaviors (Benstock 7). The women of literary Paris exist as people, but also as a method for deconstructing Modernism itself. While Modernism upheld norms, it also questioned them (Benstock x).
A good example of the feminist deconstruction of the Modernist movement is the way the women of Modernism deployed their sexuality. Some, like Natalie Barney, openly defied all normative statements of both sexuality and relationships in order to show radical difference. The binary of masculine-feminine is destroyed for Barney; by taking on the stereotypical traits of the masculine, she openly challenges the binary (Benstock 10). Others, like Gertrude Stein, accomplish the same goal through different means. Though Stein reified the binary of masculine-feminine in her relationship with Alice B. Toklas, she also defies social standards by dressing in a very masculine way, creating a power opposition through her near-cross dressing (Doan 668). In the same way, the act of writing that Stein and Toklas’ relationship allows challenges the idea of writing as a masculine pursuit (Pizer 175).
Ultimately, Women of the Left Bank attempts, like its subjects, to show the unique female experience of writing and life. Like Stein’s sentiment that writing and sex are inextricable, Benstock shows that women, and the way that women create, is a unique and often misinterpreted part of the Modernist legacy in literature (Burke 101).
- Benstock, Shari. Women of the Left Bank. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986.
- Burke, Carolyn. “Getting Spliced: Modernism and Sexual Difference.” American Quarterly 39.1 (1987): 98-121. Online.
- Doan, Laura. “Passing Fashions: Reading Female Masculinities in the 1920s.” Feminist Studies 24.3 (1998): 663-700. Online.
- Pizer, Donald. “The Sexual Geography of Expatriate Paris.” Twentieth Century Literature 36.2 (1990): 173-185. Online.
World War One
World War One began on July 28, 1914, when Franz Josef I of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, but the causes of the war stem from a long history of alliances, broken alliances, and nationalism (Baldwin 17).
On June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Princip was a member of a secret Serbian nationalist group called the Black Hand that sought to diminish Austria-Hungary’s control in Bosnia and Serbia. Seven different members took part in the assassination to ensure its success. (Baldwin 16). After the assassination, Austria-Hungary issued Serbia an ultimatum demanding that the perpetrators involved in Franz Ferdinand’s death be brought to justice and that Serbia relinquish its sovereignty to Austria-Hungary. Serbia did not comply with the ultimatum completely, as expected, giving Austria-Hungary the reason it needed to declare war on Serbia and establish influence in the Balkan states (17).
The conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia erupted into a worldwide affair because of a history of alliances between multiple European countries. In 1882, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy signed the Triple Alliance, agreeing to peace and to support each other in time of war, and in 1907, Great Britain, France, and Russia formed the Triple Entente, an “understanding” that did not obligate military support but ensured neutrality, at the least, if one country were to be involved in war. These alliances proved paramount in the initiation of the First World War; all that they needed was a spark, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination prompted the war (Pope 149).
When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia, bound by treaty, began mobilizing troops in Serbia’s defense. On August 1, 1914, in response to Russia’s mobilization, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany declared war on Russia. In light of Germany and Russia’s impending war, France declared war against Germany in accordance with the Triple Entente. At this point in time, Germany was prepared for a war on two fronts based on a military strategy developed a decade earlier. In 1905, Count Alfred von Schlieffen of Germany had devised the “Schlieffen Plan,” an offensive designed to defeat France quickly in order to focus strength and energy on the eastern front with Russia. In accordance with this plan, Germany began moving through Belgium in August of 1914. Upon Germany’s entrance into Belgium, though, Great Britain declared war on the grounds of its 1839 Treaty of London, a treaty with Belgium obligating Great Britain to defend Belgium’s neutrality. Germany did not anticipate Great Britain’s entry into the war, and the British support, along with ineffective German military leadership, led to the failure of the Schlieffen Plan (Pope 424-5).
The front in Belgium became locked in a stalemate that led to the development of elaborate trenches on both sides. The trenches were cut into zigzag patterns and lined with machine guns to enable the largest field of fire against the enemy’s attack. Living conditions in the trenches were unsanitary and at times, lethal. Clothing would become infested with lice, and the lice excrement would infect the soldiers, inducing trench fever. During the rainy months, trench foot was also a devastating problem. In the first winter of the war, Britain alone suffered 20,000 casualties from the fungal infection. On the eastern front, the biggest killer besides enemy fire was freezing to death in the trenches (Pope 473).
In 1914, United States President Woodrow Wilson declared neutrality, but America continued to ship supplies and materials to the allied powers of Great Britain and France. German submarines sunk several American cargo ships in the Atlantic Ocean, and on May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British cruise liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing 1,201 civilian men, women and children, including 128 Americans (Nagler 489). The Germans sank the Lusitania because of its cargo; the ship carried not only food but ammunition and other war supplies (Simpson 105-6). The deaths of innocent civilians became the tool of propaganda in both Great Britain and the United States, suggesting that America was not far from entering the war (Nagler 493).
In February of 1917, the Zimmerman telegram proved to be the final straw forcing the United States to declare war against Germany. Germany sent the Zimmerman telegram to Mexico in January 1917, stating that if Mexico joined the German cause, Germany would give land in the Southwest of the United States to Mexico upon America’s defeat. British cryptographers intercepted and decoded the message, and America immediately entered the war (Childress).
America’s entry into World War One provided the Allied powers with fresh soldiers and plentiful resources, and the simple knowledge of American support boosted morale throughout the Allied lines. On November 11, 1918, after being substantially pushed back along the Western Front for the first time in four years, Germany asked for peace and the Allied Powers agreed to a ceasefire (Baldwin 151). In June of 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was drafted and signed by both sides, officially ending the war (154). Total losses were never calculated exactly due to the massive political upheaval and general destruction, but sources approximate 9.8 million military fatalities, 20 million military wounded, and roughly 4.5 million civilian casualties from both collateral damage and famine across Europe (Pope 104).
- Baldwin, Hanson W. World War I: An Outline History. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962. 16-17, 151-4.
- Childress, Alexander, Mary and Marilyn. "The Zimmerman Telegram." Social Education 45, 4 (April 1981): 266 < http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/zimmermann/>.
- Nagler, Jorg. “Pandora’s Box: Propaganda and War Hysteria in the United States during World War I.” Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front 1914-1918. Ed. Roger Chickering. Washington, D.C.: Cambridge UP, 2006. 485-500
- Pope, Steven, and Elizabeth Anne Wheal. The Dictionary of the First World War. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. 472-73. 514-16.
- Simpson, Colin. The Lusitania. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1972. 105-6.
Other Recommended Sources
- Bell, Jeffrey A., ed. Industrialization and Imperialism 1800-1914. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002.
- Fletcher, Anthony. "Between the Lines." History Today 59.11 (2009): 45-51. World History Collection. EBSCO. Web. 7 Feb. 2010.
- Forty, Simon, ed. World War I: A Visual Encyclopedia. London: PRC Publishing, Ltd., 2002.