You Are All a Lost Generation

Gertrude Stein? Ernest Hemingway? Hotel Keeper? Automobile Repair Shop Owner? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: Would you please explore the provenance of the following expression? Here are two versions:

You are all a lost generation.
You are all a génération perdue.

The phrase “lost generation” has been applied to young people who experienced the repercussions of World War I. It has also been narrowly applied to a group of U.S. expatriate writers who lived in Paris after the war.

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1926 prominent U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway published the acclaimed novel “The Sun Also Rises” which began with the following epigraph. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1926 Copyright, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, (Epigraph for book), Quote Page 1, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

“You are all a lost generation.”
—Gertrude Stein in conversation.

Interestingly, author Gertrude Stein did not coin this phrase, but there are two different stories about the originator. Hemingway claimed that Stein heard the phrase from an automobile repair shop owner. Yet, Stein wrote that she heard the phrase from a hotel keeper. Details are given below.

Hemingway wrote multiple drafts of “The Sun Also Rises”, and he also considered several different titles for the novel. For example, one early title that Hemingway eventually rejected was: “The Lost Generation”.

Scholar Frederic Joseph Svoboda traced the evolution of the novel in “Hemingway & The Sun Also Rises: The Crafting of a Style”. Svoboda’s book included a reproduction of a handwritten page dated September 27, 1925 from one of Hemingway’s ubiquitous notebooks which contained a projected foreword for the work when it was called “The Lost Generation”.[ref] 1983, Hemingway & The Sun Also Rises: The Crafting of a Style by Frederic Joseph Svoboda, Chapter 6: Late Revisions: Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Quote Page 106 and 107, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

Hemingway decided not to publish this foreword in the 1926 edition of “The Sun Also Rises”, but it was included in the comprehensive 2016 edition from Scribner’s titled “The Sun Also Rises: The Hemingway Library Edition”. This text presented one explanation for the origin of the phrase under examination:[ref] 2016, The Sun Also Rises: The Hemingway Library Edition by Ernest Hemingway, Supplemented with Early Drafts and Deleted Chapters, Appendix II: Early Drafts, Draft: Foreword to The Lost Generation, (The title “The Lost Generation” was not used), Quote Page 265, Scribner, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

One day last summer Gertrude Stein stopped in a garage in a small town in the Department of Ain to have a valve fixed in her Ford car.

Stein was surprised by the skill and speed of the young mechanic who repaired her vehicle because she thought good junior workers were difficult to find in Paris:

“Oh yes,” the garage owner said. “You can get very good boys now. I’ve taken all these and trained them myself. It is the ones between twenty-two and thirty that are no good. C’est un generation perdu. No one wants them. They are no good. They were spoiled. The young ones, the new ones are all right again.”

Hemingway continued the foreword by suggesting that the war had already shaped his generation decisively:

This is not a question of what kind of mothers will flappers make or where is bobbed hair leading us. This is about something that is already finished. For whatever is going to happen to the generation of which I am a part has already happened.

In 1937 Gertrude Stein published “Everybody’s Autobiography” which included a different version of the tale:[ref] 1971 (1937 Copyright), Everybody’s Autobiography by Gertrude Stein, Chapter 2: What was the effect upon me of the Autobiography, Quote Page 52, Cooper Square Publishers Inc., New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

It was this hotel keeper who said what it is said I said that the war generation was a lost generation. And he said it in this way. He said that every man becomes civilized between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five.

If he does not go through a civilizing experience at that time in his life he will not be a civilized man. And the men who went to the war at eighteen missed the period of civilizing, and they could never be civilized. They were a lost generation. Naturally if they are at war they do not have the influences of women of parents and of preparation.

Hemingway died in 1961, and in 1964 his estate posthumously published his memoir “A Moveable Feast” about his Paris years in the 1920s.[ref] 1964, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Chapter: “Une Génération Perdue”, Quote Page 29, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref] “LIFE” magazine published an excerpt which recounted a variant tale about the phrase. The mechanic who worked on Stein’s car performed poorly and was reprimanded by the patron, i.e., the boss:[ref] 1964 April 10, LIFE, Paris by Ernest Hemingway, (Excerpt from “A Moveable Feast”) Start Page 60, Quote Page 65, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

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 last year of the war had not been adept, or perhaps had not broken the priority of other vehicles, in repairing Miss Stein’s Ford.

Anyway he had not been sérieux 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 génération perdue.”

Stein subsequently delivered the line to Hemingway:

“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 a lost generation.”

“Really?” I said.

“You are,” she insisted. “You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death. . . .”

In conclusion, the phrase appeared as an epigraph in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” which led to its popularization. Hemingway asserted in 1925 that he heard the phrase form Gertrude Stein who originally heard it in French from a Paris automobile repair shop owner.

But there is another possibility. Stein wrote in 1937 that she heard the phrase from a hotel keeper. Perhaps the garage owner also ran a hotel? QI suggests that the reader decide who to believe.

Image Notes: Public domain image of Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Gertrude Stein”. Image has been resized, retouched, and cropped.

(Thanks to “The New Yale Book of Quotations” edited by Fred R. Shapiro which contained an entry for this phrase which cited Hemingway’s 1926 novel and Stein’s 1937 book.)

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