From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The "Lost Generation" is a term used to refer to the generation, actually a cohort, that came of age during World War I. The term was popularized by Ernest Hemingway who used it as one of two contrasting epigraphs for his novel, The Sun Also Rises. In that volume Hemingway credits the phrase to Gertrude Stein, who was then his mentor and patron.
In A Moveable Feast, which was published after both Hemingway and Stein were dead and after a literary feud that lasted much of their life, Hemingway reveals that the phrase was actually originated by the garage owner who serviced Stein's car. When a young mechanic failed to repair the car in a way satisfactory to Stein, the garage owner shouted at the boy, "You are all a "génération perdue." Stein, in telling Hemingway the story, added, "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." This generation included distinguished artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, John Dos Passos, Waldo Peirce, Isadora Duncan, Abraham Walkowitz, Alan Seeger, and Erich Maria Remarque.
The term originated with Gertrude Stein who, after being unimpressed by the skills of a young car mechanic, asked the garage owner where the young man had been trained. The garage owner told her that while young men were easy to train, it was those in their mid-twenties to thirties, the men who had been through World War I, whom he considered a "lost generation" — une génération perdue.
The 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises popularized the term, as Hemingway used it as an epigraph. The novel serves to epitomize the post-war expatriate generation. However, Hemingway himself later wrote to his editor Max Perkins that the "point of the book" was not so much about a generation being lost, but that "the earth abideth forever"; he believed the characters in The Sun Also Rises may have been "battered" but were not lost.
In his memoir A Moveable Feast, published after his death, he writes "I tried to balance Miss Stein's quotation from the garage owner with one from Ecclesiastes." A few lines later, recalling the risks and losses of the war, he adds: "I thought of Miss Stein and Sherwood Anderson and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought 'who is calling who a lost generation?'"
Variously, the term is used for the period from the end of World War I to the beginning of the Great Depression, though in the United States it is used for the generation of young people who came of age during and shortly after World War I, alternatively known as the World War I generation. Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, well known for their generational theory, define the Lost Generation as the cohorts born from 1883 to 1900, who came of age during World War I and the roaring twenties. In Europe, they are mostly known as the "Generation of 1914," for the year World War I began. In France, the country in which many expatriates settled, they were sometimes called the Génération au Feu, the "generation in flames."
In Britain the term was originally used for those who died in the war, and often implicitly referred to upper-class casualties who were perceived to have died disproportionately, robbing the country of a future elite. Many felt "that 'the flower of youth' and the 'best of the nation' had been destroyed," for example such notable casualties as the poets Isaac Rosenberg, Rupert Brooke, and Wilfred Owen, composer George Butterworth and physicist Henry Moseley. In the late-2000s recession, the phrase is often used when discussing the high level of youth unemployment.