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American Writers in Paris During the 1920s: A Lost Generation

Susan is a freelance writer trained in Library Techniques and covers different topics.

Mabel Dwight, Boulevard des Italiens, 1927

Mabel Dwight, Boulevard des Italiens, 1927

Discovering a Lost Generation

I remember the days when Toronto had dozens of independent bookstores; my friends and I would spend our Saturdays browsing through the stacks, looking for unknown gems.

One day I was browsing through the shelves (I think it was at Pages, which used to be on Queen St. W) when I came across the book Geniuses Together by Humphrey Carpenter. At that time I was just beginning to consider myself a writer and I loved to read about famous writers' lives. I think I felt that somehow their talent would rub off on me.

Little did I know that this volume would start me off on a 20-year obsession with the works of the Lost Generation. I became very interested in reading all I could about these authors and started collecting books by the various authors or books about that time in history.

All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.... You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.

— Gertrude Stein

The Lost Generation

The Lost Generation refers to the generation who came of age during World War I. Many of this generation who considered themselves writers and artists ended up living in Paris during the 1920s and '30s. They came from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

The term "Lost Generation" was coined by Gertrude Stein. She had an argument with a mechanic of that age and said that they were all a “generation perdue” (a lost generation). It quickly became a name for these authors after Ernest Hemingway mentioned it in the epigraph for The Sun Also Rises: “you are all a lost generation.”

The Lost Generation changed writing from a stuffy pursuit to one that challenged all the rules. They also lived a largely Bohemian lifestyle on the Paris left bank; there were many lesbians among this group, affairs were rampant, open relationships abounded, and it was all fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol.

The Lost Generation loved the “cafe society” lifestyle, but the writing did get done and the group produced some of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century.

Shakespeare and Company

This bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier quickly became the “headquarters” of the Lost Generation. The bookstore was also a lending library; Ernest Hemingway and other writers made great use of the library. James Joyce, while not an official member of the Lost Generation, became very close to Sylvia Beach; it was she who first published his novel Ulysses.

Many writers of the Lost Generation met each other for the first time in Shakespeare and Company. Sylvia Beach herself was an American expatriate. She had lived in Paris as a child and fell in love with the city.

A Moveable Feast

If you'd like another good introduction to the Lost Generation, read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It was published in 1965 after his death and describes his life and the lives of his friends in Paris during the '20s. It also gives some excellent insights into how the author wrote his classic novels and what motivated him to write them.

In addition to Hemingway, some of the writers who are considered to have been a part of the Lost Generation are Djuna Barnes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Kay Boyle, John Glassco, Morley Callaghan and Janet Flanner.

Hemingway, Hadley and friends

Hemingway, Hadley and friends

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1899. During World War I, he worked as an ambulance driver in Spain. In 1921 he married Hadley Richardson, the two moved to Paris shortly after. He was working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star newspaper.

He and Hadley had one son named Jack who they called Bumpy. They returned to Toronto while Hadley gave birth but made their way back to Paris soon after. The marriage ended in 1927 after Hemingway had an affair with one of Hadley's friends.

A recent novel referred to Hadley as his "Paris wife"; Hemingway and his new wife left Paris in the late '20s to return to the United States. Hemingway eventually married four times before he killed himself in 1961.

During his time in Paris, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, which was published in 1926.

John Dos Passos

John Dos Passos was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1896. Like his friend Ernest Hemingway, Dos Passos was an ambulance driver during World War I.

Dos Passos wrote and published two novels during his time in Paris: One Man's Initiation: 1917 (1920) and Manhattan Transfer (1925).

During his long career, John Dos Passos was a novelist, a playwright, a poet, a journalist, a translator and a painter.

Kay Boyle

Kay Boyle was born in 1902 in St. Paul, Minnesota. She married Richard Brault and the two moved to France. During her marriage, Boyle had an intimate relationship with Ernest Walsh, which produced a daughter in 1927.

During her time in Paris, Boyle wrote the novel Process (1925) and a collection called Short Stories (1929).

Kay Boyle and Robert McAlmon wrote a book together called Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930 about the Lost Generation.

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes was born in 1892 in New York State. Long before moving to Paris, Djuna Barnes was an eccentric and had a larger-than-life personality that was noticed by The New Yorker magazine.

Barnes came to Paris in the 1920s with a letter of introduction to James Joyce.

Novels she wrote during this time were Ryder (1928) and Ladies Almanack (1928). Ladies Almanack was a parody of those with whom Djuna Barnes spent her time with in Paris. Her best known work is Nightwood (1936).

John Glassco

John Glassco was born in 1909 in Montreal, Canada. He finally made it to Paris in 1929.

Glassco wrote an autobiography of his time in Paris called Memoirs of Montparnasse, published in 1970.

During his career, Glassco was a poet and a translator. He also wrote several pornographic novels.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along with Ernest Hemingway, he is one of the best-known of the Lost Generation authors.

In 1920, Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre. They had one daughter, Scottie.

The Fitzgeralds did not move to Paris permanently but they visited frequently. F. Scott became very friendly with Ernest Hemingway. The two had a falling out when Hemingway accused Fitzgerald of being a mercenary writer.

During his time in Paris, Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Great Gatsby (1925).

Morley Callaghan

Morley Callaghan was born in 1903 in Toronto. He spent one summer in Paris during 1929. In 1963, he wrote a memoir of his time in Paris called That Summer in Paris.

During the 1920s he wrote and published Strange Fugitive (1928) and Anative Argosy (1929).

An often told story about his time in Paris is about the time Callaghan knocked Ernest Hemingway out while boxing with him.

Callaghan eventually became a leading light in Canadian literature.

Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway

Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway

Janet Flanner

Janet Flanner was born in 1892 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Even though she was bisexual, Flanner married William Rehm in 1918; the two divorced in 1926. She also had a long-term relationship with Solita Solano.

Flanner was the Paris correspondent for The New Yorker magazine. This allowed her to introduce her fellow writers to the general public back home.

In 1972, Flanner published a memoir called Paris was Yesterday, 1925-1939.

A Community of Writers

The above mentioned were just a few of the many writers who are considered a part of the Lost Generation. Most of the better known writers had long careers and went on to write classic novels and memoirs. Of course, as with any movement, there were those who were basically hacks who were more interested in the "cafe society" than in producing anything.

The 1920s in Paris seemed to have been an almost magical time; the cost of living was inexpensive, the alcohol was cheap, and the lifestyle was free of the restraints many of these writers had felt stifled under in their home countries.

A Very Select Bibliography

A short bibliography of books written by and about the Lost Generation:

Barnes, Djuna Nightwood

Callaghan, Morley That Summer in Paris

Carpenter, Humphrey Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s

Diliberto, Gioia Hadley

Fitch, Noel Riley Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties

Fitzgerald, F. Scott This Side of Paradise

Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby

Flanner, Janet Paris was Yesterday, 1925-1939

Ford, Hugh Four Lives in Paris

Glassco, John Memoirs of Montparnasse

Hanscombe, Gillian Writing for their Lives: The Modernist Women, 1900-1940

Hemingway, Ernest For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway, Ernest The Sun also Rises

Hemingway, Ernest A Moveable Feast

McAlmon, Robert & Boyle, Kay Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930

Root, Waverly The Paris Edition, 1927-1934

Stein, Gertrude Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas


Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on January 29, 2016:

Hemingway was an ambulance driver in Italy, not Spain. Spain was not involved in World War I. His time in Spain came during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.

Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on October 24, 2014:

I thought it was the mechanic who coined the phrase "lost generation" rather than Stein herself. Also, Hemingway called his son "Bumby," not "Bumpy."

Peggy Salvatore from Mid-Atlantic States US on March 11, 2013:

Just joined Hubpages and stumbled upon this. I was completed absorbed in this period during my 20s, especially loved Anais Nin (who was not liked, apparently, by Stein). Nin had a houseboat on the Seine where she entertained Lawrence Durell, Henry Miller with whom she had a longtime relationship and followed to California later, and many others. Recommend her Diaries for which she is most well known. Bought a signed first edition from a bookstore in NYC that published her first works in the 40s. Their personal explorations cracked open literature, poetry, music, painting and psychology. Thank you for this very informative post.

irvinetraveller from California on August 20, 2012:

Love your Hub! Thank you for the list.

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on April 20, 2012:

This is wonderful. I have read most of Hemingway, love A Movable Feast, and quite a bit of Fitzgerald, but, even as an English major in college, knew little about the other writers you mention here. This is great information and I will make a list fo the books you mentioned. I wonder how many are in print?

Mayah Brooks on April 17, 2012:

I loved the movie Midnight in Paris! I am doing a report for work on Paris in the 1920s.

buckleupdorothy from Istanbul, Turkey on April 06, 2012:

It's so hard not to get caught up in nostalgia for this period - what an amazing time to be in Paris. Recently saw 'Midnight in Paris', and as a couple other commenters have noted, it really brings the whole time to life - not to mention offering a good analysis of the overwhelming writerly fixation with it.

I spent a lot of time in Shakespeare & Co. when I was there a few years ago, and it's as much a haven as it ever was. Great hub - voted up.

Matt on February 08, 2012:

This article from 1927 just surfaced and it was written by an American soldier from WW I who couldn't get Paris out of his head. He returned for good in 1922 and wrote this article:

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on December 27, 2011:

I enjoyed reading this Hub. You did an excellent job of capturing the lives of the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.

I had a cousin who was an expatriate writer in Paris: Irwin Shaw (February 27, 1913 Brooklyn, New York – May 16, 1984 Davos, Switzerland). He was a novelist, playwright, short story writer, and screenwriter. He was best known for his novel The Young Lions (1948), which was made into a movie starring Marlon Brando. Shaw left the United States in 1951 due to some political problems that resulted in his being blacklisted in Hollywood. He divided his time between Paris and Davos. He never returned to the United States.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on December 27, 2011:

Fascinating! I have heard about the "Lost Generation' nut you've made it so interesting I want to know more! Very awesome hub and written content. I loved it all and love Hemingway:). Sort of makes me think of Soho!

Woody Marx from Ontario, Canada on October 17, 2011:

I agree with your comment about the independent bookstores that used to frequent T.O. I have not been there in a while, but I'm sure with the advent of Indigo, et al, the bookstores that were so special have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Susan Keeping (author) from Kitchener, Ontario on September 25, 2011:

I missed Midnight in Paris in the theatre. I'll have to check it out on DVD.

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on September 25, 2011:

Sorry, I meant to say, my husband and I! I just noticed this error. That's what I get for commenting at one in the morning, haha!

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on September 24, 2011:

My husband actually just watched "Midnight in Paris" and it focuses on these writers. It was wonderful to read more about them. Lovely hub!

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on September 02, 2011:

Very interesting hub about these writers.

Cassandra Mantis from UK and Nerujenia on August 27, 2011:

What an awesome hub, Susan! I loved this! This was a veritable trip back to the halcyon days of great writers and their hangout and cliques! Magical!

FloraBreenRobison on August 26, 2011:

Leaving a comment here because I don't have the option of emailing you privately and once your ten minutes is up on the question, you can only do a hub about it. I've never noticed the edit category before. I wonder why I've never seen it? I wonder if there will come a time when someone can figure out how to change a url if you screwed it up.

I do not think I have anything in the wrong category. Very interesting

Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on July 27, 2011:

Love all this info. If you haven't seen 'Midnight in Paris' you should it's all about the people you mentioned above. It was a real surprise for me, I loved it and would go again today to see it again.

Susan Keeping (author) from Kitchener, Ontario on June 26, 2011:

I always wanted to be part of Cafe society :) on June 25, 2011:

Sally is right on with the coffee houses - even in the early 60's they were the place for meeting friends and discussions that ran far beyond the closing hour. Most owners would pour themselves a cup of coffee and join the conversations. Many of the discussions ran for days.

Great hub - great authors and marvelous literature that came from the group.



Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 24, 2011:

Today writers hunker down in front of their laptops, engaging in social networking on the net. Where have all the bookstores gone, long time passing?

What an evocative piece you wrote...perhaps the coffee houses of the 50s and 60s were the last legacies of Shakespeare and Company. Starbuck's doesn't even make it to the starting line.

Susan Keeping (author) from Kitchener, Ontario on June 19, 2011:

Thanks for commenting everyone.

Rebekah, I absolutely love A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. It gives a great background on many the authors.

rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on June 19, 2011:

The title drew me in - some of the greatest writing came from these authors. I can see why Paris was so inviting to a group of writers, the city itself is like its own small world. I haven't heard of all of these authors, so thanks for making a list of their books. I've been thinking about reading something new and wanted to find a great piece of literature from this time period. Do you have a few favorites? Thanks for sharing! Love the video and map!

tnvrstar from doha, qatar on June 02, 2011:

I am not familiar with any of the author but i enjoyed reading. French does have a rich tradition and culture. Voted up. Cheers :)

Katie McMurray from Ohio on May 04, 2011:

What a very intriguing read and the details of the outcome news to me, interesting. Paris is a place steeped in great history, biography and people. I enjoyed your expatriate writers in Paris lost generation. :) Katie

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on April 23, 2011:

Awesome hub- i suppose the reaction was as a result of the war and its privations

Tamila Roberts from Canada on April 22, 2011:

Strong and powerful words. I believe you deserve all my gratitude for this awesome post. I'm greatly thankful for sharing your experience with us.

Lee A Barton from New Mexico on April 12, 2011:

I, too, have been fascinated with this time period in Paris since reading a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald when I was a teenager. Really enjoyed this hub and the video!

attemptedhumour from Australia on April 11, 2011:

Hi Un w, i love history, so combining it with literature is a mouth watering concept. What a fascinating place Paris would have been in the twenties, All those writers trying to make names for themselves would provide a recipe for intrigue. Great hub, very interesting.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 11, 2011:

Oh, to be a writer in Paris in the 1920s!!! Great Hub. Love the profiles, and your video, images, and maps are great too!

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on April 09, 2011:

Great Hub! Very interesting. Although I am familiar with many of the mentioned authors I never heard of them being referred to as "The Lost Generation". It kind of reminds me of the "Hippy" and "Beatnik" generations here in the states. Thanks for the Hub!