The Lost Generation was coined by Gertrude Stein to describe the group of expatriate authors and artists living in Paris after Europe had been torn apart by World War I. The story goes that a young Parisian mechanic failed to repair Stein’s car and she voiced her displeasure. The older owner of the garage shouted at the young man "génération perdue,” or lost generation.
The name was apt for a group of young men who had been robbed of their formative years by trench warfare and thrust into adulthood. Life would never be the same again for these people. The term was popularised when Ernest Hemingway used it in the epigraph for The Sun Also Rises; “you are all a lost generation.”
Not all of the so-called Lost Generation of writers fought in World War I. John Steinbeck was a high school student during the war and T.S. Eliot was studying at Oxford. Hemingway, John Dos Passos and ee cummings all worked as ambulance drivers.
Paris appealed to expatriates for many reasons – it was cheap, there was no prohibition, almost anything went in the aftermath of the Great War and the city already possessed the reputation as a haven for artists and creative types.
The tone of the Lost Generation’s writing tended to mirror society. The pomp and formality of romantic writing was giving way to a new realism and the status quo was often challenged.
Sylvia Beach’s English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company became an unofficial home for many authors. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, poet Ezra Pound, and Stein all spent a great deal of time at the shop, which also functioned as a lending library for avant-garde or risqué works like D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover – a book that had been banned in Britain and the U.S. Beach was also the first to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses, (another banned book) and it remains a landmark novel in modern English literature.