When somebody says, “The Lost Generation,” there are immediate visuals culled up from the depths of our mind. For me, it’s something like the ghosts of World War I and II in my head, but everybody can see something different. The progenitor of this expression is Gertrude Stein, author and flamboyant artist who was curator and an important figure during the modernist movement. Let’s take a look:
Stein was born in Pennsylvania in 1874 but spent her youth in Passy, France and Oakland, California. Britannica writes, “She entered the society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women where she studied psychology with the philosopher William James and received her degree in 1989” (Britannica). She later studied at Johns Hopkins Medical School and then moved to Paris. The Poetry Foundation states that Stein was an important figure for “new moderns,” who were artists working between the two world wars, and these included Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso. Perhaps Stein’s greatest contributions outside of her extremely experimental works included the gathering of “The Lost Generation,” who was a group of what would become classic writers in the previously mentioned modernist literature, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and James Joyce.
“What these creators achieved in the visual arts, Stein attempted in her writing. A bold experimenter and self-proclaimed genius, she rejected the linear, time-oriented writing characteristic of the 19th century for a spatial, process-oriented, specifically 20th-ccentury literature,” (Poetryfoundation.org). Her only commercially successful novel was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) but as biography.com states, “Though critical opinion is divided on stein’s various writings, the imprint of her strong witty personality survives, as does her influence on contemporary literature” (Biography.com).