Finding The Lost Generation

I recently found myself becoming either acquainted with or reacquainted with “The Lost Generation” who gathered in Paris in the 1920s.
I have been reading Paula McLain’s great book “The Paris Wife: A Novel.”
The author posted on a synopsis of her inspiration for “The Paris Wife.”
She wrote: “Most of us know or think we know who Ernest Hemingway was — a brilliant writer full of macho swagger, driven to take on huge feats of bravery and a pitcher or two of martinis — before lunch. But beneath this man or myth, or some combination of the two, is another Hemingway, one we’ve never seen before. Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, is the perfect person to reveal him to us — and also to immerse us in the incredibly exciting and volatile world of Jazz-age Paris.
The idea to write in Hadley’s voice came to me as I was reading Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, about his early years in Paris. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” That line, and his portrayal of their marriage — so tender and poignant and steeped in regret — inspired me to search out biographies of Hadley, and then to research their brief and intense courtship and letters — they wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of delicious pages to another!
I couldn’t help but fall in love with Hadley, and through her eyes, with the young Ernest Hemingway. He was just twenty when they met, handsome and magnetic, passionate and sensitive and full of dreams. I was surprised at how much I liked and admired him — and before I knew it, I was entirely swept away by their gripping love story.
I hope you will be as captivated by this remarkable couple as I am — and by the fascinating world of Paris in the 20’s, the fast-living, ardent and tremendously driven Lost Generation.”
I’m always fascinated by stories that reveal how a renowed person rose from obscurity to become a successful or well-known figure. How did Ernest Hemingway become Ernest Hemingway? “The Paris Wife” does show him as a young man bursting with ideas and a passion for writing, yet having trouble finding his niche.
He goes to Paris with his new wife, Hadley, and connects with a group of writers and artists, who include F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliott.
The book provides an intimate glimpse into Hadley’s life as she crosses paths and casts her fate with a future literary giant.
One aspect of “The Paris Wife” which was so painful to me as a writer was when Hadley lost Hemingway’s manuscripts. Hemingway was in Switzerland meeting with a potential publisher–the journalist and editor, Lincoln Steffens. Hadley was going to take a train from Paris to join him. He asked her to bring his work with her so he could show it to Steffens. While the train was still standing in the Gare de Lyon, Hadley went to buy a bottle of Evian water for the trip. She left the suitcase unattended on the train while she did so. When she came back, it was gone.
At that point, nothing of Hemingway’s fiction had been published. In Paris, there was nothing left. With touching thoroughness, Hadley had packed both the originals and their carbons. Only two short stories survived the disaster. “Up in Michigan”, which he had buried in a drawer because Gertrude Stein had said it was unpublishable, while “My Old Man” was out with an editor at a magazine.
There was no hard drive backup as writers have now–just the manuscript. When it was gone it was really gone.
As I have been reading”The Paris Wife”, a new Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris” hit the theatres this month. A new Woody Allen movie has always been an occasion for me throughout my adult life. I hurried to a matinee and found one of Woody’s best movies in years. “Midnight in Paris” is the story of a writer, played by Owen Wilson, who wishes he could live in another era. That era being the 1920s in Paris. One night as Owen Wilson’s character is standing on a street in Paris, a vintage car pulls up full of people going to a party. He is magically transported back in time and becomes part of the 1920s Lost Generation.
He talks about writing with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and even has Gertrude Stein read the manuscript of his novel. At times, the movie is hilariously funny, seeing a 21st Century writer thrown into the 1920s. Such as the scene where Owen Wilson’s character gives a suicidal Zelda Fitzgerald a valium.
Revisiting that time through “The Paris Wife” and “Midnight in Paris” makes me want to climb into that car with Owen Wilson.


About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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