In any event, the idea of a lost generation came to represent that post-World War I group of young men, and even young women, who lost much of their paradigm after the war. I hesitate to bring Downton Abbey into this (as delightful as the program can be at times...), but it might offer something of an immediate comparison. Just consider how lost everyone and everything seems once the war is over. Social positions are confused, and no one quite knows how to make things go back to the way they were; many have a good idea they don't want things to go back to the way they were, but they're still not sure how things should be.
Hemingway was only briefly involved in the war as an ambulance driver in Italy. His brief involvement was enough for him to be wounded and to face the struggle of recovery. Once he was well enough to return home, he began writing, but the events of his wartime experience left him dissatisfied with the idea of returning to the way his life had been before the war. And Europe called him back, it seems. In 1921, Hemingway moved to Paris as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. While in Paris, Hemingway began to make the writing connections that made him part of the Parisian expatriate group: the aforementioned Stein, poet Ezra Pound, and visionary writer James Joyce. By 1926, Hemingway had published The Sun Also Rises, in which he noted the "lost generation." In all fairness, though, Hemingway also noted that he wasn't so much suggesting the generation was permanently lost. After all, the other part of his epigraph is from Ecclesiastes:
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.Apparently, he was indicating that there's hope for the future. And apparently, everyone has kind of missed this. Oh, well. Literary analysts are notorious cherry-pickers.
Hemingway continued in Paris and throughout other parts of Europe (in particular, Spain) and back to the United States for periods of time. During his lifetime, he published 10 novels, as well as a number of short stories.
As for style, Hemingway's writing has a touch of the hard-boiled journalist to it, but there are occasional hints of the lyrical in it. Above all, there seems to be a constant hint of sadness, even in the happy moments. It defines modernism, I suppose. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that he's my favorite among the writers of this period.)
So are you interested yet? You might be, but you're not quite sure where to get started with Hemingway. Or maybe you read something of his in high school or college and were left wishing the war had carried him off.
If you'd like to give Hemingway another try, you have a couple of options for approaching his work. (For a full list of Hemingway's works, see here.)
1) Start with the short stories. Hemingway was a great short story writer, as he was a master of subtlety and the understated. It's often what isn't said that makes the difference. For something that represents the period when Hemingway was really coming into his own as a writer, his collection Men Without Women contains some strong stories. Or just see what your library has. (I'd recommend an internet source, but Hemingway's family keeps a pretty tight reign on his works, so you might be hard put to find much in the way of full-text stories.)
2) Start with a novel. The first Hemingway novel I read was one of his first, The Sun Also Rises. I realize now that this was over 10 years ago, but everything about the story remains vivid. In a good way, of course. The Sun Also Rises is certainly the most representative novels of the "lost generation," so you get some idea about how the world was changing during this time.
If you want a little more of a challenge, there's always For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was inspired by Hemingway's coverage of the Spanish Civil War. There's one thing to bear in mind with For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I didn't realize this until I was about halfway through: the book is written as though it's been translated from formal Spanish, and if you've ever read formal Spanish you know what I mean. There's nothing wrong with it, of course, but a direct translation can sound a bit stilted. It would be the equivalent of reading a book translated from Irish in which everyone is saying things like, "It's cold I feel today." That's literally how the phrase translates from Irish, but when a book goes into translation there are usually accommodations for English phrasing. Hemingway makes none of those, and no doubt on purpose. I admire that on the one hand, but it makes the book a tricky recommendation for a first excursion into Hemingway.
If you want something with more of a New World flair, Hemingway also wrote To Have and Have Not, on which the Bogart/Bacall film was based. And his final work published during his lifetime was The Old Man and the Sea. Go ahead with this one if it sounds interesting, but bear in mind that a writer's first novel (The Sun Also Rises) and his last (The Old Man and the Sea) are going to be fairly different in style and tone, and going backwards among his works might be harder once you read the novel that represents a different type of maturity in the writer.
Interested? Well, dive right in. Hemingway is one of those quintessentially American writers who was at times most inspired as a writer by not being in America. (Apparently, he managed to find some inspiration after he moved back.) And yet for all his love of Europe and his identification as an expatriate, his "American-ness" always came through in this work. I like this. Sometimes our identify is indeed most enhanced by not being home.
A few odd bit and pieces of trivia:
-- Ernest Hemingway had a son who was nicknamed Bumby. I have no idea why, but I love this photo of him with Gertrude Stein.
-- Hemingway decided to write a novel after reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
-- Hemingway was believed to have suffered from hemochromatosis, in which the body is unable to process iron properly. Mental problems can result. Hemingway's fourth and final wife Mary claims he committed suicide; two of his siblings also committed suicide. It is believed that their father had the condition and passed it on to them. This makes me very sad.
-- When I was fourteen, I visited the Hemingway House in Key West. All I remember is the humidity and the lizards.