The Lost Generation

“You are all a lost generation.”

Epigraph, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

My first favorite author (long before I discovered Jane Austen) was F. Scott Fitzgerald.* Perhaps I read The Great Gatsby or This Side of Paradise  for school or even one of his exquisite short stories (which quickly became one of my favorite genres) in college,  but I somehow stumbled upon the genius and wit of Fitzgerald.  He introduced me to the madcap history that is the 1920s and, in this post, I highlight some amazing true stories that bring the decade to life.

 The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer. Not only does this interesting book tell you the history behind the race to be the first woman to swim the brutal waters of the English Channel, it tells the individual stories and heartbreaks of each of the four women in their quest (and the effect of the event on the winner’s life), the cultural history of swimming and especially women’s swimming as a sport,  as well as the immense popularity of sports celebrities.

 Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story  by Amanda Vaill. In the 1920s, Gerald and Sara Murphy were like the inventors of the “in” crowd (or to use the slang of the 1920s, the “it” crowd). They seemed to start the trend of leaving the states for Europe where it was much cheaper to live after the Great War. This is their love story but it’s also a history of the expatriate community of writers and artists (which included such luminaries as Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Dorothy Parker, and Cole Porter to name but a few) who lived their dreams of freedom and creativity. It was fun while it lasted.

 Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz. What a crazy book! The new modern woman comes alive in this cultural history describing the changes in the social acceptance of the independent woman. From the daring swimsuits, the bobbed hair–as an aside, read Fitzgerald’s short story, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair“– and shorter skirts to smoking and drinking in public with men, to the right to vote and individual profiles of fashion designer Coco Chanel, southern belle Zelda Sayre (Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald) and actresses Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, and Clara Bow. Fascinating and wild.

 Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties by Marion Meade. In this engaging literary biographical  quartet, Meade explores the lives and influence of four women who epitomized the Jazz Age: poet Edna St. Vincent-Millay, satirist, critic, writer Dorothy Parker,  writer, artist,dancer Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, and novelist and playwright Edna Ferber.


Note: This post is the second in a series about wonderful historical non-fiction books  I’ve read over the years.

*Stay tuned for a future post.


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8 responses to “The Lost Generation

  1. Hurray! This was a fun post. Now I’m dreaming of Paris…

    Leigh Anne

  2. Amanda

    The Great Swim looks exciting! My only relationship to the writers of the 1920’s writers and that time period is the book The Portable Curmudgeon. In this book I learned about the Algonquin Roundtable which wikipedia describes as:

    The Algonquin Round Table was a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. Gathering initially as part of a practical joke, members of “The Vicious Circle”, as they dubbed themselves, met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929. At these luncheons they engaged in wisecracks, wordplay and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country.

    I rememeber one thing about the book being that the lunchtime situation got to a point where a person could not even say, “pass the salt” without someone trying to make a pun out of it or someone trying to one up them.

  3. Bernice Bobs Her Hair is my favorite Fitzgerald short story. It has perhaps one of the best endings in the short story genre.

    And the lives of this generation of writers is as interesting as what they wrote!

  4. lastseenat

    Not just what they wrote; what they said, anecdotally. Harpo proves brilliant; Groucho a tad intimidated; Dorothy Parker & FPA exchange marvelous, quotable barbs – possibly their subconscious intention. The Algonquin ‘lunchers’ thrust & parry, entertain, publish, are esteemed because they had “IT” in perpetuiy. They also generated an aura of consciously-denied depression for which wit and satire provided a shield, if not therapy. As Parker snapped when the response to her, “Do drop by this evening.” was the inquiry, “Oh, are you entertaining?”, “Not very.” & closed the cab door & any further chatter.
    To be sure, theirs was a brilliant performance, one often unknown to our children. When I took my daughter to see the ballroom at the old Cavalier Hotel where her wedding reception was potentially to be held, I enthused/marketed, “Scott and Zelda danced here. Just tthink!”, to which “Who are Scott and Zelda?” assaulted my ears/ sensibilities – an apt moment to mudder, “Would you kindly direct me to Hell?” as “a girl’s best friend . . .” WAS NOT “. . .her mudder.”

  5. I love Fitzgerald as well- and Jane Austen. I would love for you to stop in and check out

    I am currently reading Everybody was so young.

  6. Laurie, Oh, my goodness! Thank you for your link! Love it! Glad to meet a fellow Fitzgerald devotee! :)

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