A lost member of the not-so-lost generation

The hero in Woody Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris, is thrilled to go back in time to the 1920s, where he meets his literary idols Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and members of their circle. Today, many visitors to Paris fantasize about time-travelling to that golden age of jazz and gin and flappers and meeting these larger-than-life characters. But what were they really like? Are Woody Allen and Ernest Hemingway reliable guides to the so-called “lost generation”?

Midnight_in_Paris

Commemorations of the First World War remind us that French, British, and Commonwealth soldiers who survived the war were often scarred by the experience, even if they were not maimed or blinded. Men who had fought in the trenches, if they came back at all, came back with horrific memories and possibly survivor guilt. And when they returned, many civilians resented them: why did you survive and not my son / brother / lover / friend / husband?

Meanwhile, young (often working-class) women who had taken on full-time employment during the war were being told that men needed their jobs and they should return to domestic life. But what was there left for them? Marriage was no longer a certainty; according to some estimates, they had about a one-in-ten chance of finding a husband, because of the death toll of young men in the war.1

The hectic pace of life in the 1920s, the jazz, the gin, and the flappers, reflected unease as much as release. And although the Americans had participated only in the last 18 months of the war and had not suffered the same catastrophic loss of life, they too felt the anxiety underneath the gaiety.

Ostensibly, this is why Gertrude Stein called those who were still young in the 1920s the “Lost Generation.” But were they really? It’s an odd epithet. In fact, Stein did not invent the expression. According to one account:

During one of their regular talks, Stein told Hemingway of having taken her Model T Ford to a garage to have the ignition repaired. The young mechanic who did the work bungled it in some way, and his patron scolded him for his incompetence. The young man had served in the war and the patron said to him in exasperation, “You are all a génération perdue.”

“That’s what you are,” Gertrude Stein assured Hemingway. “That’s what you all are. All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

Ernest began to object. “Don’t argue with me, Hemingway,” Stein said. “It does no good at all. You’re all a lost generation, exactly as the garage keeper said.”2

I’m not surprised Hemingway objected. He had come to Paris to find his voice as a writer – and he succeeded. So did many other writers and artists. Stein may have liked the sound of the expression, but it didn’t fit Hemingway, nor did it fit others he knew. Still, he used it as an epigraph for The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. Perhaps it was to please Stein. It was his first novel, after all, and he needed the goodwill of his influential friend.

I admit I am not a huge fan of Hemingway’s work. Reading The Sun Also Rises, based on real events in 1925 in Paris and Spain, I cannot help thinking that with friends like Hemingway, nobody needed enemies. He depicts his contemporaries in a generally unfavourable light, while making the first-person narrator seem the only decent chap in the bunch.

But were they “lost”? The group that went to Pamplona, Spain, in 1925 is captured in a contemporary photograph. Who were these people? I went looking for them.

LostGeneration

First on the left is Hemingway himself, looking smug and far from lost.

Next, in the background, with glasses and bow tie, sits an unsmiling Harold Loeb. He later wrote his own account of that trip to Spain. He seems to have risen above Hemingway’s unkind depiction of him in the character of Robert Cohn, who falls for the femme fatale, but is later ejected from the group. Loeb eventually became a successful writer and his only loss was that of the woman he had fallen for. But in the end, he was probably better off without her.

The femme fatale in question sits beside Hemingway. Lady Duff Twysden looks like a cat who has just polished off a tasty canary. She appears in the book as Lady Brett Ashley, sleek as a Bugatti, breaking hearts wherever she went, accustomed to having men pick up the tab for her. When she left Pamplona in 1925, her friends paid her hotel bill. As usual. Duff was not her real name. She was born Mary Smurthwaite. Early on she realized it wouldn’t do for a femme fatale, so she changed it.

In 1925, she was in the process of divorcing her second husband, Sir Roger Twysden. They had a seven-year-old son back in England, but she doesn’t seem to have considered him in her plans. Supposedly she was engaged to the man on the far right. But a few years after the photograph was taken, she met an American artist and moved to the United States with him instead.

Hemingway depicts her as a beautiful but aimless airhead, dependent on the narrator’s strong-shouldered support, but there was much more to her in real life. She had her flaws, but she wasn’t an airhead, and I wouldn’t call her lost.

Hadley Hemingway, Ernest’s (then) wife, beams in the middle of the photograph. The book was dedicated to her, but she was written out of the narrative – that way, the narrator could openly express his attraction for Duff Twsden / Brett Ashley and still appear to be a swell guy. Hadley was certainly lost to literature in this book. She eventually parted from Ernest (in hindsight, a wise move) and married a well-respected journalist. She may have felt lost at the time, watching her husband dancing attendance on Duff, but she found herself in the end.

Only just visible beside Hadley is Donald Ogden Stewart, who went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter, and is probably best remembered for The Philadelphia Story. He appears in the book as the narrator’s buddy Bill, an affable fellow with no heartaches and no apparent inner life. He wasn’t lost.

And finally, on the far right is Patrick Stirling Guthrie, the one and only utterly lost person in the group. Hemingway immortalized him as “Mike Campbell” in The Sun Also Rises, and depicts some of Patrick’s real-life characteristics. (1) Mike is an undischarged bankrupt. So was Pat. (2) Mike receives an allowance from his family. Pat was indeed a remittance man. His bankruptcy papers list him as having “No occupation.” (3) Mike drinks heavily. That squares with the record. (4) Hemingway calls him “Scotch.” Well, his family was Scottish, although he was born in London and seems to have spent most of his life in England. (5) He was engaged to marry Duff. Hm, unclear. Others believe he was gay3 and he may just have been a convenient escort. He was a distant relative (fourth cousin) of Duff’s and it seems that they were emotionally close, but the real nature of their relationship is lost to history.

In 1927, two years after the trip to Spain and a year after the publication of his first novel, Hemingway noted in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald that Duff and Pat had parted company. Pat was rescued to some extent by an older American freelance journalist, Lorna Lindsley, who seems to have paid his debts and kept him out of trouble, at least for a while. But he died in 1932, aged 37, either by suicide or from a drug overdose; nobody is sure. And nobody seems to have cared, except his mother, who came to Paris to settle his affairs and pay off his debts.4

All the other characters have made some kind of mark on literary history, and been written up in various ways, from academic treatises to Wikipedia. Not Pat. He disappeared into oblivion, other than a short memoir about him by a barman who served him at the famous Dingo Bar on the rue Delambre.5 And most of that document is about Duff.

I found a few traces of Patrick in official records. His father was a merchant banker and MP who died in 1911 and his mother was the daughter of an Irish baronet; they were part of high-society London and owned an enormous house in London and a castle on the Isle of Mull. Pat was educated at Eton, Cambridge, and Sandhurst, served in the First World War in the First Life Guards, a cavalry regiment, and became a lieutenant in 1915, when he was 20. The regiment served at Mons, Ypres, and Passchendaele and presumably Pat was there, too. If so, he must have had some appalling experiences. But in those days one didn’t talk about such things. He just drank a lot.

In a generation of hardy survivors, good-time girls, and emerging writers, most of whom found themselves in Paris, Pat was truly lost, poor fellow.

As for that hapless garage attendant, I hope he got his act together, bought out the patron, married, had a family, and lived a long and prosperous life. If only to prove Gertrude Stein wrong.

Text by Philippa Campsie; cinema still from http://theweek.com/article/index/251479/the-9-best-ways-to-time-travel-ranked; 1920s photograph from Wikipedia.

 

  1. Judith Mackrell, Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013, p. 73.
  2. Lyle Larsen, Stein and Hemingway: The Story of a Turbulent Friendship, McFarland and Company, p. 52.
  3. Michael Reynolds, Hemingway: The Paris Years, Basil Blackwell, 1989, p. 301.
  4. Apparently his mother was something of a character. When Patrick’s father died in 1911, she remarried, but later divorced, and ended her days living in Torosay Castle in Scotland with a Pekinese and a foul-mouthed parrot.
  5. James Charters, “Pat and Duff: Some Memories,” in Hemingway and the Sun Set, NCR/Microcard Editions, 1972, pp. 241–246.

 

About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
This entry was posted in Paris history and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A lost member of the not-so-lost generation

  1. Marilyn Goebel says:

    One other thing about Hadley Hemingway – when Ernest left her, he gave her the royalities for “The Sun Also Rises,” which provided an income for her the rest of her life. A view of the “Lost Generation” from her point view is found in “Hadley – A life of Hadley Richardson” by Gioia Diliberto.

  2. Dianne Obeso says:

    Love the hats! Thanks for sorting this out. It may have better to have said some of these survivors were the disenchanted generation..having been gassed,bombed, having many relatives die in horrible situations and been put back into a society that didn’t understand. I always think of Vera Brittain’s commentary. Thanks. Dianne

    • I read “Testament of Youth” many years ago, and also saw it in the form of a “Masterpiece Theatre” series. It does sum up so much about the wrenching experiences of that generation.
      Philippa

  3. What a delight to read your essay while sitting in Paris in the 9th we have so appreciated all your fantastic information. Makes a much richer experience

  4. rfewen says:

    Once bitten by the charms of Paris I devoured a lot of books and one author I read was Hemingway. I followed his stories of his adventures in Paris by keeping a city map handy while he walked form one place to another and eventually visited those places in Paris. It was like having a traveler’s guide. I almost ordered the potato salad and cold beer in the Brasserie Lipp!

  5. It is refreshing to hear someone who doesn’t just parrot what others keep repeating. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Philippa! The young mechanic’s patron sounds no different than any other older person who looks at the younger generation and bemoans our future in the hands of such irresponsible losers. Wasn’t it Plato who first pointed out the disparaging view the aging generation has about its progeny?
    I’m almost 60 and was feeling guilty because I hadn’t read any Hemingway classics. In the last couple of years, I finally read “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Moveable Feast.” I understand that Hemingway’s terse writing style was new form but the stories themselves left me wanting. I didn’t like any of the characters in “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Moveable Feast” seemed a deceitful tale of a lot of drinking at Paris cafes — upon learning that Hemingway was not near as poor and destitute as he lead people to believe. Put in context as to when he wrote it, the latter story seems an apology to Hadley, a regretful lookback at his life, cheating on this woman he supposedly loved so much.
    My own theory is that Hemingway was gay. He tried way too hard to be so macho.

    • If I’m not mistaken, Zelda Fitzgerald thought so too. She figured nobody could possibly be that macho in reality. She considered Hemingway a bad influence on her husband and didn’t trust him. She also had no time for Gertrude Stein, and called her conversation “sententious gibberish.” I think I like Zelda.

      I’ve read both Hemingway books you mention and I would give them a solid “A” for concise evocations of places and landscapes and an equally solid “D-” for vapid dialogue!

      Philippa

  6. Pingback: »Blog Archive Origins of the "Lost Generation" -

  7. Julie Anya Guthire says:

    Thank so much for this fascinating article. Patrick Stirling Guthrie was my great-great grandfather’s cousin. Five minutes ago, I’d never seen a photo of Patrick and I’d absolutely no idea that he was a friend of Hemmingway.

    • You have an interesting family. During my research on Patrick, I found out quite a bit about his relatives, particularly his mother. I think there is a book about her. If you would like me to dig out my notes, let me know.

      Philippa

      • Thanks, that would be very interesting. You may have already seen the photos of Patrick’s father, Walter and mother at the Devonshire House Ball in 1897. Walter Murray Guthrie was a Conservative MP, while his elder brother, David Charles Guthrie (5th Baron of Craigie) was a Liberal MP.

      • Please send your e-mail address to parisianfields@gmail.com

        I collected bits and pieces about Pat Guthrie from a range of sources and could send them in a PDF.

        Philippa

      • Julie Anya Guthire says:

        I have been looking into Lady Duff Twysden’s ancestry. Her mother was a Stirling and so I guessed there might possibly be a connection. Lady Duff Twysden turns out to be Patrick Stirling Guthrie’s fourth cousin. I wonder if they knew that they were related?

      • I believe they did. I think that is how they got to know each other in the first place.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s