Finding the “Lost”

The line that separates Lost Modernists from Modernists we read and study today is not indelibly etched. Yet, there is a line drawn between Lost Generation writers and “lost” Modernists that have since fallen from the canon – both of which fall under the meaning of Lost Modernists. While it may sound confusing to differentiate between Lost Generation and Modernist writers, there is a convergence of the two. Simply put, Lost Generation members are a sub-category of Modernism. Lost Generation writers are considered to have written from 1914 onward, and were typically born between 1883 and 1900. However,  Modernism itself has its roots prior to 1914. The Modernist period tends to vary in date, depending on who you ask. Some will say it began shortly prior to the twentieth century, while others will say it began shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century. However, Modernist and Lost Generation literature settled down in the late 1930s/early 1940s.

Now that any possible confusion has been cleared up, it is crucial to mention why one writer may be considered “lost,” but not another. Names like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are no stranger to readers and scholars today, but how about names like Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Evelyn Scott, and E.M. Delafield? (It is no surprise that most of these forgotten writers are female!) Some Modernists are out-of-print today, putting writers that we may have heard of even further from our grasps. What makes a writer “lost”? This could happen if a writer is currently out-of-print, not the focal point of modern-day discussion and writing, not mentioned or included in courses about Modernism, and if online records and biographical information are scant or inexistent.

So, how do you go about finding a “lost” writer? This may go without having to be said, but almost all answers trickle back to the time period when someone wrote. This is because the past is where we can find record of publications. As it turns out, Gatsby was right: “’Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” Epistolary writings, book advertisements, and data concerning book publications from the Modernist time period can serve as ways to revive forgotten writers.

A dust-jacket from a first edition of Raw Material by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, showing a myriad of book advertisements.

One medium through which we can learn most about forgotten writers is by looking at the remarkable Shakespeare and Company Project. At Princeton University, scholars have meticulously sorted through Sylvia Beach’s records from her bookshop in Paris at 12 rue de l’Odéon. The reading records of literary greats — such as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and plenty of others — are able to be viewed. This opportunity allows for us to look at titles and authors that have not survived the tests of time. Mazo de la Roche, Dorothy Richardson, Pearl S. Buck, and Sylvia Thompson represent a mere sliver of the writers that have canonically passed away.

Soon, I hope to compile and upload to this website an ever-growing list of Lost Modernists to typify the magnitude of writers who have been dismembered from the canon.

 

Links:

Shakespeare and Company Project: https://shakespeareandco.princeton.edu

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