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Idealised Past (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

The picture acts as a drop cap for the text. Purple letter I with a laurel wreath, representing the A to Z Challenge blogging event. Text below the logo says 'Blogging from A to Z April Challenge' and 'a-to-zchallenge.com'

The Lost Generation’s relationship with anything other than the present was, at best, weird. They distrusted the future, but their relationship with the past was even more complex. 

The Lost Generation’s relationship with the future

The Lost Generation didn’t trust the future. They didn’t trust it would be there for them. 
The experience of WWI taught them how fleeting life is. On the battlefield, literary, you were there a moment, and the moment after, you were not there anymore. 

Believing in a fulfilling future is one of the things the Lost Generation lost. 
They could not wait for the future because it could never come. 
And even if it did, who knew what it would be? The ‘future’ they were living was in no way the future they had imagined before the Great War. 

So, as dismally and disappointing as the present was, it was better than a future that was very dangerous to trust. 

Idealised Past (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) – The Lost Generation's relationship with anything other than the present was, at best, weird. But they longed for the past #1920s #histroy Share on X

The Lost Generation’s relationship with the past

Pinterest Pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Idealised Past." The black-and-white picture shows two Victorian men sitting on the short of a shady river, chatting in the serene environment.

Their relationship with the past was similar and yet different from their relationship with the future. 

A similar sense of betrayal was attached to it. 
The future might not – and probably would not – bring on what they hoped for. In the same way, the past had not delivered on its promises. And it was lost to them, too. 

Most of the young people who fought in the Great War were old enough to have had a glimpse of the world before the war. 
The young women and men who fought in the Great War lived as children in their parents’ peaceful world and were educated to be part of it. They were taught its value and how to show their worth in that world. Implicitly, they were promised they would live in the same world. 

But the Great War disintegrated everything these young people were thought was normal and real and installed a new reality nobody knew how to handle. Not their elders, and certainly not them, who were equipped with values and abilities that had suddenly become useless. 

This is why they felt they had been betrayed and lied to. This is why they thought the past was a lie, something not real, something where they could not find the answers to their many questions. 

And yet, in this extremely negative conceptualisation of the past, there was also an idea of relief, though a very sad, nostalgic one. 

With all their resentment for the past they were promised and never delivered, the Lost Generation felt that the world before the war they tasted as children was better than the one they were living in. 
It was a simpler world—in a way, a naif world. Values were simpler and more straightforward, easier to live by. There was a stronger connection with nature. Sentiments were purer. 
This idea of the past became a romantic dream that, on the one hand, made the betrayal sting all the worse; on the other, it was nonetheless a dream of a possible world that had existed, although they had not had the opportunity to live in it. 

The Lost Generation’s tragic idea of time

The black-and-white photo shows a couple from the mid-1800s posing in a natural setting, probably the mountains, giving an idyllic image of peace and balance.

The Lost Generation had an idealised vision of the future, and especially an idealised vision of the past. 
It can be argued that neither the past nor the future they envisioned was true. Nobody could say what the future would be like – and they were tragically right about it. 
But even the past they knew probably wasn’t the way they thought. It was a romanticised past where only the best things came to the surface. Almost a fairyland where everything was simpler. 

Sanweetched between these two imagined realities, the Lost Generation tried to make do with a present they knew and were not particularly happy about. 
To them, all time was lost. The past they had been promised and never given, the future they might never enjoy, and even the present that they enjoyed but did not satisfy them. 


RESOURCES

Anti-Materialism – What was the Lost generation?
Flashbak – Idyllic Victorian Photos of the 1850s English Countryside


Horizontal banner for the book "The Great War". On the left-hand side is the photo of a group of soldiers standing in a WWI trench. A Yellow button reads, "Go to Shop". On the right-hand side is a picture of a stake of two books, of which only the spine is visible, and the cover of a book standing upright, with the same group of soldiers standing in the trench. The stake of books stands against an olive green background. A big title in yellow reads "The Great War", and a smaller text reads "The updated ebook".

6 Comments

  • Kristin Cleage
    Posted April 10, 2024 at 02:33

    Sounds lost all right.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2024 at 19:16

      You know? I had Tolkien in mind while writing this. His work is full of this feeling.

  • Viktor Steiner
    Posted April 11, 2024 at 07:01

    Truly a life-shattering experience, that Great War. The hopelessness and despair the Lost Generation felt seems quite similar to today’s postmodern mood.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2024 at 19:17

      Very true. The more our Twenties progress, the more seem to feel like ‘their’ Twenties.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 13, 2024 at 18:33

    No wonder they lived for the moment…

    Ronel visiting for I: My Languishing TBR: I
    Incubus

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