Hemingway makes a habit out of going to Gertrude Stein’s house in the afternoons. Stein is “always friendly” and she enjoys discussing “people and places and things and food.” However, she doesn’t like hearing about negative things, and thus Hemingway only tells her about “strange and comic things” and keeps the darker topics for his own writing. When Hemingway is writing, he feels that it is important to stop thinking about writing once he is finished for the day—instead, he tries to exercise and to “make love with whom you loved.” It is also important to read in order to distract himself from thinking about his own writing in between periods of work. He reads books by Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, and others from Sylvia’s collection. Stein objects to Hemingway reading Huxley, claiming that he is a “dead man.” She advises Hemingway to read only “what is truly good or what is frankly bad.” She emphasizes that Huxley is “inflated trash,” and asks Hemingway why he reads it.
Hemingway and Stein’s relationship is simultaneously deeply serious and rather light-hearted. Both figures take themselves, their work, and the arts in general very seriously. At the same time, Stein’s unusual way of thinking can be rather comic, which coheres with her preference for only wanting to talk about “strange and comic things.” Much of Stein’s advice to Hemingway seems to deliberately distort or subvert conventional ways of thinking (for example, when she tells him not to read Huxley because he is a “dead man”). Hemingway, meanwhile, seems to think in a more rational and practical way, as is made clear by his rules for writing.
Stein goes on to denounce D.H. Lawrence as “impossible… pathetic and preposterous.” She advises Hemingway to read Marie Belloc Lowndes instead, which he does and enjoys greatly. Hemingway notes that Stein does not like reading French even though she enjoys speaking it. He points out that she never praises people’s writing unless they can have helped her own career, although she will say nice things about others as people. Hemingway knows not to mention James Joyce, explaining that “if you brought up Joyce twice, you would not be invited back.” At another point, Hemingway criticizes a terrible novel by Sherwood Anderson, which infuriates Stein because Anderson is “part of her apparatus.” Stein also holds a grudge against Ezra Pound on account of the fact that he accidentally broke one of the chairs at 27 rue de Fleurus.
Hemingway’s portrayal of Gertrude Stein suggests she is the product of contradictory attributes. She is a loyal and generous mentor to Hemingway, but seems to have a fickle and competitive attitude to other writers like Joyce and Pound. She prides herself on her taste in art and literature, but at times she appears to favor and disfavor particular writers at random. And while her entire life revolves around the production and critique of art, she often prefers to discuss artists as people rather than discussing their work.
On one occasion, the ignition of Stein’s Model T Ford is not working, and the mechanic who attempts to fix it does a poor job. The garage keeper accuses the mechanic of being part of a “génération perdue” or “lost generation.” Stein agrees, telling Hemingway that he and the mechanic are indeed members of a lost generation who, after serving in the war, spend all their time getting drunk. Hemingway protests, but Stein insists that there’s no use in arguing with her. This conversation provokes Hemingway to recall memories from the war and he feels resentful of Stein, thinking “who is calling who a lost generation?” He then thinks about other generations “lost by something,” imagining it to be a universal condition. He resolves to remain a good friend to Stein, even though her comment upset him. Upon seeing Hadley at home, Hemingway mentions that Stein “talks a lot of rot,” and Hadley admits she wouldn’t know because she is a wife, so only Stein’s “friend” (Alice) talks to her.
The phrase “lost generation” has long been accepted as the definitive term to describe Hemingway and his peers; it is thus a surprising twist to learn that Gertrude Stein first heard it from an anonymous garage keeper. In the present, the term generally has positive connotations, as it describes a group of artists and writers who turned the trauma of the First World War into innovative acts of creation. However, it is clear that Hemingway is somewhat offended by Stein’s use of the term. He seems to interpret “lost” to mean hopeless, aimless, and destructive. This passage emphasizes the fact that Hemingway is very sensitive to Stein’s words, even though he dismisses them as “a lot of rot.”