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Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction)

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Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain's elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war's end she had lost virtually ever Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain's elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war's end she had lost virtually everyone she loved. Testament of Youth is both a record of what she lived through and an elegy for a vanished generation. Hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as a book that helped “both form and define the mood of its time,” it speaks to any generation that has been irrevocably changed by war.


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Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain's elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war's end she had lost virtually ever Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain's elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war's end she had lost virtually everyone she loved. Testament of Youth is both a record of what she lived through and an elegy for a vanished generation. Hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as a book that helped “both form and define the mood of its time,” it speaks to any generation that has been irrevocably changed by war.

30 review for Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    It's another irony of that most ironic of conflicts that the greatest account of how 1914-18 was lived comes not from a male writer out of the trenches, or from some politician familiar with the negotiations, but instead from a middle-class girl from Derbyshire who experienced the war first as a waiting fiancée and later as a volunteer nurse. Vera Brittain grew up in Buxton, where her father owned a couple of paper mills; she was close to her musical brother, had a growing romance with one of hi It's another irony of that most ironic of conflicts that the greatest account of how 1914-18 was lived comes not from a male writer out of the trenches, or from some politician familiar with the negotiations, but instead from a middle-class girl from Derbyshire who experienced the war first as a waiting fiancée and later as a volunteer nurse. Vera Brittain grew up in Buxton, where her father owned a couple of paper mills; she was close to her musical brother, had a growing romance with one of his schoolfriends, and fought with her family to be allowed to go to university. Her provincial childhood was characteristic of a rather staid but untroubled Edwardian society which offered few opportunities for intelligent women. Then, when she was 20, came the world war. The careful attempt in Testament of Youth to recreate this context – the book begins in the nineteenth century and doesn't end until the 1930s – is what makes it such a powerful read. When the war comes, it is seen not as some isolated ordeal of shelling and trenches, nor as a political collapse – but as the Apocalypse for an entire society that was already struggling with class relationships and gender imbalances, and whose failure to address these issues was in fact central to the way it faced military conflict. It's hard to write about this memoir objectively because reading it is such an emotional experience. Day after day it left me drained and speechless, partly in sympathy with the losses she suffered and partly in admiration at her technique. Her narrative voice is absolutely flawless; she finds a dry, amused tone which is drenched in a kind of sad wisdom and which positions her squarely in a tradition of English irony that I adore. She can be very funny when she needs to be, and she does not over-egg the moments of high drama, well aware of when bare facts will do the job. Throughout the book there is a profound sense of authorial control that I only feel with the greatest writers. Certainly the way she evokes the experience of those left behind during the war, especially women, is nowhere done better. Her use of contemporary diaries and letters allows her to recreate with extraordinary effect the ‘prolonged apprehension’, the mental strain, of constantly waiting for telegrams or letters from the front to learn whether one's friends and family are still whole or not. (‘Even now,’ she comments, writing in 1933, ‘I cannot work comfortably in a room from which it is possible to hear the front-door bell.’) As her brother, her fiancé and her friends all troop off to fight, Brittain realises that she is suffering, ‘like so many women in 1914, from an inferiority complex’. This is something that many female writers of the time have tried to analyse – I kept going back to a poem called ‘Drafts’ by Nora Bomford (in Scars Upon My Heart): So dreadfully safe! O, damn the shibboleth Of sex! God knows we've equal personality. Why should men face the dark while women stay To live and laugh and meet the sun each day. But no one has made me feel the psychological outrage of this as well as Vera Brittain does here, not even Rebecca West. Desperate to do something, she drops out of her hard-won course at Somerville College, Oxford, in order to enrol as a VAD, where she works first in London, then in Malta, and finally in France. The stark realities that nursing represented for a sheltered, middle-class girl are brilliantly evoked – this was a time, she points out, when ‘all girls' clothing […] appeared to be designed by their elders on the assumption that decency consisted in leaving exposed to the sun and air no part of the human body that could possibly be covered with flannel’. Now here she was stripping men naked, treating venereal disease, and mopping up blood, pus and vomit for twelve hours a day. Sex was not, I think, a strong force in Vera Brittain's life, at least her early life as described here; she was not very interested in boys growing up, and her attraction to her fiancé Roland was primarily an artistic and intellectual one – they had got engaged almost without having experienced any physical contact at all. Given this complete anatomical ignorance, of a kind now hard to imagine, it is all the more astonishing to read such sensitive passages as the following, which I found extraordinarily moving: Short of actually going to bed with [the patients], there was hardly an intimate service that I did not perform for one or another in the course of four years, and I still have reason to be thankful for the knowledge of masculine functioning which the care of them gave me, and for my early release from the sex-inhibitions that even to-day – thanks to the Victorian tradition which up to 1914 dictated that a young woman should know nothing of men but their faces and their clothes until marriage pitchforked her into an incompletely visualised and highly disconcerting intimacy – beset many of my female contemporaries, both married and single. In the early days of the War the majority of soldier-patients belonged to a first-rate physical type which neither wounds nor sickness, unless mortal, could permanently impair, and from the constant handling of their lean, muscular bodies, I came to understand the essential cleanliness, the innate nobility, of sexual love on its physical side. Although there was much to shock in Army hospital service, much to terrify, much, even, to disgust, this day-by-day contact with male anatomy was never part of the shame. Since it was always Roland whom I was nursing by proxy, my attitude towards him imperceptibly changed; it became less romantic and more realistic, and thus a new depth was added to my love. What I want to draw attention to here, beyond the emotional impact, is the fact that in 1933 there was really no established prose convention under which women could write about men's bodies in this way; Brittain is forging this language for the first time, and that's something she succeeds in doing at many points throughout the book. It is one of the most striking implications of her wonderful (and wonderfully undoctrinaire) feminism that she is determined to say what is unsaid, and more importantly to explain what is insufficiently understood, about women's experiences of the war and of social pressures in general. This is not to say that she neglects how her male friends experienced the war – quite to the contrary, she is committed to understanding and memorialising what she memorably calls ‘the tragic, profound freemasonry of those who accepted death together overseas’; but by focusing elsewhere she somehow makes it more profound and tragic than I've ever felt it before. The sense of clear-eyed realism that characterises Brittain's descriptions is reinforced by her rejection of any religious comfort. Her spiritual beliefs constitute a kind of questing agnosticism (informed in part by Olive Schreiner's 1883 novel The Story of an African Farm, which was a keystone book for her and Roland). But she is convinced that death is final; and at times, when she is thinking about interpersonal duties and responsibilities, she is very inspiring on this subject: And then I remembered, with a startling sense of relief, that there was no resurrection to complicate the changing relationships forced upon men and women by the sheer passage of earthly time. There was only a brief interval between darkness and darkness in which to fulfil obligations, both to individuals and society, which could not be postponed to the comfortable futurity of a compensating heaven. It's very affecting to see her reach for these lessons in the latter parts of the book. It would have been easy to start this book in 1914, end it in 1919, and make it a true war memoir. That is not enough for her; it doesn't do the job. She keeps going, through the ‘numb disillusion’, through the ‘indictment of a civilisation’, on through the 1920s and into the 1930s, until she reaches a point where she can start to say, This is where I might be able to go next. This is where society might be able to go next. The whole thing is a colossal achievement, hugely upsetting, but hugely inspiring. It blew the back of my head off. It really should be read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steelwhisper

    Where to start? I started reading Testament of Youth mainly for the information on WW1, not knowing that apart from suffering heartbreaking losses and being a VAD nurse, Vera Brittain also was a feminist of the first hour and a writer of great astuteness. In consequence she proceeded to reduce me to openmouthed admiration as early on as her description of youth and life prior to the Great War. Never before have I truly understood the massive societal changes wrought upon people during that short p Where to start? I started reading Testament of Youth mainly for the information on WW1, not knowing that apart from suffering heartbreaking losses and being a VAD nurse, Vera Brittain also was a feminist of the first hour and a writer of great astuteness. In consequence she proceeded to reduce me to openmouthed admiration as early on as her description of youth and life prior to the Great War. Never before have I truly understood the massive societal changes wrought upon people during that short phase of time. Brittain writes so that you are there *with* her, that inevitably you get reminded of your grandparents and their often tentative and still excruciatingly backward stance in many personal matters. Never before was I able to appreciate what it truly meant to have no privacy, at all, to be directed in every manner by parents and their peers. Brittain made it accessible to me, by giving me such simple signposts as e.g. the fact that no woman was ever private, to herself and alone except very early in the morning and late in the night. That indeed a lot of women didn’t rise very early because they had to, but because they cherished those few moments they could have to themselves. Nor did I truly grasp what it might mean to an 18 year old VAD nurse to be thrust into a ward filled with men and having to tend to their most private needs, oftentimes themselves. Up to then any middle-class girl wouldn’t have been aware of male anatomy, yet suddenly she would have to deal with helping arm-amputated to take a leak and perforce also discover the pure plumbings of the male sexuality and what it might mean in terms of her later duties as a wife. It made me finally understand some things discussed with friends who grew up in extremely repressed households. Her descriptions of budding love, of Roland, Victor and Geoffrey, and of course her brother Edward, and her unconventional approach to these men, were sweet and all the more ingenious to read when juxtaposed to their later letters from the front depicting how much they changed or wrestled with what they considered their duty. *That* also was something I, a post WW2 child with a sound hatred of warfare, finally grasped, which was so utterly heartbreaking because it meant that so many, many gallant young men on any of the sides had been viciously misled. I could go on and on, especially as I have read, prior to this, enough factual books on WW1 to know just what horrors she was so calmly writing about. A feminist, a pacifist and yet she still managed to display that special kind of stiff upper lip which was and is particular to the British middle and upper classes. She slips but rarely, this here I consider such a slip: I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy War, and the orators who talk so much about going on no matter how long the War lasts and what it may mean, could see a case--to say nothing of 10 cases--of mustard gas in its early stages--could see the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes--sometimes temporally, sometimes permanently--all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke. For a brief moment that stiff upper lip slips and she lets us see the horror thrust upon her. By the end of the war she had lost everything dear and close, her beloved fiancé, her brother, her best friends. Brittain convincingly writes about the schism which separates the post-war self from her pre-war self, one which is likely to mark almost everyone of that generation. A note of warning: I cried a lot, for all those young men, for their lovers, sisters, mothers, for the poor men feeling they let down their country and peers because they had to stay at home, for a generation of women confronted with a future alone. At times I was unable to keep going, simply because I was unable to breathe, I was so clogged up from crying. But I’d inevitably come back to the book, pressing on, reading on, wishing to learn where it all ended for her. What to me, child of those who fought and survived in WW2, was the worst was knowing that she was writing this in 1933, just a few months before everything started off again, to the same if not worse result. I very much recommend this book for a personal look at this war, for insights which you won’t find in the usual books written by men and less feministic women and for a close look at what it meant to be a woman born in the Victorian era.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This book has been on my to be read list for over thirty years and I really should not have left it this long to read it. It is much better known these days following the recent film and a TV adaptation some years ago. It is the account of Vera Brittain’s wartime experiences, from a sheltered middle class upbringing to starting at Somerville College Oxford and then to volunteer work as a VAD nurse in Britain, France and Malta. It shows the horrors of war through the eyes of a woman suffering the This book has been on my to be read list for over thirty years and I really should not have left it this long to read it. It is much better known these days following the recent film and a TV adaptation some years ago. It is the account of Vera Brittain’s wartime experiences, from a sheltered middle class upbringing to starting at Somerville College Oxford and then to volunteer work as a VAD nurse in Britain, France and Malta. It shows the horrors of war through the eyes of a woman suffering the losses of loved ones and nursing some of the seriously wounded and dying. Brittain takes her story to 1925 covering her time at Oxford, the post-traumatic stress resulting from her wartime service, her growth as a journalist and writer, her friendship with Winifred Holtby, her work for the League of Nations and ending with her marriage. Any reading in the area of WW1 should include this book. Brittain takes the reader through the loss of innocence and the changes in society wrought by the war. Most of all it charts the loss of a generation. We are introduced to Vera’s brother Edward and his friends Roland, Geoffrey and Victor who all went to Uppingham School. Brittain falls in love with Roland and they become engaged to be married. There are brief meetings during leave and painful partings at railway stations. Inevitably death intervenes and one by one Brittain loses them all. It is heart-rending and being so well written adds to the impact as does Brittain’s poetry, which is included throughout. Brittain does do much more than tell a tale of sadness and loss. She doesn’t portray herself as a victim because her feminism and determination to make a difference shine through. It is interesting to chart the development of Brittain’s thinking from her conservative middle class background to her espousing of pacifism and socialism after the war. She weaves together the personal and political very well and concludes that she doesn’t have to put up with the outrage of society sending its sons to their death and spends the rest of her life fighting for peace. Brittain’s writing has intellectual force and clarity. She is not afraid of feelings and that combination of intellectual vigour and emotion works very well. I think I will probably read the two follow ups, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience. Particularly Friendship which relates to Brittain’s friendship with Winifred Holtby. There is nothing I can say about this which has not already been said; one of the best literary works about the First World War.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Luffy

    Shirley Williams was born in 1930. She is in fact The Baroness Williams of Crosby.She was also Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, from 2001 and 2004.From 2007 to 2010, she acted as Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The above quote was written to show how progressive the women's rights have become. More pertinently, Shirley is the daughter of Vera Brittain, who is the author of Testament of Youth. What Shirley enjoyed in her academic life, Vera h Shirley Williams was born in 1930. She is in fact The Baroness Williams of Crosby.She was also Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, from 2001 and 2004.From 2007 to 2010, she acted as Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The above quote was written to show how progressive the women's rights have become. More pertinently, Shirley is the daughter of Vera Brittain, who is the author of Testament of Youth. What Shirley enjoyed in her academic life, Vera had to fight for hers tooth and nail. Vera Brittain was born in 1893. She witnessed the coming of the British Empire, and lived long enough to see the fall of the Empire. She lived long enough to experience the existence of The Beatles. It's no surprise then, that Vera Brittain had enough material to fill a book, wall to wall. Vera's use of the English language is rich, smooth, and candid. It's impossible to guess who her influences are. That's because the preceding generation of authors and poets wrote so differently. Vera's writing style is so hypnotic. And what she has to say is equally evocative. Testament of Youth is an account of her sojourn as a nurse on the battlefields of The Great War. While Vera's tone is down-to-earth, she knows how to trust to her instincts as a rebel. That's why her handling of Death is so artistic. I hope that didn't sound too nihilistic. Calamities do befall her. The book covers her life up to 1930. The day to day events of the war is uncannily seen through her eyes. When the deaths come, Vera's emotions are so laden with restraint, that we might be forgiven for thinking we are watching a movie. Testament of Youth is a great book. When Vera stipulates that her ashes be released over a certain dear's grave, you know that this is a woman who has lived life to the fullest.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sawsan

    This book is great and painful, a memoir by Vera Brittain, the English writer, mostly a wartime memoir based on her experiences during the First World War Britain was an Oxford student when World War I began, volunteered as a nurse and was a witness on the vicious war and its victims, lost two of her loved ones her brother and fiance after the war she lived in a state of despair and she never completely gets over their death and war scenes years later she became a journalist, novelist, and a spea This book is great and painful, a memoir by Vera Brittain, the English writer, mostly a wartime memoir based on her experiences during the First World War Britain was an Oxford student when World War I began, volunteered as a nurse and was a witness on the vicious war and its victims, lost two of her loved ones her brother and fiance after the war she lived in a state of despair and she never completely gets over their death and war scenes years later she became a journalist, novelist, and a speaker as a feminist and pacifist

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    Vera Brittain was, at that time, a bit younger that my daughter is now. Her elder brother Edward was then also one or two years younger than my son today. Sometimes I still see my children as babies, scratching their backs when they need to relax. My daughter had just finished her first year of college with excellent grades, missing the Dean's list by a point. At that time, Vera Brittain had also just gotten in Somerville in Oxford on a scholarship. She was doing very well there. Unlike most girl Vera Brittain was, at that time, a bit younger that my daughter is now. Her elder brother Edward was then also one or two years younger than my son today. Sometimes I still see my children as babies, scratching their backs when they need to relax. My daughter had just finished her first year of college with excellent grades, missing the Dean's list by a point. At that time, Vera Brittain had also just gotten in Somerville in Oxford on a scholarship. She was doing very well there. Unlike most girls her age, she didn't have marriage and raising a family in mind. She wanted to finish college and become a writer. Her elder brother Edward, like my son, also had ambitions. He was also at Oxford and dreamed of becoming a successful musician. They were raised in a provincial town north of London. Their father was a prosperous businessman. Edward had very close friends: Geoffrey, Victor and Roland. The latter, who was going to another Oxford college, fell in love with Vera. During those times couples who date go for walks along the countryside, talking about noble things. After such walks, Edward secretly composed Vera a poem dated 19 April 1914: "Down the long white road we walked together, Down between the grey hills and the heather, Where the tawny-crested Plover cries. You seemed all brown and soft, just like a linnet, Your errant hair had shadowed sunbeams in it, And there shone all April In your eyes. With your golden voice of tears and laughter Softened into song: 'Does aught come after Life,' you asked, 'When life is Laboured through? What is God, and all for which we're striving?' 'Sweetest sceptic, we were born for living. Life is Love, and Love is-- You, dear, you.'" World war one then broke out. Young men like Edward, Victor and Geoffrey rushed to enlist in the army. Those who could not be admitted for one reason or another felt shamed. A generation without a hindsight, these fine young men innocently marched towards the meat grinder that was world war one "for God, King and Country." Vera left Somerville and volunteered as a nurse. During one of the few times Roland was granted leave they became engaged. They exchanged letters: Roland while in the muddy trenches, Vera in- between attending to the wounded and the dying. They sent each other wonderful poems they chanced upon or remembered. Sometimes they would be inspired enough to write some. Vera kept a diary. In one poignant letter Vera wrote Roland, she remarked that they are like old people for the kept on reminiscing about the past, the few times they had been together. They couldn't talk about the future which was bleak and dim: death could come at any moment for Roland. Indeed death came. Roland was the first to go. He was fixing a barbed wire fence in their trenches when he was badly shot. He was immediately given a large dose of morphine (soldiers going to the front first go shopping: one of the items they never forgot to buy was morphine). Doctors later tried to operate on him and saw his spine completely shattered. Had he miraculously survived, he would have been paralyzed from his waist down. The 20-year-old Vera could only grieve for him with as much sorrow and intensity as a lost first love. She wrote the dead Roland a poem entitled "Perhaps" (google this and see it in Vera's own handwriting): "Perhaps some day the sun will shine again, And I shall see that still the skies are blue, And feel once more I do not live in vain, Although bereft of You. Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay, And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet, Though You have passed away. Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright, And crimson roses once again be fair, And autumn harvest fields a rich delight, Although You are not there. But though kind Time may many joys renew, There is one greatest joy I shall not know Again, because my heart for loss of You Was broken, long ago." Geoffrey, the handsomest of the four, perished in a battle. Victor, who would have entered Cambridge had the war not broken out, was next. He was blinded by a gunshot wound in the head. He survived for a while and was trying to master Braille when something "clicked" inside his head then he later succumbed. Just a year before the war ended Edward himself was killed after retaking a position during a battle. He was shot by a sniper in the head and died almost instantly. He was only twenty-two. Imagine these happening now, to our children! Some more things I learned about that Great War: a. there was the so-called "front" where contending armies face each other with their trenches and fortifications extending miles and miles from end to end. In between them they have a "no man's land" where only the suicidal go (unless they're on attack); b. most deaths were delivered by bombs (from air and land), gunfire (during attacks), sniper fire and disease; c. leaves are granted to soldiers. Several times Roland, Geoffrey, Victor and Edward were able to get leaves and visit their families and friends; d. letters can be exchanged between those in the front and their families at home. But because it takes days or weeks for letters to reach their destinations, sometimes they arrive when their senders had been dead for days or weeks already; and e. when a soldier dies in battle his body is buried at or near the place he was killed (Roland's was in a remote mountainous place somewhere in Italy). When Roland died only his personal things--the tunic torn back and front by the bullet which killed him, a khaki vest dark and stiff with blood, a pair of blood-stained breeches slit open at the top--were returned to his mother and sister. Vera described them in his letter to Edward: "Everything was damp and worn and simply caked with mud. And I was glad that neither you nor Victor nor anyone who may some day go to the front was there to see. If you had been, you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory. For though he had only worn the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards and the Dead. The mud of France which covered them was not ordinary mud; it had not the usual clean pure smell of earth, but it was as though it were saturated with dead bodies--dead that had been dead a long, long time....There was his cap, bent in and shapeless out of recognition--the soft cap he wore rakishly on the back of his head--with the badge thickly coated with mud. He must have fallen on top of it, or perhaps one of the people who fetched him in trampled on it." Both combatants' and noncombatants' thinking about the war evolved as it progressed. Here was Roland's: 1. Before he went to the front he told Vera: "I don't think in the circumstances I could easily bring myself to endure a secluded life of scholastic vegetation (in college). It would seem a somewhat cowardly shirking of my obvious duty....I feel that I am meant to take an active part in this War. It is to me a very fascinating thing--something, if often horrible, yet very ennobling and very beautiful, something whose elemental reality raises it above the reach of all cold theorising."; 2. After seeing the first of his men get killed he wrote Vera: "One of my men has just been killed--the first...I did not actually see it--thank heaven. I only found him lying very still at the bottom of the trench with a tiny stream of blood trickling down his cheek into his coat---I do not quite know how I felt at that moment. It was not anger--even now I have no feeling of animosity against the man who shot him--only a great pity, and a sudden feeling of impotence. It is cruel of me to tell you this..."; 3. Then after more fighting his letter to Vera read: "The dug-outs have been nearly all blown in, the wire entanglements are a wreck, and in among the chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men who poured out their red, sweet wine of youth unknowing, for nothing more tangible than Honour or their Country's Glory or another's Lust of Power. Let him who thinks War is glorious, golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country with as thoughtless and fervid a faith as inspired the priests of Baal to call on their own slumbering deity, let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin-bone and what might have been Its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half crouching as it fell, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who has known and seen who can say that Victory is worth the death of even one of these?" Indeed, after years of fighting and dying there came a point where the soldiers, so full of glorious notions at the beginning, didn't know anymore what the war was all about, the horror of it having made everything seemed meaningless. The British Expeditionary Force had an Army marching song sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne"-- "We're here because We're here because We're here because We're here..." And from the French trenches came this philosophical tract: "When you are a soldier you are one of two things, either at the front or behind the lines. If you are behind the lines you need not worry. If you are at the front your are one of two things. You are either in a danger zone or in a zone which is not dangerous. If you are in a zone which is not dangerous you need not worry. If you are in a danger zone you are one one of two things; either you are wounded or you are not. If you are not wounded you need not worry. If you are wounded you are one of two things, either seriously wounded or slightly wounded. If you are slightly wounded you need not worry. If you are seriously wounded one of two things is certain--either you get well or you die. If you get well you needn't worry. If you die you cannot worry, so there is no need to worry about anything at all." This is said to be the only book about world war one written by a woman. A very moving account of man's stupidity and of an entire generation lost because of it. Vera Brittain wrote other books, including two sequels to this, but this one is her most famous work. She remained a pacifist all her life and died in 1970. And yes, that pretty girl in a nurse's uniform in the book's cover was her, taken during the Great War.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Whenever I think of the War to-day, it is not as summer but always as winter; always as cold and darkness and discomfort, and an intermittent warmth of exhilarating excitement which made us irrationally exult in all three. Its permanent symbol, for me, is a candle stuck in the neck of a bottle, the tiny flame flickering in an ice-cold draught, yet creating a miniature illusion of light against an opaque infinity of blackness. The temptation to exploit our young wartime enthusiasm must have bee Whenever I think of the War to-day, it is not as summer but always as winter; always as cold and darkness and discomfort, and an intermittent warmth of exhilarating excitement which made us irrationally exult in all three. Its permanent symbol, for me, is a candle stuck in the neck of a bottle, the tiny flame flickering in an ice-cold draught, yet creating a miniature illusion of light against an opaque infinity of blackness. The temptation to exploit our young wartime enthusiasm must have been immense—and was not fiercely resisted by the military authorities. A full century after the birth of Vera Brittain, my sister was born, not I. Nineteen years later, while aware of the centennial reenactments and commemorative capitalism clustering around the secondary war year of (19/20)15, discovering this tome wrapped in a movie adaptation cover still startled and, far more surprisingly, fatigued. I've grown out of making cracks at the efforts of a previous generation to sell to the contemporary generation words of paper wrapped in the light of the silver screen, for A, there is no point, and B, such remarks keep none of the promises this work provides. So the sayers would rather the current youth spend itself as much as the young of WWI did on blinkered hopes and fruitless massacre than experience a past media within the context of a different form and the modes of a different present. Good to know. I don’t mind anything really so long as I don’t lose my personality—or even have it temporarily extinguished. I myself cannot yet realise that each little singing thing that flies near me holds latent in it the power of death for someone. My responsibility is not to take this work as it was once written and confine it precisely within the means and manners of tongues long silent and minds long dead. If that is what you want, go read someone who is paid to do so. As such, I do not expect Brittain or any other of her generation to be able to conceptualize drones, AIDS, and global warming, so I refuse to conceptualize the exigency of imperialism, Orientalism, and xenophobia, always newly adaptive and very rarely today a consequence of pure survival. There is power in how Brittain scripts out the belly of the beast, twenty five years of the Powers That Be turning on its once beloved lambs and sending them as quickly to the slaughter as the citizens of their colonized domains, but bad faith kills in these self-isolating times of mine. What is necessary now is to see that, on the cusp of my mid-twenties and that final degree in English, my time was already played out a century earlier on the backs of contemporary postcolonial times, and it does no good to focus on similar faces when identical ideals are bleeding and burning and dying in those less staged areas of the world. True, no woman comes to mind in the halls of those patriarchal monoliths of leadership and genocide, but tell me, fellow feminists who share the color of my skin: is that what you really want? …I was the only woman returning, bringing with me, no doubt—terrifying thought!—the psychological fruit of my embarrassing experiences. Thought was too dangerous; if once I began to think out exactly why my friends had died and I was working, quite dreadful things might suddenly happen. There's always this tension, you know. On the one hand, this is one of the works by women that make up a little more than 20% of the much bandied about 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, but it follows the trail that women are not worth writing much beyond the recording of their every so often singular experiences and unusual circumstances. True, I considered such a mix masterful in its every turn of letters, poetry, music and journalism, telegrams and speeches of Liberal Halls and the League of Nations, but first it had to survive. It is not dispassionate. It does not mince. It neither pretends towards the conjured ideals of aristocrats with too much time on their hands, nor the apolitical motions of those with the dictionary and the physiognomy to match. You could get wonderfully lost in all the literary references to the much studied Victorians and the much embellished Roaring 20's, but you could also be disgruntled by the sexual harassment at fourteen, the candid talk of venereal disease traded for social stability, even the imperialistic tendencies that jar so determinedly against appeals for peace if you're really up for a challenge. After all, it is war of the early 20th century, and all's fair in love and chronological excuses. …people persist in saying that God made the war, when there are such inventions of the Devil about… ...as though we could somehow compensate the dead by remembering them regardless of expense. Vera Brittain goes off to read and write and educate, then decides 'twould be a lovely concept to volunteer for death. The words and rhymes are all very well in the beginning when peace is a granted and love a burgeoning possibility, but then the souls begin to die. Again and again, and again, the catharsis of healing turned to the automaton of rote, all in order to keep in mind that it is not personal. War, you see, is never personal. It'll starve you and rot you and rape you, but it can no more help its escalation of toxic masculinity and governmental conversions of blood into blood money than can the rich and the poor their man-made imbalance. One could indeed follow the trail of power relations and concentration of arms back to the socioeconomic entrails of land and politics, but what exactly do you intend to do there? Don't you have better things to do with your life? Don't you want to live? Why was personality so vulnerable, why did it succumb to such small, humiliating assailants? England, panic-stricken, was frantically raising the military age to fifty... It's all very simple, really, but considering how college students are still being funded by military industrial complexes and no one wants to know were ISIL really got their weapons and their training and their hatred, little has changed. A lie, when I consider Novel Without a Name, The Guest, Almanac of the Dead, The Fire Next Time, Beloved, Guantánamo Diary, violence in all its faces and communal agony in all its places, PTSD of a multigenerational variety and war crimes in all their sacrosanctity, but the hippies that preached peace were white supremacists of a more culturally appropriative and sexual assault nature, so forgive me if I find the situation more complicated than Support The Troops and God Bless America. "Why is it that all my university mentors want me to do research-work at the expense of fiction, and my literary mentors fiction at the expense of history?" ...She says that she has never yet written a book without making an enemy... Vera Brittain is dead, so I cannot relay to her what her times have left me, what different breeds of indoctrinated brutality I have inherited and how her morals had to be trimmed and weeded and abruptly expanded in order to cope. Perhaps I would infuriate her, one who five years ago did not conscript herself for healing out of patriotic determination, instead remaining safe and secure in the education of one who destined to create the seeds of the new world and the post-apocalyptic descendant of mustard gas. I may have refuted that path for a rapidly approaching future of an English nature, but what have I achieved in the meantime? A lazy generation, mine. No ruined economies, and not a genocide to speak of. Leastwise, not yet. Was this really the heart of the conveyor of civilization to primitive peoples, the British Empire, in the post-war summer of 1922, or had we inadvertently strayed into the time of Martin Luther, with his robust views on the uses of women? Yet always, after a tumult I thought, I was forced to conclude that is only by grasping this nettle, danger, that we pluck this flower, safety; that those who flee from emotion, from intimacy, from the shocks and perils attendant upon all close human relationships, end in being attacked by unseen Furies in the ultimate stronghold of their spirit. This work drained me to the bone. The best ones often do, but this is the sort that will continue to antagonize with its energetic determination and naive morale, confronting my theoretical ethics time and time again with the reality of bandages, tombstones, and the torpedoed sister of the Titanic. No. I am not a war veteran, and never plan to be. Brittain's world has grown much smaller since she looked upon its last pages, and the constructions of her peacetime and the evaluations of her justice will never be mine. Can one make a book out of the very essence of one’s self? Perhaps so, if one was left with one’s gift stripped bare of all that made it worth having, and nothing else was left. --- THE SUPERFLUOUS WOMAN Ghosts crying down the vistas of the years, Recalling words Whose echoes long have died, And kind moss grown Over the sharp and blood-bespattered stones Which cut our feet upon the ancient ways. * * * * * * But who will look for my coming? Long busy days where many meet and part; Crowded aside Remembered hours of hope; And city streets Grown dark and hot with eager multitudes Hurrying homeward whither respite waits. * * * * * * But who will seek me at nightfall? Light fading where the chimneys cut the sky; Footsteps that pass, Nor tarry at my door. And far away, Behind the row of crosses, shadows black Stretch out long arms before the smouldering sun. * * * * * * But who will give me my children?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aqsa (On Hiatus)

    Just watched the 2014 movie based on this memoir. I can't compare it to the book since I haven't read it; but it really sends out a message. We, humans, have this tendency to forget the horrors we've brought upon ourselves in the past, and a tendency to forget how terrible war can be. Forgiveness we forget, we march to war hoping for honor. Telling us it's the right thing to do. One side gets hurt, and then it starts working on vengeance until the other side loses something, and then the cycle c Just watched the 2014 movie based on this memoir. I can't compare it to the book since I haven't read it; but it really sends out a message. We, humans, have this tendency to forget the horrors we've brought upon ourselves in the past, and a tendency to forget how terrible war can be. Forgiveness we forget, we march to war hoping for honor. Telling us it's the right thing to do. One side gets hurt, and then it starts working on vengeance until the other side loses something, and then the cycle continues. We need to put a stop on this endless cycle of revenge. We ought to think if there is another way. A way no side has to experience so much pain. Say 'No' to war. 'No' to killing. Let's agree: No more of it. Perhaps some day the sun will shine again, And I shall see that still the skies are blue, And feel one more I do not live in vain, Although bereft of you. Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet, Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay, And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet, Though You have passed away. Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright, And crimson roses once again be fair, And autumn harvest fields a rich delight, Although You are not there. But though kind Time may many joys renew, There is one greatest joy I shall not know Again, because my heart for loss of You Was broken, long ago.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I have no question in my mind that this book deserves four stars. Why? The woman, Vera Brittain (18931970) is a fascinating person and lived through a difficult but interesting time. Following Vera we see the Great War through the eyes of a British middleclass woman. She was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in England, France and Malta. Before the war she studied at Oxford. After the war she continued her studies at Oxford switching from literature to history, worked closely with the League I have no question in my mind that this book deserves four stars. Why? The woman, Vera Brittain (18931970) is a fascinating person and lived through a difficult but interesting time. Following Vera we see the Great War through the eyes of a British middleclass woman. She was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in England, France and Malta. Before the war she studied at Oxford. After the war she continued her studies at Oxford switching from literature to history, worked closely with the League of Nations and supported the feminist movement and pacifism. The autobiography concludes with her marriage in 1925 to George Catlin, a dedicated academic of political science. Two people in love but at the same time dedicated, devoted to their professions. Two who lived through the war, understood that experience and would forever be changed by it. Two who had the courage to go on. Anybody seeking to understand British life before the Great War, during the war and after and how the world was irrevocably changed simply must read this book. You will understand on a personal level. True, you see it only through one person's eyes, Vera's. Yet, she is an intelligent woman. She has humility and she has humor and such courage! One can always question when reading an autobiography if one gets the truth. I believe you do here. She is very aware of her own shortcomings. Her mission in writing is to help others learn from her own experiences. I am satisfied when I read a biography if I conclude by understanding the character of the person. I am not reading to simply find out what happened in her life. I fully understand why Vera joined the war effort and became a VAD nurse, why she so strongly fought for the rights of women and pacifism. I don't think it is easy for us of another generation to fully comprehend the world she was born into. The Victorian view of women is foreign to us today, no matter how much we read. A young woman’s total lack of privacy is something hard for us to comprehend. We read about expectations related to marriage, propriety, education and restrictions dictated by social norms but can we put ourselves in their shoes? The book gives you that by looking closely at Vera’s experiences. We understand her thought processes and emotions - going from having never seen a naked man to caring for all the physical needs of wounded and dying men at the front. Men burned, without limbs, suffocating from mustard gas. The book is not graphic, but in holding back and stating the bare minimum more is said than through gushing words of woe. Vera is the perfect illustration of the British attribute of “keeping a stiff upper lip”! The book is absolutely excellent in describing the expectations of and limitations on a middleclass woman before the war and the war experience itself - in London, on the front in France, in Malta, even caring for German prisoners of war. Vera’s switch in studies from literature to history is important. Historical events, politics in England, the Versailles Treaty and the work of the League of Nations are all detailed. Vera sees firsthand the destruction the war has wrought in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary when in 1924, working with the League of Nations, she spent three month traveling, reporting on conditions and sentiments of the people. The book is written in the early 1930s so her first-hand experiences (recorded in diaries) are enhanced by her knowledge of history. Her literary knowledge is displayed through quotes and poetry throughout the book. Vera lost four men very close to her. She is in no way unique. This is part of what makes her story so important. The book assumes that you already know about rather than informs you about famed personages and historical events. British vernacular and many acronyms are used. I would have appreciated help through explanatory notes. I did not recognize all the people mentioned. Some of the lines feel dated. The writing is very British. On the positive side, the description of places is sometimes stunningly beautiful. The author’s own poetry is included. She also published two novels. She worked as a journalist too. I am giving the written book four stars, but not the audiobook format. I thoroughly detested the narration of the audiobook by Sheila Mitchell. Vera is a young woman and her insecurities are evident. The lines of the book show that she has humility and humor. One would never guess that from listening to this narrator. Instead she sounds like a pompous matron - sententious, brusque and self-assured. It annoyed me to no end that the narration didn’t fit the lines of the written text. The narrator’s intonation of Vera portrays a character very different from the character drawn by the words in the book. I spent hours trying to see if I was misinterpreting something, but I don’t think I am. In addition, many words were almost impossible to decipher without listening several times. It is not pleasant to have to guess from the context the word being said. Do not choose the audiobook if you choose to read this book. ******************** After ¼ of the book: Talk about the British attribute of having a "stiff upper lip"! That is Vera Brittain described in three words. Actually this behavior says much more than exclamations of moaning and complaining.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Testament of Youth is Vera Brittain’s memoir of her years just prior to, during, and shortly after World War I. It is a unique look at the war from the perspective of a woman who gave up her studies at Oxford to serve as a nurse in France and Malta. Like so many of her fellows, she lost all the important young men in her life: her brother, Edward; he fiance, Roland; and two close friends Gregory and Victor. When the war years had passed, she was alone and bereft and struggling to think what life Testament of Youth is Vera Brittain’s memoir of her years just prior to, during, and shortly after World War I. It is a unique look at the war from the perspective of a woman who gave up her studies at Oxford to serve as a nurse in France and Malta. Like so many of her fellows, she lost all the important young men in her life: her brother, Edward; he fiance, Roland; and two close friends Gregory and Victor. When the war years had passed, she was alone and bereft and struggling to think what life could possibly have to offer. There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past. The book is not perfect. There are sections, particularly those after the war when she deals with her feminist activities and her work to further the League of Nations that go on far too long and with detail that can have little or no interest to the reader. That can easily be forgiven, however, in the face of the genuine and heartfelt account, particularly of the war years, a section in which I hung on every word. I could have cried for these young men, whose lives were thrown away so cavalierly by the governments who refused to solve their disagreements without loss of life. So much of the book is based on actually correspondence with them, their poems, their letters. How intelligent and expressive, how young and promising, so much to live for and so little opportunity to reach the potential they exhibited. Vera Brittain’s daughter said she never recovered from the loss of her lover, Roland Leighton. I can understand that. He was eternally young for her, he was always handsome and ready to step into the world and conquer it. He never became old or disappointing. What revelations I had about the women of this era. The extent of her independent spirit and her ambitions seemed so modern to me. It was hard for me to imagine this woman as a product of the late 1800’s and not the 20th Century. Having recently read All Quiet on the Western Front, which was written from the perspective of a young German soldier, I felt this memoir provided yet a wider view of the war and another important perspective, that of a woman. I loved that the book was peppered with poem, both those of Vera Brittain and Roland Leighton and those that are more widely known of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and Alan Seeger. For me, they added to the atmosphere of loss that must be felt when you consider that this is the story of a vanished generation. I have a rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger (who kept his rendezvous in 1916) I have a rendezvous with Death At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air— I have a rendezvous with Death When Spring brings back blue days and fair. It may be he shall take my hand And lead me into his dark land And close my eyes and quench my breath— It may be I shall pass him still. I have a rendezvous with Death On some scarred slope of battered hill, When Spring comes round again this year And the first meadow-flowers appear. God knows 'twere better to be deep Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear ... But I've a rendezvous with Death At midnight in some flaming town, When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Johnston

    I tried really hard, but after 132 pages I'm giving up. Brittain's book is regarded as a classic of World War One memoir, and I don't doubt that it is. Brittain left Oxford (having fought her family and won a scholarship to attend) after a year to become a V.A.D in 1915. In the war she lost four men very close to her (including her brother and her fiance) and saw many of the bodily horrors of combat. After the war she returned to Oxford and became a well-known pacifist, feminist and author. But as I tried really hard, but after 132 pages I'm giving up. Brittain's book is regarded as a classic of World War One memoir, and I don't doubt that it is. Brittain left Oxford (having fought her family and won a scholarship to attend) after a year to become a V.A.D in 1915. In the war she lost four men very close to her (including her brother and her fiance) and saw many of the bodily horrors of combat. After the war she returned to Oxford and became a well-known pacifist, feminist and author. But as a reading experience, the memoir is priggish, repetitive, achingly slowly paced and eminently nod-off-able. At over 600 pages it's a big book, and where I finished off she was still at Oxford, and her fiance was in France. We'd spent an awfully long time getting there, with repeated reminders that the 'boys and girls' of her generation had lost so much, her proto-feminisim, painful extracts from her snobbish and overwritten diaries, and many odes to Roland's wonderfulness. I know I'm going to sound like a cold-hearted douche-bag to anyone reading this, but the thing needed a bloody good editor. The thing I found most troubling about the book was how Brittain gets in her own way while telling her story: But again I anticipate. The naive quotations from my youthful diary which I have used, and intend to use, are included in this book to give some idea of the effect of the War, with its stark disillusionments, its miseries unmitigated by polite disguise, upon the unsophisticated ingenue who 'grew up' (in a purely social sense' just before it broke out. The annihilating future Armageddon, of which the terrors are so often portrayed by League of Nations Union prophets, could not possibly, I think, cause the Bright Young People of to-day, with their imperturbable realism, their casual, intimate knowledge of sexual facts, their familiarity with the accumulated experiences of us their foredoomed predecessors, one-tenth of the physical and psychological shock that the Great War caused to the Modern Girl of 1914. She's so busy foreshadowing and explaining and commentating that you lose all sense of these being real people - it feels more like, horror of horror, a bookclub reading. "I think she spent a whole chapter on the Uppingham Speech Day because, like, that was the only time she and Roland had together when, like, they were really happy? And she wanted to, like, capture that moment? And I thought that, like, the details of, like, her hat and her dress and his blazer, like, really added to the moment?" (I don't know why my fictional bookclub member talks like a Valley girl and has a rising inflection - she just does.) I understand exactly what Brittain aimed to do with this book, and I symapathise with her, and I am glad and relieved and mildly guilty that women went before me to fight for all the things I've taken for granted so far in my life. All of which makes me feel bad putting this book aside, but unfortunately not so bad that I'll finish it out of shame.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    Much more than a book about a person's experience in a war. Although at times a bit tedious to read (lots of direct quotes from letters, for example), Vera moves from a rather pampered, sheltered, middle-class girl to an articulate, understanding, educated, caring woman through war, loss, deprivation, work, awareness and thought. She takes in and considers all sides and ideas, becoming in the end a strong, independent, loving woman. This story take us to her marriage to who appears to be a warm, Much more than a book about a person's experience in a war. Although at times a bit tedious to read (lots of direct quotes from letters, for example), Vera moves from a rather pampered, sheltered, middle-class girl to an articulate, understanding, educated, caring woman through war, loss, deprivation, work, awareness and thought. She takes in and considers all sides and ideas, becoming in the end a strong, independent, loving woman. This story take us to her marriage to who appears to be a warm, understanding, loving man, who accepts Vera and her ambitions. In between, there's the grief of a war, it's loss, the anguish and the many years of grief and healing, not only for individuals but for Nations. Vera brought alive the world before, during and after the War from a unique perspective of both a civilian and a VAD volunteer who saw the devastation of suffering and death first-hand. I like the woman that Vera became and I'm glad she told her story. I think she told a warm and human story of loss, resilience and victory.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    I have this movie tie-in edition. If the cover reflects the film, what a poor rendition it must have been. I did not see the film, obviously. This is an autobiography. Yes, she fell in love and was engaged in the early part of WWI, with the then non uncommon ending to the romance. The cover makes it look as if that were all encompassing and the book is so much more than that. I chose to read this to add to my knowledge of The Great War. I hope to read as many aspects of it as possible, both milit I have this movie tie-in edition. If the cover reflects the film, what a poor rendition it must have been. I did not see the film, obviously. This is an autobiography. Yes, she fell in love and was engaged in the early part of WWI, with the then non uncommon ending to the romance. The cover makes it look as if that were all encompassing and the book is so much more than that. I chose to read this to add to my knowledge of The Great War. I hope to read as many aspects of it as possible, both military and civilian. Brittain was a VAD so I hoped to learn about how nurses, especially British nurses, both contributed to and were affected by the war effort. First, though, I had to look up VAD. It stands for Voluntary Aid Detachment. In the book, I was given to understand the volunteers worked under the auspices of the Red Cross. As such, they did not report to the military, but they did have contracts, in Brittain's case (and probably most volunteers), they were six month contracts. They served in hospitals where they were needed, but they could also request a duty station. The book begins before the war however, when Vera Brittain is the daughter of a business owner and strongly privileged middle class. It was a time when only those with means were educated, and the education of even those women was minimal. She pestered her father to attend Oxford, which he refused her often and regularly. Then, miraculously, they had a man to dinner one evening who approved of her cause and her father finally relented. There were not many women attending University in 1914, but she was one of them! She was woefully unprepared academically, and had to work and study hard to pass the entrance exams. She worked so hard that she failed to notice the small news article about the Archduke being shot in Sarajevo. A year later, with the War in full mobilization, she chose to leave Oxford and join the VADs to support her country. So much of the beginning was wrapped up in her getting to Oxford. I thought: this isn't what I signed up for. I began to get restless and to think maybe I had not chosen carefully. Then, of course, I got what I had anticipated. But the war ends and there was still another 100-150 pages remaining. I was surprised at myself about how much I appreciated what came after. It opened horizons for me. Yes, I want to know all aspects of the war, military and civilian, but how the war affected society in the aftermath has now been added to my quest. I have an understanding of the part Vera Brittain played. There is so much packed into these 660 pages that a group could discuss the issues for several weeks. I don't especially like long reviews and this could become one, if I'm not careful. Suffice it to say, that I was restless in the beginning and fearful the book would be average. I got what I wanted and needed from the war sections. It surprised me, however, how much I needed to read and learn about the years after the war, and it was this that made this for me a 5-star read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kirstine

    "Down the long white road we walked together, Down between the grey hills and the heather, Where the tawny-crested Plover cries. You seemed all brown and soft, just like a linnet, Your errant hair had shadowed sunbeams in it, And there shone all April In your eyes. With your golden voice of tears and laughter Softened into song: 'Does aught come after Life,' you asked, 'When life is Laboured through? What is God, and all for which we're striving?' 'Sweetest sceptic, we were born for living. Life is Love, "Down the long white road we walked together, Down between the grey hills and the heather, Where the tawny-crested Plover cries. You seemed all brown and soft, just like a linnet, Your errant hair had shadowed sunbeams in it, And there shone all April In your eyes. With your golden voice of tears and laughter Softened into song: 'Does aught come after Life,' you asked, 'When life is Laboured through? What is God, and all for which we're striving?' 'Sweetest sceptic, we were born for living. Life is Love, and Love is - You, dear, you.'" -R. A. L. I honestly don’t know what to say about this book, and this is not as good a review as it deserves, but I have cried throughout writing it and I really need to post it now. It’s a wonderful book, I recommend it to all of you. "'I feel as if someone had uprooted my heart to see how it was growing.'" Those words belonging to Roland have stuck with me since I read them the first time. In many ways, I feel a little as if they describe my reading experience. At some point, no matter what part I was reading, I would inevitably start crying, and I’m not sure why. I can’t think of a specific reason except this; Brittain writes unwaveringly and beautifully about people and moments it must have hurt, excruciatingly, to remember. There’s of course comfort and safety in memories, even in memories that hurt, given enough time. But to delve into them like this? To talk about Roland or Edward and infuse their moments with the hope that they may have the rest of their lives together, all the while knowing they’re gone? I’m floored by it. At the same time, she manages not to get sentimental. She does an incredible job of keeping the war from stealing the show, although that would have been an easy thing to do. She tries, at times, to give the bigger picture of the war, but it remains an account of her life, from girlhood to adulthood and womanhood. The war is inescapable, but it’s never the only thing, it’s part of her life, but a life contains multitudes of parts and she’s good at including as many as possible. It spans the years from 1900 to 1925, presenting a “before, during and after” image of a Europe in ignorant, hopeful bliss, war-torn and bleeding, and victorious, but hollow and healing. The contrast is devastating. It’s perhaps quite correctly described as an eulogy (among other things), for her fiancé, her friends, her brother, but just as much an eulogy for idealism and innocence. In some miraculous way hope never quite crumbles though and somehow Brittain manages to hold on to life. It’s not that she’s at any point close to losing it, but she never gives up on it either. "I had never believed that I could actually go on living without that lovely companionship which had been at my service since childhood, that perfect relation which had involved no jealousy and no agitation, but only the profoundest confidence, the most devoted understanding, on either side. Yet here I was, in a world emptied of that unfailing consolation, most persistently, most unwillingly, alive." I thought “Testament of Youth” referred to the age of those who went to war, not just the soldiers, the nurses too. It isn’t quite the “loss of a generation” as it’s sometimes referred to, but it carved a big enough chunk out of the young population that the title isn’t entirely off. The best and brightest went to fight and not nearly enough of them came back. I realize now, however, that while the title certainly refers to the tragedy of all those young people going off to fight and not making it back, it is just as much a reference to the things that come with youth; idealism, naivety. And the age of the society and the world that went to war. You’d think, with war being a near constant in our time on earth, that we’d have learned a thing or two, but I don’t think we did, not until WWI, perhaps not even then, perhaps not since. Weapons change, and the rules of war change, and soldier must adapt, the way war is fought changes and we redo all our mistakes one more time. The world was young before WWI, it was a lot less so after, but it takes more than one mistake to teach a lesson and we got to repeat it too soon after. At least WWII presented a more tangible “evil” to defeat, it seems the only war in recent memory, the only modern war, let’s say, that it made one lick of sense to partake in for any young person (I say, but I’m not well read on the subject, so correct me if I assume to much). After 600 pages of Brittain I’m still not sure what WWI was actually about, it doesn’t seem anyone fighting in it knew either. Brittain writes of Roland that "[h]e certainly had no wish to die, and now that he had got what he wanted, a dust-and-ashes feeling had come. He neither hated the Germans nor loved the Belgians; the only possible motive for going was 'heroism in the abstract', and that didn't seem a very logical reason for risking one's life". Heroism in the abstract seems the major reason a lot of young men went (and probably still go), not to fight for a specific cause, but to protect a vague ideal, because they feel they should, that they’d not be real men if they didn’t. They went to shoot at and kill people they’d rather not, and for what? The idea that they had to? There’s an extra layer of tragedy to reading the book, because the reader knows, as Brittain didn’t at the time of writing it, that there’s a second world war coming. Hitler and Nazism, at least, were worthy enemies and worthy evils to protect ones country and loved ones from, the heroism it took to fight for that was a little less abstract, a little less idealistic. Of course, this is not only a war-memoir. In fact that’s perhaps only a third of what it contains. It’s just as much a memoir of a young, headstrong girl growing up and finding her own feet, discovering feminism, the liberation of women, and later on making a career as a writer. It shows the changes made to the lives of women in a period where so much went on; the right to vote, men going off to war and women taking over their jobs, and the struggle to hold on to a newfound position of power and freedom for women as the men made their way back. It’s a time of great, important changes, like a tidal wave has been released and keeping it going, while still collecting the pieces of a ruined world, is vital. I also understand why Brittain was upset her husband requested her to tone down his part in the last third of the book. As much as the book is centered around Brittain, her relationship with the men in her life is an important focus though out much of the book. It seems odd, that when another man enters her life near the end, he isn’t given the same amount of attention as the others. It would have given a greater feeling of having come full circle, as well as underlining the surge of hope and vitality that, while less strong than in the beginning, reappears, if it had focused more on her marriage. To marry, for Brittain and for many other women who had lost great loves of their lives, is not an act of submission, it’s a sign of hope, and I wish it had gotten more attention. Even so, Brittain’s efforts in writing this book, a beautiful testament of youth as well as life in spite of death, and hope in spite of loss, are inspirational. She isn’t perfect in her feminist or political efforts (is anyone?), but she remains an admirable person. To endure this kind of loss, and keep going? I’m astounded by her perseverance, and the perseverance of everyone who had to go on after the devastation of the first world war. "In spite of the War, which destroyed so much hope, so much beauty, so much promise, life is still here to be lived; so long as I am in the world, how can I ignore the obligation to be part of it, cope with its problems, suffer claims and interruptions?"

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    Testament of Youth was a best seller when it was first published in 1933, and became a bestseller once again in the 1970s. It is every bit as good as I'd remembered when I read it first about twenty years ago. Vera Brittain's lively intelligence, determination, bravery and passion all shine through. At the start of World War One, and despite finally getting into Oxford University after an incredible effort to overcome her parents' objections (of course it was accepted that the son would go there Testament of Youth was a best seller when it was first published in 1933, and became a bestseller once again in the 1970s. It is every bit as good as I'd remembered when I read it first about twenty years ago. Vera Brittain's lively intelligence, determination, bravery and passion all shine through. At the start of World War One, and despite finally getting into Oxford University after an incredible effort to overcome her parents' objections (of course it was accepted that the son would go there - but why would a woman bother?), she turned her back on that to take on arduous, and physically and emotionally demanding nursing work with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment - women who volunteered to nurse the war-wounded) and which required incredible courage and endurance. This is the third WW1 memoir I've read in 2014 (the other two being Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger, and Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves) and it was both interesting and refreshing to get a female perspective on the conflict. Vera Brittain arguably endured as much hardship and horror as the men in the trenches. Worse, she had to endure survivor's guilt after the war was over. 'Why couldn't I have died in the War with the others?' she lamented, and perhaps not surprisingly, as she lost four of the people she was closest to, including her brother and her partner. These deaths, and her war time experienced, turned Vera Brittain into a committed pacifist. After the war, she returned to study at Oxford where she became close friends with writer Winifred Holtby. Both young women shared a flat and became writers. Convinced she would never marry, Vera Brittain finally succumbed to the attentions of George Catlin, marrying him, and ensuring a happy ending to this excellent memoir.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This is a fascinating look at WWI from a woman's perspective. I struggled a bit with some of the characters as they came across as whiny and privileged white people but it was still interesting to see her decisions unfold as she went to Oxford and then went on to become a war nurse. I don't really know a whole lot about WWI so from a history perspective I enjoyed this and felt liked a learn some things. I listened to the audio narrated by Sheila Mitchell who did a great job. This is a fascinating look at WWI from a woman's perspective. I struggled a bit with some of the characters as they came across as whiny and privileged white people but it was still interesting to see her decisions unfold as she went to Oxford and then went on to become a war nurse. I don't really know a whole lot about WWI so from a history perspective I enjoyed this and felt liked a learn some things. I listened to the audio narrated by Sheila Mitchell who did a great job.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cphe

    Beautifully written memoir of WW1. The author as with many others lost those nearest and dearest during the conflict. Particularly enjoyed reading of her experiences as a nurse on the front lines. A memoir of great loss but also of resilience and fortitude.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paola

    I always thought of Testament of Youth as a war book, but this book is in fact much more than that - yes, the central part of the book (which consists of three parts) does recount Vera Brittain's first hand experience of the Western Front, where she served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse, but this is also in fact the watershed between the society that was before, and the society to come after. Surely Vera Brittain wasn't the only girl brought up in a wealthy upper middle class by Victo I always thought of Testament of Youth as a war book, but this book is in fact much more than that - yes, the central part of the book (which consists of three parts) does recount Vera Brittain's first hand experience of the Western Front, where she served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse, but this is also in fact the watershed between the society that was before, and the society to come after. Surely Vera Brittain wasn't the only girl brought up in a wealthy upper middle class by Victorian parents whose wishes to see their daughters married well clashed with an inquisitive young mind's desire to do something other than fulfill their supporting role of mothers and wives in a male dominated society. But hers was the first generation of young women who could fill the vacuum created by the mass conscription of males to seize opportunities never before available. The first two parts of the book are heartwrenching, her description of the war and of its consequences, of the shattering of the dreams and the lives, of the hopes, the portrat of the realization of the futility of it all are described incisively and beautifully. But besides the emotions stirred by this book, to me it is unashamedly feminist - though an uncommon sort of feminism, as class seeps through it. For instance a not yet 22 years old Vera returning home after seeing her fiance going off to the front complains that Though the three maids had been unoccupied all evening, not one of them offered to help me unpack or to get me a cup of tea, and I was far too much absorbed in my misery to ask them for anything. It is 1915, but considering the book was written much later and this is not an excerpt from her diary at the time, it does sound an off note. I have to agree with Mark Bostridge who in the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition writes though she pro­poses a form of egal­i­tar­ian mar­riage and other rad­i­cal re­forms, and de­spite the fact that she en­vis­ages her­self as a mod­ern woman, she re­mains at heart a prod­uct of her Vic­to­rian bour­geois back­ground, and though to a lesser degree to his consideration that much of the con­fi­dence and as­sur­ance of her au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal voice em­anates from her pas­sion­ate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with her young male con­tem­po­raries and her ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing vic­ar­i­ously through them. But I disagree with the scolding tone implied in this judgment: it must have been a Herculean task to go so much against the tide in those days. She was on a mission, with her future husband also recognising and accepting that her work was more important to her than marriage. We don't see much of "G.", but that little we see is rather impressive, and one can't discount the importance of his support (and, I suspect, that of several maids!) in helping her carry out her project.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    This book is without a doubt one of the best I've read on the subject of the First World War and it's devastating effects, this time from the perspective of those women who experienced an equal amount of conflict and emotional turmoil after signing up as VAD's. We follow Vera Brittain through her sheltered childhood in Buxton, the constraints of her engagement to Roland Leighton, her difficult and dangerous years spent nursing in both London and France, before reaching her return to Oxford and t This book is without a doubt one of the best I've read on the subject of the First World War and it's devastating effects, this time from the perspective of those women who experienced an equal amount of conflict and emotional turmoil after signing up as VAD's. We follow Vera Brittain through her sheltered childhood in Buxton, the constraints of her engagement to Roland Leighton, her difficult and dangerous years spent nursing in both London and France, before reaching her return to Oxford and the start of her literary and political career. Even better, we have her years spent living with her close friend Winifred Holtby (about which there has been considerable speculation), and her support of the feminist movement of the early 1920s. All in all, a brilliant work. I have found a new favourite writer. Very impressed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Seldon

    Now that Downton Abbey Season 2 has premiered with so much of revolving around cataclysmic tragedy and change caused by WWI, my thoughts turn back to this book. Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain's memoir of life, love, and loss during WWI first came to my attention because of Masterpiece Theater which serialized it at least 20 years ago. In 2010, I read her memoir again and I may reread it a third time as I also experience these events through the fictional characters of Downton Abbey. If you ha Now that Downton Abbey Season 2 has premiered with so much of revolving around cataclysmic tragedy and change caused by WWI, my thoughts turn back to this book. Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain's memoir of life, love, and loss during WWI first came to my attention because of Masterpiece Theater which serialized it at least 20 years ago. In 2010, I read her memoir again and I may reread it a third time as I also experience these events through the fictional characters of Downton Abbey. If you haven't read it and are a Downton Abbey fan, I highly recommend it and the BBC version if it can still be found.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Campbell

    When people ask me for a book suggestion I always give this book. Even though it is a big book it is so very worth it. This book changed how I saw everything and this is not hyperbole. I had read and studied the period pre and post. The causes the continuation, the loss, the hubris. But it was not until Vera Britain that I felt and understood the true horror and reality of everything lost. This is about Vera and this is her pouring her soul out onto these pages in the fervent hope that by doing When people ask me for a book suggestion I always give this book. Even though it is a big book it is so very worth it. This book changed how I saw everything and this is not hyperbole. I had read and studied the period pre and post. The causes the continuation, the loss, the hubris. But it was not until Vera Britain that I felt and understood the true horror and reality of everything lost. This is about Vera and this is her pouring her soul out onto these pages in the fervent hope that by doing so in all her truthfulness it might stop humanity from ever doing this again but not on the grand level but on the personal micro level. This book is exceptional in that it is a first hand account of the war from a woman. A woman who was supposed to get married and have babies. Instead she goes to the front as a nurse and sees the ravages, the outcomes, the lies of one generation played out in the flesh and destruction of another.She returns a stranger to herself and her parents. She realizes that while she has been surviving their nationalist dream they do not and will not ever understand the nightmare they created. They will never accept responsibility for the desolation and the outcome. Her realization that there is no one in the entire world left alive that holds the same memories. Her brother is dead her fiancé is dead all her contemporaries are dead. It is as if she is an eighty year old woman and she is the last one standing instead of 20. It is as if nothing was real. Did her life really happen? It is all old photos and patriotic tunes and no one wants to hear about what they had sent their youth off to really do and what it did to them. The disconnect from the generation that sent them is quite understandable too. How do you trust? It is after the War that Vera has to rebuild herself through study and friendship without leaders to show the way she fights the white washing she exposes what loss lived with looks and feels like. She survives in a future she did not want or make. She chooses who she wants to be after everything is taken from her. This is not just a first person account this is a primer on humanity in inhuman times.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    Brittain was just beginning her studies at Oxford when WWI broke out. This is her memoir of a young woman maturing in those turbulent and painful years. As the men she knows and loves go to fight and die in the trenches, she volunteers with the Red Cross to serve in military hospitals. This memoir extends several years after the conclusion of the war as she grapples with new understanding of the fragility of life, the freedom for and empowerment of women just being sought, the dawning awareness Brittain was just beginning her studies at Oxford when WWI broke out. This is her memoir of a young woman maturing in those turbulent and painful years. As the men she knows and loves go to fight and die in the trenches, she volunteers with the Red Cross to serve in military hospitals. This memoir extends several years after the conclusion of the war as she grapples with new understanding of the fragility of life, the freedom for and empowerment of women just being sought, the dawning awareness of the futility and injustice of war and peace treaties. Although I appreciated this glimpse of an average middle class woman at this time in history, the book was far too long. She felt it necessary to bolster every reflection on her feelings or perceptions with excerpts of letters, passages from her diary, poems she penned and poems she liked. There is far too much of the mundane endlessly narrated without any new insights. In the end, what might have been a fascinating memoir simply dragged into boredom for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    From page 645, while Brittain is touring devastated Central and Eastern Europe to gather material for her occupation as journalist and lecturer in support of the League of Nations It did not seem, perhaps, as though we, the War generation, would be able to do all that we had once hoped for the actual rebuilding of civilization. I understood now that the results of the War would last longer than ourselves; it was obvious, in central Europe, that its consequences were deeper rooted, and farther rea From page 645, while Brittain is touring devastated Central and Eastern Europe to gather material for her occupation as journalist and lecturer in support of the League of Nations It did not seem, perhaps, as though we, the War generation, would be able to do all that we had once hoped for the actual rebuilding of civilization. I understood now that the results of the War would last longer than ourselves; it was obvious, in central Europe, that its consequences were deeper rooted, and farther reaching, than any of us, with our lack of experience, had believed just after it was over. Brittain achieves her goal of showing how profoundly the world changed from her days as a protected teenager in the Pottery district to those of a Red Cross volunteer nurse in the French war hospitals to independence as a woman in the Twenties. She was certainly among the women most touched by the war, losing her fiancé, her only sibling, and their two best friends. After the war she returned to finish her studies at Oxford (where she just was able to take advantage of the finally-approved rule that allowed women to earn degrees). In her grief and the exhaustion that remained from crushing nursing duties near the front, she thought she had more experience than any one would recognize. It is interesting that she eventually recognizes another kind of experience in the quote above. Also interesting are her still-relevant agonizings about how to combine career and motherhood.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Noha

    I'm too overwhelmed to write a proper review of this book. It gets you emotionally involved in it so deep that you keep thinking about it even when you're not reading it. How real the relationships were..how honest those feelings were..and how it all went to waste for something bigger than all of them. Vera & Roland's letters to each other were especially beautiful & heartwarming. Their choice of words & its combination of tenderness & sophistication spoke volumes of how beautiful this relations I'm too overwhelmed to write a proper review of this book. It gets you emotionally involved in it so deep that you keep thinking about it even when you're not reading it. How real the relationships were..how honest those feelings were..and how it all went to waste for something bigger than all of them. Vera & Roland's letters to each other were especially beautiful & heartwarming. Their choice of words & its combination of tenderness & sophistication spoke volumes of how beautiful this relationship was & a deep sense of regret of how even greater it would have been if only things went different. I found myself especially captivated by Roland's style of writing & poetry..his poems were short but deep & I was always left in awe after reading one of them. The book is heartbreaking in many ways but it has an element of inspiration in it that cannot be ignored. With generations of conflict & war emerging in our world today especially in the Middle East, this kind of literature is needed to help the broken generations of our time relate to past experiences & somehow overcome their dilemmas by realizing that all endings no matter how hard and brutal they are..are doorways to new beginnings that can be somehow..tolerable.

  25. 5 out of 5

    bookslover_roxana

    One of the most beautiful books I've ever read ..... Stunning One of the most beautiful books I've ever read ..... Stunning

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    I remember when I was a school girl being given a beautiful book, a prize from Shirley Williams who was then the local MP for the Liverpool suburb I grew up in. Her speech given to the gathering made an impression on me due to her remembrance of her mother who had made a great stance for the emancipation of women during the early 20th century. She was of course Vera Brittain. Since then I always knew I would read this book at some point but have never got round to it until this year, to mark the I remember when I was a school girl being given a beautiful book, a prize from Shirley Williams who was then the local MP for the Liverpool suburb I grew up in. Her speech given to the gathering made an impression on me due to her remembrance of her mother who had made a great stance for the emancipation of women during the early 20th century. She was of course Vera Brittain. Since then I always knew I would read this book at some point but have never got round to it until this year, to mark the centenary of WW1 I thought I should finally pick it up and devote some precious time to this vivid and traumatic account of a generation whose innocence and joy of life was forever stamped out of them by events between 1914 - 18. Vera Brittain had a privileged upbringing but was not encouraged to have her own opinions or much of an education. Her brother was destined for Oxford and though she was equally if not more capable than he, this was dismissed by her father as a waste of time as she was destined only for marriage and motherhood. This was turned around for her by her own hard work, her writing and desire to succeed into an academic world. Finally an eminent friend of the family persuaded her father to relent and she was allowed to focus on studying at a time when few women were able to access a university education. When war broke out, Brittain saw both her fiance and her brother (and several close friends) all enlist. Rather than feel useless, she decided to volunteer her services as a nurse and during the war worked in England, Malta and at the front line in France. She described the horror of treating both British and German POW patients and the relentless work mopping up the horrors of war visited on so many young boys and men. It is a heartbreaking read and at times, I became enveloped in the sadness of the reality facing this generation, who at the start were so full of optimism and bravado. It is a historical account of war, a young writer's autobiography and a testament to the force with which women at the time had to try to assert themselves against antiquated prejudice. Amazingly, women over 30 were quietly awarded the vote at last during wartime without much fuss. This had to have been as a result of their vital work towards the war effort with so many men away at the front. Brittain's voice is very clear, forthright and full of youthful, spontaneous reaction to what was happening around her. Brittain did return to studying after the war, having lost everyone she loved. She was disillusioned to a point however, switched her subject to history and became involved in politics and women's rights. I loved the way she lived in a garret with fellow author Winifred Holtby and both were attempting to write for papers and magazines both to earn a living and to publicize their causes. Its a huge book which requires attention and time, of course it is tragic in the main but ultimately very rewarding indeed and very thought provoking about the perpetuation of war and her deliberation on how her experiences shaped her future and her vivid writing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

    I went into Testament of Youth blind. I knew nearly nothing about the book, up to and including the fact that it was a memoir of WW1. I would not have read the book if it wasn't chosen by my Reading the World group, but I am so glad that it was because the book is phenomenal. My family is a big military family. All of us have served. I am a USAF veteran as is my dad. All of my uncles were in the Army. My brother served in the Marines. I have a nephew who is currently in the Coast Guard, and my gr I went into Testament of Youth blind. I knew nearly nothing about the book, up to and including the fact that it was a memoir of WW1. I would not have read the book if it wasn't chosen by my Reading the World group, but I am so glad that it was because the book is phenomenal. My family is a big military family. All of us have served. I am a USAF veteran as is my dad. All of my uncles were in the Army. My brother served in the Marines. I have a nephew who is currently in the Coast Guard, and my grandfather served on the battlefields of WW1 in Europe. I know very little about his experiences as he refused to talk about it to anyone. This month I feel like I learned far more about him because I read this book and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. In combination I got a very extensive insight into that era. But for this book the part that most touched me was her feminism. She was a strong, smart, compassionate woman who believed that all women should have the same opportunities in life as men did. And she was fighting for those rights 100 years ago. I admire her. The early part of the book explored her youth, prior to WWi. She wrote about it with such vivid imagery that it felt like being there and really knowing it. This section allowed me to get to know her as a character, and it also gave me insight into the societal changes that were occurring in Europe. And the examination of how family life was different from the norms of today was very eye-opening. She wrote about the lack of privacy for women and girls, and how they were never allowed to have moments alone. This section is where we start to get an inkling that Brittain is not the submissive girl she is expected to be and that she will be a woman we can all respect. Brittain became a VAD nurse at only 18. She fell in love (more than once). She lost lovers and a brother to the war. She saw PTSD up close. She understood and explained the war in a way that allowed me to also understand it. And although she explains the war era with a quiet resolve and little emotion, there are moments when she allows her hatred of the war to show. "I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy War, and the orators who talk so much about going on no matter how long the War lasts and what it may mean, could see a case--to say nothing of 10 cases--of mustard gas in its early stages--could see the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes--sometimes temporally, sometimes permanently--all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke. And the book does not end when the war ends. Brittain allows us to see what post-war life looks like for her. She allows us to see the changes that war has made to her. And, for me this was the most successful and powerful part of the book. It is the section that most solidified my hatred of war. This is where I found my grief and compassion for my grandpa, who is long dead.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    I am almost curious if there’s an abridged edition of this book, one which foregrounds the insanity of the Great War at the expense of everything else. I don't understand the acclaim otherwise. She employs a moving concept from George Eliot about the personality being vulnerable to historical currents, so quaintly Marxist. I thought Brittain's evolution from sentimental shrinking violet to moribund activist equally as problematic, if not distasteful. The opening sections capture her naïveté, her I am almost curious if there’s an abridged edition of this book, one which foregrounds the insanity of the Great War at the expense of everything else. I don't understand the acclaim otherwise. She employs a moving concept from George Eliot about the personality being vulnerable to historical currents, so quaintly Marxist. I thought Brittain's evolution from sentimental shrinking violet to moribund activist equally as problematic, if not distasteful. The opening sections capture her naïveté, her insular bourgeois life. Bound by codification, some Victorian, some essentially medieval—our protagonist attends, goes to uni, falls into something like love and then that damn Serb struts on stage in Sarajevo. Too long by a third, Testament interminably delineates the liberalization of the codes despised by Brittain , this change comes at a cost: the very plague which took away everyone she loved.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I don't read many non-fiction books or biographies/autobiographies so this was something different for me. It was fascinating to read a personal account of the effects the war had on one woman's life and on society as a whole. Reading this book made me realise how little I actually knew about World War I. A lot of the places and events mentioned in the book were unfamiliar to me and left me wanting to find out more. As I read about all the pain and sorrow she was forced to endure, I became comple I don't read many non-fiction books or biographies/autobiographies so this was something different for me. It was fascinating to read a personal account of the effects the war had on one woman's life and on society as a whole. Reading this book made me realise how little I actually knew about World War I. A lot of the places and events mentioned in the book were unfamiliar to me and left me wanting to find out more. As I read about all the pain and sorrow she was forced to endure, I became completely absorbed in Vera Brittain's story. I found it very inspirational that despite having her entire world torn apart by the war, she was still able to go on to build a successful career for herself as a novelist, feminist and pacifist. Testament of Youth was a long, demanding and often heartbreaking book, but I'm glad I read it and I feel I learned a lot from it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Robson

    I've long heard of this book and presumed that it was such a classic because Brittain was (unfortunately) in the right position to write such a book ie working in the nursing service during WWI and secondly losing all the major males in her life except her father. But the book is much more than that. Brittain is an intelligent and gifted writer who manages somehow to write about the most harrowing of ordeals with an acute eye and a sense of balance that is surprising. I was only going to skim th I've long heard of this book and presumed that it was such a classic because Brittain was (unfortunately) in the right position to write such a book ie working in the nursing service during WWI and secondly losing all the major males in her life except her father. But the book is much more than that. Brittain is an intelligent and gifted writer who manages somehow to write about the most harrowing of ordeals with an acute eye and a sense of balance that is surprising. I was only going to skim through this book for details such as hospitals and teashops but found that I couldn't put many passages down so ended up reading about 150 pages. If I had more time I would have happily read the whole thing.

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