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Testament of Friendship (Virago classic non-fiction)

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The author traces her friendship with the author, Winifred Holtby, from their meeting at Oxford to Holtby's death at the age of thirty-seven.


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The author traces her friendship with the author, Winifred Holtby, from their meeting at Oxford to Holtby's death at the age of thirty-seven.

30 review for Testament of Friendship (Virago classic non-fiction)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Graceann

    Unfortunately, Winifred Holtby is not well remembered today, even in her home country. The woman who wrote this book, Vera Brittain, has scarcely fared better, despite outliving Holtby by more than thirty years. This is a shame, because they are both worth remembering for numerous reasons. I was deeply moved by Brittain's "Testament of Youth," but if possible, I loved "Testament of Friendship" even more. Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and human rights activist who was active in the y Unfortunately, Winifred Holtby is not well remembered today, even in her home country. The woman who wrote this book, Vera Brittain, has scarcely fared better, despite outliving Holtby by more than thirty years. This is a shame, because they are both worth remembering for numerous reasons. I was deeply moved by Brittain's "Testament of Youth," but if possible, I loved "Testament of Friendship" even more. Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and human rights activist who was active in the years between the wars. Her life was taken by Bright's Disease in 1935, when she was only 37 years old. In the short time she was here, however, she made her mark, authoring several well-received books, including the classic "South Riding," having a distinctive effect on the publication "Time and Tide" and, most importantly to those who loved her, being an amazing friend to countless people from all walks of life. The disparity of lives in South Africa was a problem especially troublesome to her, and she spent most of her money and energy trying to make her complacent, prejudiced countrymen see reason at a time when it was more convenient to turn a blind eye. If Holtby had been more comfortably saying "No" to all the requests she received in the course of her professional and private life, she might have lived longer and had a more comfortable life. As it happened, however, she found it very difficult to refuse a plea for assistance from the friends and strangers who constantly found their way to her door. Vera Brittain was her closest friend, and became her biographer. In these pages, Brittain tells us what a singular, fascinating woman Winifred Holtby grew to be, and how much poorer the world is for her loss. Vera Brittain is a brilliant writer. Her ability to bring people to life through the use of language is admirable, and her pain, still so fresh (Holtby had only been gone four years at the time of the book's release) is palpable. She was also gifted in her choice of Holtby's poetry, letters and fiction in order to express just what we had lost in her passing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I had to put Testament of Friendship down about ten pages from the end because I just couldn't bear it anymore. I was wracked with sobs--not just for Winifred Holtby, but for her mother (who outlived her whole family), for Vera Brittain (who saw everybody she loved die in the war, then her father and Winifred), for her long-time love Bill who never could get his act together until it was too late, and for everybody who knew her. Because it's a biography of Winifred written by her best friend, an I had to put Testament of Friendship down about ten pages from the end because I just couldn't bear it anymore. I was wracked with sobs--not just for Winifred Holtby, but for her mother (who outlived her whole family), for Vera Brittain (who saw everybody she loved die in the war, then her father and Winifred), for her long-time love Bill who never could get his act together until it was too late, and for everybody who knew her. Because it's a biography of Winifred written by her best friend, and contributed to by many other people who knew her well, references to her death appeared at every turn, even during the Oxford years, even during her childhood. I found it excruciating, especially since before reading this book, I had also read Testament of Youth (Brittain's memoir of the Great War and the years just before and just after), The Dark Tide (Brittain's first novel), Anderby Wold (Winifred's first novel) and South Riding (Winifred's posthumously-published masterpiece). Never in my whole reading life have I been better acquainted with an author--or really, two authors, Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby. I feel like I've just lost a friend, and she died nearly eighty years ago. To be clear, I gave this four stars because as a reading experience, I didn't like it as much as I liked Testament of Youth. It's possible that the reason I found this easier to put down was because I didn't actually want to get to the inevitable ending. Either way, Vera Brittain's writing is exquisite, as always, and I'm going to go put Winifred Holtby's whole output on my reading list. And re-read South Riding so I can cry over it again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A touching biography of one of my favourite writers, Winifred Holtby, by her great friend Vera Brittain. Brittain and Holtby met while studying at Somerville College, Oxford, and lived together for most of Winifred's short life, including after Vera married and had her two children. Born and raised in Yorkshire, Winifred Holtby is now best known for her last novel, South Riding, but, apart from her other novels and short stories, was an accomplished journalist and poet. She was involved in the w A touching biography of one of my favourite writers, Winifred Holtby, by her great friend Vera Brittain. Brittain and Holtby met while studying at Somerville College, Oxford, and lived together for most of Winifred's short life, including after Vera married and had her two children. Born and raised in Yorkshire, Winifred Holtby is now best known for her last novel, South Riding, but, apart from her other novels and short stories, was an accomplished journalist and poet. She was involved in the women's rights movement, especially after the rise in fascism in the late 1920s and '30s threatened to take away the hard-won advances that had been made earlier in the century, and, after a seven month trip to South Africa, she became an ardent supporter of native African rights, raising money and giving many speeches in Britain to increase awareness of the situation in South Africa. The subject of Holtby's death is never shied away from, and indeed is mentioned so often that it hints that Brittain had some difficulty coming to terms with it. It is almost as though only by reminding herself that Winifred is gone will she believe it, and I expect the book must have had some sense of catharsis for its writer. Having said that, anyone who has read Brittain's autobiography, Testament of Youth, will know that the death of many of her loved ones was something she was only too familiar with.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Review written in 2012. Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby was written in 1939 and first published in 1940. In this recently Virago reprint, Vera Brittain ‘tells the story of the woman who helped her survive the aftermath of that war’. Brittain is perhaps best known for her first volume of autobiography, Testament of Youth, which detailed her experiences as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse during the First World War. Winifred Holtby, a prolific journalist in her day, is the aut Review written in 2012. Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby was written in 1939 and first published in 1940. In this recently Virago reprint, Vera Brittain ‘tells the story of the woman who helped her survive the aftermath of that war’. Brittain is perhaps best known for her first volume of autobiography, Testament of Youth, which detailed her experiences as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse during the First World War. Winifred Holtby, a prolific journalist in her day, is the author of several novels including South Riding, which was serialised by the BBC in 2011. It is made clear from Brittain’s account of her that Holtby was a marvellous woman who was incredibly benevolent and compassionate. She had such a passion for writing, apparent from an early age: ‘long before she could read easily Winifred had begun to write, and before she could write she told stories’. Testament of Friendship spans the period from 1919, when Brittain and Holtby first met in Oxford as history undergraduates, up until Holtby’s untimely death in 1935. It is told systematically in chronological order, from her childhood in the Wolds and the year of nursing she undertook, to her time at Oxford where she spent her time ‘tearing about the streets on a very rusty cycle’. Her interest of and involvement in politics has been detailed, along with the championing of several causes close to her heart. Mark Bostridge’s introduction cites Vera Brittain’s belief that: ‘Although we didn’t exactly grow up together… we grew mature together, and that is the next best thing’. He goes on to describe how ‘as writers they were the most decisive influences on each other’s work’. Bostridge believes that ‘Brittain’s perception of Holtby is at times too clouded by her own grief, and by guilt at having exploited her best friend’s generosity, even unwittingly, during her final illness’. This seems rather a clouded view, as in no sense does Brittain’s account read in this way. Contrary to Bostridge’s opinion, she seems the perfect writer for a biography of this sort. She knew Holtby intimately for many years, living together in London and publishing their debut novels almost simultaneously, and consequently saw Holtby as her ‘second self’. Such first-hand knowledge of her subject allows Testament of Friendship to read like the very best of biographies. Facts about Holtby’s life have been reinforced with wonderful descriptions and her importance in the lives of everyone she met is made paramount throughout. Parallels of Holtby’s own experiences have been drawn to the characters which people her novels, along with the incidents which drove her to write. Testament of Friendship is rather sad at times. Whilst Holtby was encouraged to learn and study at renowned institutions, her family and those living in her village in the East Riding of Yorkshire did not understand her fame. As a collective they were ‘equally unimpressed by her literary renown’ and Brittain believes that a ‘proficiency at bridge or folk-dancing would have seemed to them of similar significance’. Poems of Holtby’s have been included throughout, adding a lovely touch to the biography. Brittain has also made use of adorable childhood anecdotes, including childhood friendships, favourite pastimes and the relationship which Holtby had with her elder sister Grace. A wealth of memories has been dipped into to provide a rich history of Holtby’s life, from its beginning to its sad end. Brittain’s prose is poetic and informative in equal measure. The rich writing allows the account to be read almost like a novel at times. Whilst Brittain signposts events important to her, she always uses them in the context of Holtby’s life too. Never does she lose sight of her friend. Testament of Friendship is a must-read, providing a rich and fascinating portrait of an admirable woman.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Catie

    Buddy read September 2016 w/ @bookmusings and @teresasimmons on IG

  6. 5 out of 5

    Winter Sophia Rose

    Beautifully Poetic!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Everyone should be lucky enough to have her best friend write her biography. This was a marvelous book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Helen Smith

    really liked it, but so sad and so moving

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Scothern

    Took me a while but I got there eventually! I found it useful as an illustration of the social background of the writer and Winifred Holtby, as well as of their travels, experiences and deep, enduring friendship during the post-war period. So sad that Winifred Holtby died young, but what a lot she packed into it, nevertheless. Making every day count is a lesson that I take away from the book. She was an amazing, truly exceptional and gifted lady who - it seems to me - seldom took a step backward Took me a while but I got there eventually! I found it useful as an illustration of the social background of the writer and Winifred Holtby, as well as of their travels, experiences and deep, enduring friendship during the post-war period. So sad that Winifred Holtby died young, but what a lot she packed into it, nevertheless. Making every day count is a lesson that I take away from the book. She was an amazing, truly exceptional and gifted lady who - it seems to me - seldom took a step backwards. Showing courage and an ability to adapt to and work through difficult and tragic situations, she was nevertheless ever ready to celebrate the beauty and delights encountered in her brief life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    How wonderful to have such a marvelous biography written about you by your best friend - and how wonderful to be such a deserving subject! I read Vera Brittain's biography of Winifred Holtby after finding WH's "South Riding" on a list of supposedly 'Forgotten Classics' - and loving it. I wanted to know more about her, and doubt I could have found a better biographer. Vera Brittain's writing is so beautiful that I am now committed to reading as much of her work as possible - starting with Testament How wonderful to have such a marvelous biography written about you by your best friend - and how wonderful to be such a deserving subject! I read Vera Brittain's biography of Winifred Holtby after finding WH's "South Riding" on a list of supposedly 'Forgotten Classics' - and loving it. I wanted to know more about her, and doubt I could have found a better biographer. Vera Brittain's writing is so beautiful that I am now committed to reading as much of her work as possible - starting with Testament of Youth.

  11. 4 out of 5

    MadgeUK

    This is the second of Vera Brittain's autobiographical trilogy and gives a loving account of her deep friendship with the Yorkshire born author, journalist and political activist, Winifred Holtby, whom she met at Oxford. Both of these women were pioneers in their day but sadly, are now largely forgotten.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Helen Billington

    This is a marvellous book of its time, written in 1939 it is a biography of Yorkshire writer Winifred Holtby. I read Vera Brittain's other 'Testament' books whenI was a student in the 80s and had forgotten that I hadn't read this until it popped up as an Amazon suggested read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I have been meaning to read this since I finished Testament of Youth (which I think was about ten years ago). It's out of print, but I got a beautiful first edition as a gift last year...and it was worth the wait. Two things made this truly excellent: first, the love between Vera and Winifred. They had such a deep friendship, and the love and esteem Vera felt for Winifred made this biography especially poignant and intimate. It made me reflect on my own relationship with my best friend. Second, I have been meaning to read this since I finished Testament of Youth (which I think was about ten years ago). It's out of print, but I got a beautiful first edition as a gift last year...and it was worth the wait. Two things made this truly excellent: first, the love between Vera and Winifred. They had such a deep friendship, and the love and esteem Vera felt for Winifred made this biography especially poignant and intimate. It made me reflect on my own relationship with my best friend. Second, it was just so refreshing to read a biography of an unmarried woman, especially one living in the early 20th century. There are men and love and family responsibilities in this book, but mostly it's just Winifred, herself, loving and caring for the people who were important to her, and doing the work she was passionate about. And in Brittain's hands, that life is beautiful and remarkable. Just read it. I mean, read Testament of Youth first, but then read Testament of Friendship. I will definitely be re-reading both. Made me want to read: Holtby's "critical memoir" of Virginia Woolf (!!); the collection of correspondence between Holtby and Jean McWilliam; South Riding. And Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Reading Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of youth’, led me to read this beautiful tribute to her friend, Winifred. “Chalk and cheese” in many ways, the two young women met after World War I when they returned to university to try to pick up the pieces. After a rather shaky first encounter, the values and aspirations which they held in common, and Winifred’s generous, gracious spirit fostered the growth of a deep, lifelong friendship. Vera not only opens a window on a generation of women whose young liv Reading Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of youth’, led me to read this beautiful tribute to her friend, Winifred. “Chalk and cheese” in many ways, the two young women met after World War I when they returned to university to try to pick up the pieces. After a rather shaky first encounter, the values and aspirations which they held in common, and Winifred’s generous, gracious spirit fostered the growth of a deep, lifelong friendship. Vera not only opens a window on a generation of women whose young lives were turned upside down by war, who took part in a movement which helped change what women of our generation are able to do, she shows us the value and importance of true friendship - the kind of friendship that enables honesty, gives courage, shares the ‘highs and lows’, and loves unconditionally.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Zink

    A biography of the author's best friend. Beautiful writing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Helen Meads

    Another one I’d had on the shelves for years - this one recommended by my mother (who died in 1981). Unique insight into he world of pacifist campaigning.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Winifred Holtby was a name I recognised but in the past knew little about save that I recently enjoyed the BBC's adaptation of South Riding. So I was fascinated to read about what turned out to be an astonishing woman who appeared to be ahead of her time and died at a point in her writing life when she would probably have gone on to produce astonishing literature. Vera Brittain writes a very touching biography of her friend who she met at Oxford in 1919 as she was one of the first generation of Winifred Holtby was a name I recognised but in the past knew little about save that I recently enjoyed the BBC's adaptation of South Riding. So I was fascinated to read about what turned out to be an astonishing woman who appeared to be ahead of her time and died at a point in her writing life when she would probably have gone on to produce astonishing literature. Vera Brittain writes a very touching biography of her friend who she met at Oxford in 1919 as she was one of the first generation of women to study for a degree. As we see both women are deeply affected by their experiences of the First World War and they live together in London as Holtby develops a career in Journalism and writing. Holtby is a woman who appears to have no limit to her emotional generosity and empathy as she manages crises for friends and family at the same time as energetically running a career as journalist and then editor of Time and Tide a literary magazine. As Vera Brittain marries Holtby tours South africa and lectures including outspokenly championing the rights of native South Africans and continuing that cause on her return, as I said a woman ahead of her time. The book also poignantly touches on her personal losses including perhaps most movingly her lost love Bill a friend affected by the war and leading subsequently an almost lost life. Winifred Holtby is a woman loyal to her friends and family who gives herself without any demands and her death at a prematurely early age is moving, perhaps most of all as it is only after her death that her loss seems most acute. It is a life that deserves to be celebrated more and this is a brilliant book to start as a very personal tribute. It makes me now want to reread Testament of Youth.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

    Testament of Friendship is the second book in Vera Brittain’s Testament trilogy — the first of which is better remembered. It’s a sort of memoir/biography of Brittain’s dearest friend, fellow feminist & writer Winifred Holtby, set during the 1920s & 1930s in Yorkshire, Oxford, South Africa, as well as the writing scene in London — full of lush descriptions of the landscape, references to such writers as Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, and H.G. Wells, criticisms of their contemporaries, Winifred’s Testament of Friendship is the second book in Vera Brittain’s Testament trilogy — the first of which is better remembered. It’s a sort of memoir/biography of Brittain’s dearest friend, fellow feminist & writer Winifred Holtby, set during the 1920s & 1930s in Yorkshire, Oxford, South Africa, as well as the writing scene in London — full of lush descriptions of the landscape, references to such writers as Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, and H.G. Wells, criticisms of their contemporaries, Winifred’s EXCEPTIONAL poetry, a description of a deep and lasting friendship between two women, a contemplation of work versus education, & an exquisite commemoration of Winifred Holtby’s life, work, and heart. It’s one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read & held me fascinated throughout. This book made me sure I need to not only read all of Vera’s work — I need to read Winifred’s as well. x

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    This is probably very much a book of its time as it felt so dated in a way that many older books don't. The language was far too flowery for me and I didn't feel that we got to know the real Winifred Holtby. It is obvious that her early death left a huge gap in Vera Brittain's life and this tribute to her may have helped in the grieving process but as a book it did not thrill me. I rarely leave a book before I have finished it but I have really had enough of this one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Fearn

  22. 5 out of 5

    Monica Sakellariou

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Skinner

  24. 4 out of 5

    Krista

  25. 5 out of 5

    Honestmitten

    a must read after Testament of Youth.... and although this was read in 1980, at 14 years, I look back and recall how it made changed my opinion of the female "friends" at school at the time and how I became more selective in the friends I sought and valued in the intervening years...... I am indebted to being introduced so early to the writings of Vera Brittain & Winifred Holtby and feminist writers that followed as a result. a must read after Testament of Youth.... and although this was read in 1980, at 14 years, I look back and recall how it made changed my opinion of the female "friends" at school at the time and how I became more selective in the friends I sought and valued in the intervening years...... I am indebted to being introduced so early to the writings of Vera Brittain & Winifred Holtby and feminist writers that followed as a result.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  27. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liz Muir

  29. 4 out of 5

    Winka

  30. 4 out of 5

    JY

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