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Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth (1933)

by Vera Brittain

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Vera Brittain's Testament (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,122317,332 (4.24)1 / 253
  1. 10
    The ghost at the wedding by Shirley Walker (cushlareads)
    cushlareads: Testament of Youth is Vera Brittain's very moving autobiography of her life and loss of loved ones in World War One. The Ghost at the Wedding is about Jessie Walker, born in Australia in 1899, and numerous family members who went off to fight in World War One and later Two. Both books were great.… (more)
  2. 00
    Chronicle of Youth: War Diary, 1913-17 by Vera Brittain (VivienneR)

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Read during: Winter 2003/2004

A memoir of Brittain's early life, mainly as a young nurse during WWI and the years following it. Although I was confused by much of the terminology of getting a degree from Oxford and became painfully aware of my lack of knowledge of the period, I still enjoyed it immensely. Although the events of her life are the main narrative, her anaylsis and discourse were much more interesting to me. There was something to think about on nearly every page regarding the early feminist movement and the Leauge of Nations. The death of so many young men during the war is so heartrending, the waste of life and intellect seems so much more tragic.
  amyem58 | Jul 14, 2014 |
My latest read for the ongoing Librarything Great War theme read. I have not read as many of the listed books as I had hoped so far – but I am so enjoying (if that is the right word) gaining a deeper and greater understanding of that dreadful conflict, and the men and women who sacrificed their lives, and especially their youth to it.
Testament of Youth is one of those books I have always been aware of and yet managed to never read. It’s just the kind of book I might well have encountered years ago but I was destined to not encounter it until this anniversary year. Aside from its description of life, loss and service during the years of the Great War, one of its particular interests for me lies in the great friendship which existed between the author Vera Brittain and another author – Winifred Holtby whose books I have so enjoyed. Testament of Youth is a fair sized tome at over 600 pages – and generally an enormously compelling and readable autobiography. However for me, it would have been more powerful had it ended around 100-150 pages sooner. More of that later.
Vera Brittain was born into a well to do upper middle class family in Newcastle under Lyme in the Potteries, later the family moved to Buxton in Derbyshire. Both Vera and her dear brother Edward attended boarding school – and three of Edward’s great school friends, Roland, Geoffrey and Victor were to become important figures in Vera’s life. Vera’s great ambition was to attend Oxford – at a time when that was rather an unconventional life choice for a young lady. Vera managed to attain a scholarship for Somerville College and entered into college life in 1914. After just one year of study however in the summer of 1915 Vera decided to put her studies on hold and volunteer as a V.A D. For the next four years, following her initial training, Vera saw service in several hospitals, in Buxton and London and later in Malta and France.
“And then, all at once, the whistle sounded again and the train started. As the noisy group moved away from the door he sprang on to the footboard, clung to my hand and, drawing my face down to his, kissed my lips in a sudden vehemence of despair. And I kissed his, and just managed to whisper 'Good-bye!' The next moment he was walking rapidly down the platform, with his head bent and his face very pale. Although I had said that I would not, I stood by the door as the train left the station and watched him moving through the crowd. But he never turned again.”
Towards the beginning of the war she had become engaged to Roland Leighton, as the young men who surrounded her prepared to join the forces fighting in France. During the time Roland was in France he and Vera wrote to one another constantly sending one another poems and desperately looking forward to Roland’s next leave when they might spend a few rare days together if Vera herself could get leave from the hospital. These two young people began to feel rather middle aged as their experiences began to tell upon them, and they found themselves more and more often looking back to happier pre-war days. Her love for Roland is poignantly obvious still in her writing that she completed almost twenty years later, their story surely that of so many couples.
“How fortunate we were who still had hope I did not then realise; I could not know how soon the time would come when we should have no more hope, and yet be unable to die”
As a fiercely intelligent woman and feminist she was quick to understand the true nature of the sacrifice she and her colleagues made, as they endured difficult, arduously back-breaking work, while their youth slowly passed them by. As volunteer nurses they differed to those qualified and experienced nurses they sometimes worked alongside, and in a society reeling under the loss in vast numbers of its sons, were subject to recall by anxious grieving parents which compromised their professionalism. Vera was perfectly placed to witness the effect of this conflict upon her own generation; she and the men she cared for were its victims.
After the war Vera returned to Somerville to continue her studies, switching to history, but she found it a difficult world to fit herself into following her experiences and losses of the previous four years. At a time when she was suffering from a kind of depression, Vera met Winifred Holtby, after an inauspicious start the two became friends and shared a flat in London. Having attained her degree – Vera set about a life of writing and lecturing, speaking for the League of Nations and working for the feminist Six Point group.
This volume of Vera Brittain’s autobiography ends in 1925 at around the time she finally marries. I understand why she ended this volume here- and yet the last 100 pages or so of the book were not quite as compelling for me as everything that had come before (all of which was utterly brilliant). Vera Brittain’s depiction of life as a V.A .D is absolutely unforgettable and there were moments I could hardly put the book down. There is a profound astuteness in Vera Brittain’s depiction of her wartime experiences that must surely be unparalleled from a female perspective. However, despite the fact I would have missed Vera’s meeting and early friendship with Winifred Holtby I might have preferred it if the book had ended in 1919 when Vera returned to Somerville. By the time the book ended the memory of Vera’s wartime experiences had already begun to fade a little in my mind to be replaced by memories of lecture halls and novel writing. Perhaps it was just me, but I would have preferred to have been left with those powerful wartime stories. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | May 28, 2014 |
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. ( )
  nigeyb | Feb 7, 2014 |
Vera Brittain was part of the generation that came of age during the great war. Born in 1893, she was nineteen when the war began. A student at Oxford and in love, she was idealistic, patriotic, and incredibly naïve. By the time the war ended, she had lost many of those closest to her and was considerably more experienced due to her years spent as a nurse treating soldiers in London, Malta, and France. Feeling alone, spiritually depleted, and idealistically bankrupt, she finally returned to Oxford hoping to become the writer she had always meant to be. There she met Winifred Holtby and the two formed an extremely close lifelong friendship. Her post war years were increasingly spent working for the Labour Party and the League of Nations Union, as she both tried to understand the last war and prevent another. Vera's autobiography of her youth, the war, and the years immediately after, was an instant bestseller both for its depiction of an idealistic generation of youth disillusioned by war and for its depiction of the war from a woman's point of view. In addition it is the work of a passionate feminist and budding pacifist.

Despite having been written more than a decade after the war, [Testament of Youth] has an immediacy that draws the reader into sharing the experience. The author includes extensive excerpts from her diary and from letters she both wrote and received, so that most of the story seems to take place in the present. Articulate, reflective, and by turns naïve and jaded, she and her friends document not so much the war, as their intellectual and emotional responses to it. She also includes poetry that she and they wrote, and some of her war poetry was published in 1918 as [Verses of a V.A.D.]. I found the sections on her youth and her war experiences to be very compelling reading, less so the chapters on her early attempts to become published and her initial forays into grassroots politics. Perhaps it felt slower because there were far fewer quotes, as she ceased keeping a diary at the end of the war. Also, I am not familiar with the politics and politicians of the time, so it was a bit harder to follow. Overall, however, I found the book to be a poignant expression of the ideals of a generation lost at war. ( )
3 vote labfs39 | Jan 25, 2014 |
This is an important book. It is about the effects on one woman, Vera Brittain, of the carnage, misery, heartbreak and loss of the "Great War."

She loses so much that is not recoverable and still manages to survive although the world is completely changed.

Start this one when you have time to plow straight through. It is gut wrenching, unforgettable, and absolutely "unputdownable."
  MissJessie | Oct 16, 2013 |
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Vera Brittainprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, ShirleyPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But those were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten... Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.
--Ecclesiastes 44
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When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039237, Paperback)

When war broke out in August 1914, 21-year-old Vera Brittain was planning on enrolling at Somerville College, Oxford. Her father told her she wouldn't be able to go: "In a few months' time we should probably all find ourselves in the Workhouse!" he opined. Brittain had hoped to escape the Northern provinces, but the war seemingly dashed her plans. "It is not, perhaps, so very surprising that the War at first seemed to me an infuriating personal interruption rather than a world-wide catastrophe."

Her father eventually relented, however, and she was allowed to attend. By the end of her first year, she had fallen in love with a young soldier and resolved to become active in the war effort by volunteering as a nurse--turning her back on what she called her "provincial young-ladyhood." Brittain suffered through 12-hour days by reminding herself that nothing she endured was worse than what her fiancé, Roland, experienced in the trenches. Roland was expected home on leave for Christmas 1915; on December 26, Brittain received news that he had been killed at the front. Ten months later Brittain herself was sent to Malta and then to France to serve in the hospitals nearer the front, where she witnessed firsthand the horrors of battle. When peace finally came, Brittain had also lost her brother Edward and two close friends. As she walked the streets of London on November 11, 1918--Armistice Day--she felt alone in the crowds:

For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything that had hitherto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The War was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return.

First published in 1933, Testament of Youth established Brittain as one of the best-loved authors of her time. Her crisp, clear prose and searing honesty make this unsentimental memoir of a generation scarred by war a classic. --Sunny Delaney

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"In 1915 Vera Brittain abandoned her studies at Oxford to enlist as a nurse in the armed services. Before the war was over she had served in London, Malta, and close to the Western Front in France--and she had lost all the men she loved. Out of that experience came this cauterizing book, at once a memoir and an elegy for the bright, passionate generation who came of age on the eve of the war and vanished in its trenches."… (more)

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