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Testament of Youth (1933)

by Vera Brittain

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Vera Brittain's Testament (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,857486,897 (4.15)2 / 369
In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and, as war was declared, she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life - and the life of her whole generation - had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain's account of how she survived the period; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world. A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time.… (more)
  1. 10
    Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain (jigarpatel)
    jigarpatel: Testament of Youth is almost required reading for Testament of Friendship. The former a memoir of Vera Brittain, the latter a biography of her closest friend Winifred Holtby. Although focusing on individuals and their relationships, they also powerfully describe the "state of the times". In particular, causes such as feminism, pacifism and racial equality are brought to life through the eyes of the protagonists.… (more)
  2. 10
    The Ghost at the Wedding: A True Story 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)
  3. 00
    Cabin Fever by Elizabeth Jolley (KayCliff)
  4. 00
    The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (bjappleg8)
    bjappleg8: Both books describe the decimation of a generation of young men as seen close up: from WWI in Testament of Youth and in The Great Believers the ravages of AIDS in the 1980s.
  5. 00
    The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett (LiteraryReadaholic)
  6. 00
    Chronicle of Youth: War Diary, 1913-17 by Vera Brittain (VivienneR)
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English (45)  Italian (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
In 1933, Vera's Brittain's memoir of her life before, during, and immediately after WWI was published. The book is an incredibly moving account of what it was like to come of age during the Great War. There are three parts to the book. The first part tells about life for a young woman growing up in a Victorian household, and all of the pressures, expectations, and naivety that came along with it. It also sets the stage for Brittain's relationships with four young men, including her brother and her later fiancé, all of whom would serve in the war. In the second section, Vera enlists as a nurse. She works several places: London, Malta, and France. She shares many details of the work, the conditions, and the emotional and physical toll. This section vividly depicts what it was like to repeatedly "say goodbye" to loved ones and the stress of waiting to hear if friends and family had survived each battle. The third section is about the immediate aftermath of the war: how she deals with the losses she suffers, her views on international politics, and whether she desires to try to balance her work with marriage and children.

I really loved this book. Brittain's writing is honest and she doesn't shy away from sharing her grief or her opinions. She writes with great emotion without being overly dramatic, even in dramatic circumstances. I was sucked right in to her world. I particularly loved the first and second sections. The third lost a little momentum for me, with the views on world politics. It felt less personal. I also read in the afterward that the man she ended up marrying didn't want to be as big a part of the book as she wanted him to be. So that probably made it harder to write with the honestly and poignancy that she achieved in the first sections.

I put off reading this book for quite a few years because it is long, but I found it very readable and I'm glad I finally got to it. It's an important viewpoint of a woman who served in WWI. ( )
  japaul22 | Jun 6, 2021 |
paper; WW1 & pre England;
  18cran | May 29, 2021 |
The world can thank Vera Brittain for keeping a detailed diary during World War I. Through her writings, Brittain is able to not only give a personal account of how the war changed her life, but the impact the conflict had on the world at large around her. When she says the war "smashed her youth" and "interrupted her personal plans" you get the sense of the level of personal destruction the violence left in its wake. She led a sheltered life in England, never leaving the country until she was twenty-one. She had both a brother and a fiancé serve in the war. Through their letters and poems, how they were affected by the conflict represents how a good majority of the soldiers coped with battle. In order to feel closer to her brother and fiancé, Vera volunteered to darn socks, but as the war dragged on, the desire to "do something more" led her to sign up as a probationer in a hospital. There she had an up close and personal view of war's terrible price. ( )
  SeriousGrace | May 27, 2021 |
This is the sort of book that shakes you. It puts a face on what Britain lost in the war and why, almost 100 years later, all of Britain pauses on November 11th at the eleventh hour. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose almost everyone you loved and have to carry on. This needs to be read before you read any history of the war. As you read remember that Vera was typical of her generation. Thousands of young woman who lost lover, cousins, and brothers due to the war. ( )
  Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
While this is one of the classic war books and written from the almost unique perspective of a woman, if you can find an abridged version to read, get that instead of the full text.

Brittain has written an extremely self-focussed work here. Where it deals with the life and times of women in the early years of the 20th century and, in particular, the impact of the war on them, it is very interesting.

Where Vera describes her own life and, in particular, what she gets up to after the war, the book is little more than a diary and thus, IMO, not worth reading. She does go on a bit, and when she does, its all me, me, me.

Whereas novels like Storm of Steel are written almost completely from the front line, Brittain could not write Testament from that point of view. Although this makes for a less gripping read, it conveys an important aspect of the war and one which is far less frequently described.

It’s also less frequently read. Brittain does herself no favours by not sticking to where the action is. A judicious editor would have realised that bits needed trimming off. She tells us that her mother is in Cornwall on holiday. It’s not immediately apparently that this is entirely useless information to the reader as it has no bearing on anything. As I say, if you can pick up an abridged version, do read it. Otherwise, be prepared for some blah.

What’s more, be prepared for her to come across strongly with her humanism and atheism. The former is very much a product of its time. At one point she claims that

"So long as the spirit of man remained undefeated, life was worth having."

This comes after living through a world war which was instigated and fueled by nothing less than the spirit of man. Vera should have lived to read The Kindly Ones which gets this absolutely right:

"There was a lot of talk, after the war … about inhumanity. But, I am sorry. There is no such thing as inhumanity. There is only humanity and more humanity." (The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell)

As for the atheism, throughout the novel, Brittain addresses those she has lost as if they still exist somewhere but seems to think this in no way contradicts an atheist view of there being no afterlife. Curious.

While this is an important book, and will remain so for years to come, it won’t get any easier to read. ( )
  arukiyomi | Sep 5, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vera Brittainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bostridge, MarkIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Campbell, CherylReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, ShirleyPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
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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R.A.L. and E.H.B.
In Memory
First words
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.
Quotations
The impulse to put what I felt into verse -- a new impulse which had recently begun both to fascinate and torment me -- sprang up with overwhelming compulsion.
Absorbed in Unseen Translations and the Binomial Theorem, eagerly looking forward to seeing Roland once more at Uppingham, and mitigating the interval by a heartless retrospective flirtation with my would-be suitor of the previous summer, I entirely failed to notice in the daily papers of June 29th an account of the assassination, on the previous morning, of a European potentate whose name was unknown to me, in a Balkan town of which I had never heard. (pg 85/661)
Whenever I think of the weeks that followed the news of Roland's death, a series of pictures, disconnected but crystal clear, unroll themselves like a kaleidoscope through my mind.
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In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and, as war was declared, she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life - and the life of her whole generation - had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain's account of how she survived the period; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world. A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time.

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In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and as war was declared she was preparing to study at Oxford.  Four years later her life - and the life of her whole generation - had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war peace.  Testament of Youth, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is her account of how she survived the period; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world.  This passionate record of a lost generation made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time.
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