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Testament Trilogy #1

Testament of Youth

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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 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.

688 pages, Paperback

First published August 28, 1933

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About the author

Vera Brittain

56 books266 followers
Vera Mary Brittain was a British writer and pacifist, best remembered as the author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, recounting her experiences during World War I and the beginning of her journey towards pacifism.

Her daughter is Shirley Vivian Teresa Brittain Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, who is a British politician and academic who represents the Liberal Democrats.

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Profile Image for Warwick.
841 reviews14.6k followers
October 14, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Luffy (Oda's Version).
765 reviews757 followers
March 5, 2022
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 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.
Profile Image for Steelwhisper.
Author 5 books403 followers
July 17, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,216 reviews1,963 followers
May 19, 2023
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.
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,062 followers
January 12, 2017
Videoreseña: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFD3w...

Creo que voy a tardar en poner en orden mis ideas con este libro.
Hay partes de las memorias de Brittain que me han impresionado mucho, personas que aquí aparecen a través de cartas, diarios y recuerdos que tampoco olvidaré, pero por otro lado he sentido durante todo el libro cierto malestar porque por un lado la propia Vera Brittain me parece digna de admiración y compasión, desde luego fue una mujer impresionante, tremendamente adelantada a su época, progresista, feminista y con un carácter tremendo, pero por otro me resultó (especialmente en su juventud) antipática y snob en muchos momentos.
Aún así, no puedo dejar de admirarla, y estas memorias, aunque en cierta medida me han dejado agotada, también me han encantado.

Y PARA EL QUE NO LO SEPA: Se publicará en castellano a lo largo de este 2017, ¡A por él! ;)
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,000 reviews
March 20, 2021
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
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book556 followers
July 7, 2021
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 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 actual 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 poems, 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.
Profile Image for Libros Prestados.
426 reviews808 followers
May 6, 2020
Hay muchas novelas sobre la Primera Guerra Mundial (no tanto como de la segunda, pero bastantes), pero esta crónica de Vera Brittain, que fue enfermera en el frente, se siente diferente y fresca, incluso hoy en día. Porque siempre pensamos que nuestra generación es distinta, que nuestra juventud es distinta, pero al final todas se parecen a lo largo de la Historia. La diferencia es el momento histórico que te toca vivir, que puede ser mejor o peor. Aunque sinceramente, tu propia historia personal puede ser terrible aunque te toque vivir en un periodo de bonanza.

En este caso Vera nos habla de todos esos jóvenes (hombres y mujeres) que saltaron al frente creyendo viejos cuentos de épica y gloria eterna. Y al final, como es costumbre, les dieron hasta en el carnet de identidad. Toda una generación que vio el horror y acabó desencantada. Con esa guerra que solo iba a durar un mes... y luego como que se alargó bastante. Que empezó con ilusión y a medida que el conflicto no parecía acabar, se iba desmoralizando más y más. Toda una generación que se sacrificó, a quienes se les llamó heroes, pero luego cuando la guerra terminó, se les dijo adiós y se les ignoró, porque ahora había un tiempo nuevo y sus experiencias eran un lastre para el prometedor futuro.

No sé a qué me suena.

Aun así, en medio de todo el dolor y la pérdida, Vera sigue manteniendo su fuerza y su integridad. Y como les pasó a muchos con quienes compartió conflicto, se hizo una pacifista convencida. Y trató de que algo así no volviera a ocurrir. Ya sabemos cómo terminó eso. Pero la cuestión es que ella no lo sabía, así que el libro se lee mucho con un complejo de "Capitán a posteriori". Lo cual tiene su punto a veces gracioso y otras veces trágico. Sobre todo trágico. Porque al final la historia se repite, se repite siempre, aunque nos parezca que no, aunque nos parezca que esta vez es diferente. Así que este libro se lee con una mezcla de curiosidad y angustia, y aunque puede parecer que en estos tiempos de pandemia leer sobre este trágico suceso y las experiencias de Vera Brittain van a deprimirte aun más, lo cierto es que a mí me han ayudado. Conectar con Vera y ver cómo se enfrenta a tiempos tan duros ha sido una buena terapia. Incluso lo más duro, la peor tragedia, se pasa. Y hay algo de tranquilizador en esa idea.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
780 reviews61 followers
August 6, 2021

Vera Brittain, a woman who was strong, courageous, honourable, intelligent and extremely motivated and dedicated. Motivated to get into Oxford (women could not easily get in); motivated to do her part in the War- she endured much heartbreak and loss during those years and was witness to the atrocities of that WAR.

“To me and my contemporaries, with our cheerful confidence in the benignity of fate, War was something remote, unimaginable, its monstrous destructions and distresses safely shut up, like the Black Death and the Great Fire, between the covers of history books.”

One of the most deeply affecting books I have read. Vera Brittain took me right into the heart and soul of WWI like no other book I have read. Of course, she lived it- but to write and describe it to the point that I was there with her, watching in horror, is beyond expression.

“ So much, I thought for “Hun atrocities”- for I was already beginning to suspect, as all my generation now knows, that neither side in wartime has a monopoly of butchers and traitors.”

Her fiancé, Roland is at the front. He is one of the first to go. Through her first hand account, we can feel the anxiety of the waiting, knowing that his chance of survival is so small.

“ If it were not for the nursing I do not know how I could bear this. I feel as if I couldn’t go on much longer without news of some sort, and yet it is no good feeling like that because one has to go on, come what may...”

“ All I ask is that I may fulfill my own small weary part in this War in such a way as to be worthy of Them, who die and suffer pain.”

One feature of the book which really resonated was the letters written between Vera and all the important people in her life. The quality and depth of the thoughts expressed could never be replicated today. The poems that Vera and Roland wrote for each other were so beautiful. I kept picturing, Roland, sitting in a trench and writing to Vera and composing poems for her. Unimaginable, but it all happened.

This book is an amazing tribute to all the people lost in WWI. It really is an amazing accomplishment. I have to add that I have been a nurse for 46 years and to read about the nursing aspect during the war was amazing to me. Definitely not like the Cherry Ames books that I read as a child:)

The author does take us beyond the War till 1925, where she learns to forge a new beginning.
I would like to share a poem Vera wrote as a tribute to Roland.


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.

Poem published 1916
Book published 1933

Many thanks to Jillian and Sara, whose reviews made me reach for this book immediately.
Profile Image for Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly.
755 reviews346 followers
April 17, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Aqsa.
291 reviews306 followers
Want to read
April 28, 2019
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.”
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,357 reviews794 followers
April 27, 2016
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.



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?
Profile Image for Victorian Spirit.
212 reviews718 followers
October 22, 2020
Estas memorias, que abarcan las dos primeras décadas del siglo XX, constituyen un testimonio único de cómo se vivió la Primera Guerra Mundial desde la retaguardia; cómo las mujeres y la sociedad civil que permaneció en Reino Unido se desesperaban mientras sus seres queridos luchaban en el frente. Es un libro duro, con el que se sufre, pero con el que también se aprende mucho, sobre todo sobre la figura de Vera Brittain, mujer valiente, luchadora y referente del feminismo y pacifismo del siglo XX. ¡No os lo perdáis!

RESEÑA COMPLETA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SKR8...
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,459 followers
January 14, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Eibi82.
191 reviews63 followers
January 15, 2020
Si la guerra me perdona la vida, mi único objetivo será inmortalizar en un libro nuestra historia, la de nuestros amigos

Esta lectura no solo es el documento vivo de una parte de la Historia por la que pasamos de puntillas
-a pesar de la importancia que tuvo y que fue caldo de cultivo para lo que vino después-; Testamento de juventud, es además, el duelo de Vera Brittain hecho libro, un homenaje a todas las personas que perdió durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, a su generación e incluso, a esa parte de ella misma que también perdió allí.

Es una obra profundamente honesta que no trata de dulcificar los acontecimientos. Refleja sus ideales pacifistas y feministas con una lucidez y sentido común extraordinarios. Vamos, no le sobra ni una coma.

Personalmente, no puedo dejar de admirar la tenacidad y perseverancia de Vera; el sentido práctico en momentos en los que la desolación, la angustia y el miedo eran el día a día. Todo ello descrito con una belleza poética tan conmovedora que resultaba imposible parar de leer, emocionada casi como si lo hubiera vivido a su lado.

Han pasado muchísimos años desde los sucesos que se narran en Testamento de juventud y, sin embargo, mientras leía no dejaba de pensar que nada ha cambiado; que los que apoyan y fomentan las guerras -ya sea instándolas, luchando en ellas, vendiendo armas para sacar riqueza de las desgracias ajenas o mirando hacia otro lado- siguen manipulando el discurso.
¿Cuántas Veras habrá en nuestro siglo? Mujeres en guerra a las que les arrebatan absolutamente todo por unos ideales absurdos e intolerantes, cuyo único fin es conseguir poder a través del miedo y el sometimiento.

Poca gentes es consciente de la importancia de este libro, de su mensaje, su testimonio, su significado. Una auténtica lección de historia y humanidad que no debería caer en el olvido.

Tú que sin cesar lloras,
¿Qué hiciste, dime tú?
¿Qué hiciste de tu juventud?

Paul Verlaine.

Profile Image for Courtney Johnston.
401 reviews153 followers
December 29, 2011
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.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,061 reviews495 followers
March 12, 2022
‘...And at last I had come to believe that, although men did change slowly, and left the evidence of their progressive modifications in statutes and treaties, no change would come soon enough to save the next generation from the grief and ruin that had engulfed my own so long as the world that I endured — the world of haves and have-nots; of owners and owned; of rich and poor; of great Powers and little nations. Always at the mercy of the wealthy and strong; of influential persons whose interests were served by war, and who had sufficient authority to compel politicians to precipitate on behalf and a few the wholesale destruction of millions.’
Vera Brittain, A Testament of Youth — from her autographical work on World War One, as relevant then as, sadly, it is today.

A very strong 3 stars. My only quibble was that I thought it was overly-lengthy.

• This is really good from Diana Athill....save it for after you have read the book as it gives much of the book’s story line away... https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...
Profile Image for Petra.
1,147 reviews16 followers
December 21, 2016
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.

Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,318 reviews438 followers
June 7, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Tania.
62 reviews74 followers
March 11, 2020
"Quien crea que la guerra es una cosa áurea y gloriosa, quien adore soltar palabras de aliento y exhortación, invocando el Honor, la Alabanza, el Valor y el Amor a la Patria (...) que eche un vistazo a la montañita de harapos grises y humedecidos que cubren medio cráneo y una tibia y lo que en otro tiempo fue una caja torácica, o al cadáver que yace de costado, tal y como cayó, acuclillado, perfecto salvo porque le falta la cabeza, y cubierto todavía por las prendas harapientas; ¡y que se entere de lo grandioso y glorioso que es haber vertido toda la Juventud, la Alegría y la Vida en un fétido cúmulo de espantosa putrescencia! ¿Quién que haya conocido y visto todo eso puede afirmar que la Victoria vale la muerte de tan sólo uno de estos hombres?"
Profile Image for Celia🪐.
549 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2022
#RetoEdwardianspirit de la cuenta @victorianspiritsblog, premisa “Libro Sobre la IGM”.

Posiblemente el libro al que más ganas tenia de hincar el diente este año. “Testamento de Juventud” era una obra que lleva muchos años en mi lista de libros de pendientes. Si no me he atrevido con ella antes ha sido, para vergüenza mía, simplemente porque su considerable volumen (más de 800 páginas) me daba respeto o, directamente, pereza, según las circunstancias. Más tonta he sido yo, si me hubiera animado con él antes, antes hubiera podido disfrutarlo.

Nos encontramos ante la biografía de la periodista, escritora y activista política Vera Brittain, la cual narra sus primeros treinta años de vida. Así conoceremos, primero, a la idealista y ambiciosa hija de un fabricante de papel que luchó enconadamente por ser entrar a estudiar a Oxford con el sueño de ser escritora. Y luego veremos como todo su idealismo se trunca con la llegada de la Gran Guerra, a la cual son enviados sus mejores amigos, su hermano y su prometido, el poeta Roland Leighton. La parte central del libro serán las experiencias de la propia Vera como enfermera de guerra en diferentes puntos del conflicto. El último tercio de la biografía nos habla de los años posteriores a la guerra, de la vuelta de Vera a Oxford y de sus primeros inicios en la política y la escritura. Es un testimonio agridulce sobre cómo las heridas que dejó la guerra en Vera fueron, muy poco a poco, curándose. Dejando cicatrices imperecederas en ella, a quien, a veces a regañadientes, no le quedo otra que sobrevivir.

Creo, sinceramente, que nos podría haber elegido mejor libro para esta premisa sobre la Primera Guerra Mundial. Y es que uno de los centros emocionales de este libro es ver como la Primera Guerra Mundial supuso un cambio generacional y de mentalidad tan enorme como brusco. Los herederos de la bien pensante y segura sociedad victoriana vieron como todas sus creencias; cimentadas en el apogeo social, económico y político de Inglaterra durante la vida de sus padres y abuelos; se desmoronaban de una forma catastrófica hasta quedar reducidas a polvo y ruinas. La Primera Guerra Mundial supuso un golpe tan duro como doloroso para todo esos jóvenes, que habían pasado unas infancias seguras y confortables, que daban por hecho que todos los privilegios entre los cuales habían nacido y se habían criado (como la bonanza económica, el bienestar emocional, y el derecho a ser feliz) eran algo indiscutiblemente suyo por derechos y que les pertenecía por entero. Y de la peor forma posible todo ese mundo se vino al traste para dar paso a otro completamente nuevo. Los niños y adolescentes de aquel entonces se vieron obligados a convertirse en adultos más cínicos e inseguros, que cargaban el peso de todos los traumas que un conflicto de proporciones tan enormes les impuso, tanto a nivel emocional como físico. Toda esta transformación ideológica dejó su peso en todas las ramificaciones de la sociedad, tanto en cultura, como en filosofía, como en forma de actuar. Y este cambio progresivo queda muy bien testimoniado en el libro que ahora nos ocupa. De la mano de Vera Brittain podemos ser testigos ese antes, durante y después con todo lujo de detalles y de una forma que sumerge totalmente al lector contemporáneo en esa vorágine de cambios.

Como testimonio de una época “Testamento de Juventud” es una fuente impagable. Para su composición, la autora no solo recurre a su propia memoria en bruto. Se apoya en cartas que recibió o escribió en ese momento, en su diario, en recortes de prensa y lecturas y en los recuerdos de conocidos. El resultado es una crónica fresca y a la vez muy meticulosa, llena de detalles y en la que todo está nítidamente trazado. Tanto detallismo es una de las cosas que más me ha sorprendido, en el sentido de que Vera nos dice a la perfección el día concreto en que sucedió tal cosa, o el momento exacto en que tal persona dijo tal cosa. Es cierto, que hubo momentos en los que está narración se me hizo un poco pesada y densa. Esto me pasó pasó especialmente hacia dl final, con todo lo relacionado con la Sociedad de Naciones. Pero creo que eso se debía más bien a lo poco receptiva que soy a su heredera directa, la ONU. Pero por lo demás, agradezco mucho el esfuerzo de Vera, ya no solo para narrar sus vivencias como enfermera, sino también su historia como hija de un fabricante de papel y sus esfuerzos para entrar en Oxford antes de la guerra. La forma en que representa como todo su idealismo y todos sus sueños poco a poco fueron truncándose cuando se alzaron los tambores de guerra, como se disolvieron a medida que las enfermerías y hospitales fueron inundadas por las masas de enfermos y heridos que las batallas dejaban a su paso. La crisis existencial y humana que ella misma padeció una vez que terminó el conflicto, y la forma en que fue volcándose más en sus estudios, en sus sueños (que la guerra solo había pospuesto, nunca truncado) y en el activismo político, como medios para cambiar el mundo y hacer de él un lugar mejor para las generaciones venideras. Personalmente no pude evitar enternecerme con esto, último en el sentido de que no dejan de ser las esperanzas en las que se cobijaron las perspectivas de muchas de las personas que sobrevivieron a la guerra y que querían creer, firmemente, pese a todo, en que después de tanto horror un mundo mejor sí era posible.

Si algo es “Testamento de Juventud” es, en primer lugar, un alegato contumaz en favor de la paz. Desde su posición como enfermera en Inglaterra, Malta y el frente francés, Vera es una testigo de primera fila de los horrores y el sinsentido que la guerra genera. Y pone el énfasis en la forma en que esta crea heridas físicas y mentales en los combatientes y supervivientes de la misma, en el sinsentido que resulta matar a personas a las que no conoces de nada y, por lo tanto, no tienes motivos para odiar. La crueldad, la inutilidad y la virulencia del conflicto son plasmados con un realismo crudo que te produce un nudo en el estómago mientras lo lees. Porque sabes que todo eso fue atrozmente letal y real. Un mundo de pesadilla materializado en plena Europa, y que después ha seguido edificándose en diferentes lugares del mundo y épocas. En ese sentido, y desde mi perspectiva de lectora del futuro que sabe que aconteció después, me resulta de una ingenuidad sorprendente que confiase tanto en el dialogo entre naciones como medio para evitar cualquier otra guerra.

Pero ante todo “Testamento de Juventud” es una canción de amor, una elegía para aquellos que su creadora amo y perdió en la guerra. Y, en general, para todos aquellos que perdieron la vida en los campos de batalla, todos esos nombres conocidos y anónimos. Toda esa generación perdida de jóvenes llenos de ambiciones, talentos y sueños, que tenían sus propias historias y sus propias esperanzas, que tanto podían haber aportado a sus familias y al mundo entero en otras circunstancias. Jóvenes cuyas vidas fueron cruelmente segadas por el sinsentido de la guerra, por las ambiciones y la falta de empatía de unos pocos, que sin ningún tipo de escrúpulos les llevaron a luchar y a morir en pos de unos ideales que pronto se mostraron huecos e insuficientes para justificar el coste que supusieron. Y todo ello sin olvidar el esfuerzo y valor de miles y miles de mujeres que dejaron su vida atrás para enfrentarse a lo desconocido, para convertirse en enfermeras en pleno conflicto mundial, sin saber nada sobre cuidar a enfermos y heridos; y sin saber, realmente, donde se metían. Pero aún así, gracias a su esfuerzo, tesón y dedicación, no pocas vidas se salvaron gracias a ellas.

A medida que vas leyendo las más de ochocientas páginas que componen ese primer tercio de su vida que biografía en este tomo, Vera se nos va presentando como una mujer de matices y contrastes que van emergiendo a lo largo de todo el texto, a medida que su propia forma de pensar y su evolución se van produciendo al son de los avatares de la guerra y la paz. Es imposible que sea una narradora que deje indiferente a nadie. Hay algo profundamente atrayente en Vera,en lo avanzada que era para su época en cuestiones como el feminismo . En su lucha enconada contra todos los obstáculos que se encontró desde su adolescencia, y de recomponerse frente a ellos, aunque aquello doliera más que la propia herida. En la claridad, inteligencia y seguridad con la que expone todos sus ideas y como las argumenta. Resulta cuanto menos conmovedor ver la forma de cómo esta enfermera sin vocación y que solo quería estudiar y ser escritora, se consagró al arte de curar durante los años que duró la guerra, tanto por ella misma como por aquellos que quería y que estaba en el frente, con el fin de sentirse más cerca de ellos. Quizás empezó la enfermería de una forma no exenta de algo de egoísmo, pero el resultado fue terriblemente altruista, acabo consagrándose totalmente a ella, tratando de ayudar a todos aquellos a los que pudo. Y a la vez puede llegar a resultar a veces muy irritante, ya que ella misma no oculta que a veces, pese a todo su bagaje cultural y su apertura de miras,puede resultar increíblemente snob y estar plagada de todo tipo de prejuicios culturales y sociales . Pero, al fin de al cabo, todo esto nos permite comprender y conocer mejor a la mujer que maneja la pluma, a la que no deja de ser la protagonista de esta historia, aunque la misma este dedicada a quienes ya no están. Vera fue una mujer de carne y hueso, con sus virtudes y defectos, sus caídas y sus momentos álgidos, sus complejos y sus miedos. Y todo eso se plasma con todas sus luces y sus sombras.

Mientras leía, muchas veces, no podía evitar comparar a Vera con otra feminista y escritora destacada de su misma época, la cual aparece mencionada en la contraportada de este libro: me refiero, como no, a Virginia Woolf. Tanto Vera como Virginia nacieron en familias burguesas y monetariamente solventes que les proporcionaron una excelente educación y una crianza que, por diferentes medios, les permitió acceder a un mundo intelectual que no estaba al alcance de muchas de sus contemporáneas. Y también, por diferentes medios, lograron convertirse en escritoras y alcanzar un alto grado cultural e intelectual e independencia económica. Al final, aunque sus ideas fueran muy avanzadas para la mentalidad de su época ( eso es indiscutible) las dos son, de alguna forma, hijas de la clase social en la que nacieron en sus ideas, y de la estabilidad y confianza que da saber que siempre tendrán dinero en su bolsillo. Y eso se manifiesta en ciertos prejuicios que aun empañan ideas que, insisto, no por ello son menos avanzadas, pero que al final no son validas para una parte de la población femenina. De todas formas, también os digo que me siento más identificada con todo lo que dice y defiende Vera sobre el feminismo y la percibo más abierta de miras en sus ideales. Al final se nota que todo lo que ella consiguió en su vida adulta fue, en gran parte, gracias a su propio esfuerzo personal y a su tesón, ya que en ese sentido Virginia tuvo más suerte, ya que gracias a una herencia logró cierto desahogo económico que le permito centrarse en sus escritos . Vera, al fin de al cabo, tuvo que estudiar y trabajar mucho para lograr primero la independencia económica, y luego el respeto de sus colegas de profesión.

Para acabar, solo puedo decir que una de las mejores cosas que le pueden pasar a un lector es que un libro al que le tenia muchas ganas cumpla con sus expectativas. Y no eran pocas las que tenia puesta en “Testamento de Juventud”. Pero, al mismo tiempo, eso ha sido el gran problema con el que me he encontrado con este libro. Aunque se encuentra, de cabeza, en mi lista de libros preferidos de año, estaba más que convencida de que iba a ocupar el primer puesto. Y eso no ha sido así. Ese es el único punto negativo que puedo encontrarle a una lectura que creo, sinceramente, que debería leer todo el mundo en algún momento de sus vidas. El libro es un sobrecogedor relato sobre la guerra y la pérdida, escrito por una mujer fuerte que no tiene miedo en plasmar , ya no solo su propia alma, también como fue esa época tan turbulenta con total veracidad, y en como todo lo que vivió la afecto y la cambio de una forma cruda y conmovedora. La historia de Vera es la historia de miles de personas anónimas que también sufrieron en sus propias carnes todo lo que supuso la I G.M. Sus aportaciones fueron vitales no solo en el momento preciso de la guerra, sino que también ayudaron a que el mundo se levantará después de ello y siguiera adelante, aunque de todos es conocido que apenas 30 años después la historia volvería repetirse. “Quien no conoce su historia está condenado a repetirla” sentencia la cita. Y por eso creo firmemente en el valor de esta lectura, que puede enseñar al lector moderno que todo lo que estamos viviendo ahora no se diferencia tanto a lo que ocurrió a principios del siglo XX. En nuestras manos está impedir que no se repita las barbaries y las masacres que, por desgracia, tanto han caracterizado el paso del hombre sobre la tierra.

Lo único que puedo decir es que este libro ha venido para ocupar ya no solo un puesto importante en mis estanterías, sino también en mi memoria. Es un libro de muertes, sufrimientos y dolor, pero también de valor, renacimiento y esperanzas. Es la vida misma, y por eso impacta tanto leerlo.
Profile Image for Kirstine.
459 reviews569 followers
January 14, 2016
"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?"
Profile Image for Cleo.
88 reviews203 followers
August 11, 2023
I don't quite know what to say about this book and my opinions will perhaps go against the effusive praise of Brittain's feminist ideas and wartime philosophy, if not her actual wartime experience, which, of course, is personal and incomparable.

First of all, I'll cover what I appreciated. This book was one person's experience during World War I, a person who decided to engage with this "beast" of a war, in spite of her disagreement with it, and instead of sticking her head in the ground and attempting to avoid the horrors and atrocities of it all. One must admire her for that. The death of her fiance and brother and friends is something that few of us can really understand, the grief of the loss of so many loved ones and the guilt of being the one left behind. I can certainly sympathize with her experience.

Now for the parts that irritated and grated and made it difficult for me to trudge through this unnecessarily thick volume. Brittain comes across as self-righteous and judgemental throughout most of the book. If she had developed these aspects of her character after the war, because of her experiences in it, it might have been something that I could have overlooked. But from page one, even when she was relating events of her childhood, she sounded deprecating towards her parents, disgusted with the culture of her times and highly irritated with most of the people around her. Very few people seemed to behave the way Brittain wanted them to and when they didn't, they were judged, judged, judged.

Brittain also seemed to know better about everything than anyone else. Again, I could understand if she was writing the book fresh from the horrors and disappointments that she experienced, but she's writing decades later when one would expect her to develop some maturity and humility in her outlook. But, nope.

Interestingly, I have been reading C.S. Lewis's collected letters and coincidentally was reading about his experience in WWI at the same time as I was reading about Brittain's. What two completely different outlooks! Lewis (who could have been exempt from the war because of his age and his nationality, but chose to participate out of a duty) does his job and tries to make the best of it. He doesn't gloss over atrocities (his sergeant was blown up and killed right beside him, and he makes reference to his sympathy for a man who is a widower and lost both of his sons in the war) but Lewis lives in the "now" and is grateful for what he has. Yet he also states what he thinks is wrong with the political framework with regards to the war. Lewis comes across much more matter-of-fact and less condemnatory in a self-satisfied way that is apparent in Brittain's tone. (Note: Lewis was not a Christian at this time)

My major dissatisfaction with Brittain is that her life experiences didn't appear to change her as a person, to make her grow in character or engender sympathy towards anyone but herself. Her tone of disapproving superciliousness echoed throughout all 600+ pages, making this reader weary of the effort and honestly, detracting from some of the more valid and insightful points that Brittain did offer.

An interesting and somewhat enlightening read with insights into WWI, but otherwise an unexpected disappointment.
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,123 reviews229 followers
December 14, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,242 reviews281 followers
November 8, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Tabuyo.
426 reviews41 followers
November 11, 2019
Es el primer libro de memorias de Vera Brittain y abarca desde 1900 hasta 1925 aproximadamente.
Gracias a la autora he podido vivir el horror de la Gran Guerra y he podido ver como un gran número de mujeres arriesgaban la vida para ayudar a soldados heridos en los hospitales.

Si os interesa la 1 Guerra Mundial y los comienzos de la lucha feminista de principios de siglo os la recomiendo. Aunque a mi el último tercio del libro se me hizo algo pesado porque se centra demasiado en política y no me lo esperaba.

Reseña: https://contandoteunlibro.blogspot.co...
Profile Image for Cristina.
440 reviews51 followers
January 12, 2020
Le pongo 5 estrellas aunque en realidad es un 4,5.
Algo me faltó en las últimas 80 o 100 páginas más o menos, algo que no se explicar. Pero es lo suficiente para que no me resulte ese libro redondo que hasta entonces era.

No puedo más que admirar a esta mujer por su lucha por los derechos de la mujer, por su empeño en seguir a delante dentro del horror de la guerra y sobre todo, por un retrato de una generación que perdió demasiado y a la que el tiempo traicionó haciéndole pasar por el mismo dolor años después.
Un libro que engancha, emociona y conmueve.
Profile Image for Alberto Delgado.
596 reviews109 followers
October 21, 2020
Lo tenía pendiente de leer desde que lo descubrí en la reseña de Magrat y mucho mas desde que vi la película y me dejó roto la historia de Vera. Es un libro de los que hay que tomarse con calma su lectura por lo que cuenta , por el estilo de Brittain y por su larga extensión pero merece mucho la pena. Me ha gustado conocer con mas profundidad la vida de esta joven inglesa que justo hace un siglo se tuvo que enfrentar a la primera guerra mundial y como le marcó esa experiencia para el resto de su vida en sus convicciones personales y políticas. Las dos primeras partes del libro me han enganchado pero la tercera justo cuando nos cuenta sus comienzos de activista feminista y pacifista al terminar la guerra es mas tediosa en parte porque al no conocer a la mayoría de personajes políticos de la época que van apareciendo hace que te que desconectes un poco de la narración. Me quedo con ganas de que las dos editoriales que se han unido para traducir por primera vez este libro al castellano sigan publicando sus siguientes libros de memorias y poder conocer como vivió Vera el tener que volver a pasar por una guerra mundial 30 años después.
Profile Image for Genni.
228 reviews36 followers
June 24, 2023
From what I understand, this is the only record of WWI written by a woman. For that alone, it would be worth reading, but Brittain's attempts to be relentlessly honest with both herself and the world as she encounters it make compelling reading.

There are a couple of places where the work "fails" in some sense or another for me. It chronicles not only her experiences in the war, but also her journey to pacifism, and ultimately, to socialism (so common for pacifists in the 19th century apparently.) While I am something of a pacifist, a socialist I am not, so simple disagreement with her conclusions was a problem. But also, I didn't knock off stars for this because it is her story and not an apology for socialism.

Another was at the end, where she attempts to tie up in words the horrors of the war. The struggle to put into words the atrocities are evident, but reality does not come through. This may not be a fault of her writing, because I wonder if that is even really possible.

The book covers the aftermath of the war; the effects on herself, her generation, and the different countries through which she traveled afterward. This is absolutely fascinating because it chronicles in a personal way developments in the League of Nations and the League of Nations Union. As part of her involvement, she traveled through post-war Germany and developed both sympathy for, and keen insights into, the psychological aftermath of the people, something that contributed to her conviction as a pacifist.

Her time at Oxford shines through with the consistently high level of writing maintained throughout. "Why is it that all my university mentors want me to do research-work at the expense of fiction, and my literary mentor fiction at the expense of history? I wish I hadn't both tendencies; it makes things so complicated...He says I mustn't forget that fiction is always greater than scholarship because it is entirely creative, whereas scholarship is synthetic, on the other hand, one has people like M. [our tutor] urging one on to the ideal of historical truth and the world's need of more and more enlightenment. How is one to reconcile the two ideals?"

Here, Brittain accomplishes exactly that combination. Her narrative skills weave the truth of history and her experience into one immensely readable, tragic work.
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