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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Growing Up the Hard Way
Vera Brittain was a privileged, yet restricted young woman. She was very of her time in that she had to fight for everything that today's women tend to take for granted. The freedom to spend time with whomever she chose, to have privacy, even to receive an education, were all hard-fought. She belonged to the middle/upper class, with all the comforts that that status...
Published on 31 Jan. 2009 by Graceann Macleod

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars perhaps this is sacrilege
Perhaps this is sacrilege, but this is rather a turgid tome. I'm reading it for my bookclub, but I am having to make a great effort to complete it. I think we may tend to look at this book uncritically because it is about a great even in recent (relatively) history. But I find that I have to skim much of it to look for the important bits. I have also heard it described as...
Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer


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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Growing Up the Hard Way, 31 Jan. 2009
By 
Vera Brittain was a privileged, yet restricted young woman. She was very of her time in that she had to fight for everything that today's women tend to take for granted. The freedom to spend time with whomever she chose, to have privacy, even to receive an education, were all hard-fought. She belonged to the middle/upper class, with all the comforts that that status implies, even to the point of reaching adulthood without ever learning the simple task of boiling an egg.

She freely admitted that when the War broke out, it appeared to her to be an interruption and an inconvenience. She had no idea just how it would transform the world and her life. Five years later, she was a bitter, nightmare-ridden shadow of her former self.

Testament of Youth takes you from the time of Vera's childhood through 1925, when she is just starting a new, happier life. Making copious use of her own diaries, letters between herself and her friends, and the poetry and music of the time, she gives a lesson by means of immersion into her life. Her prose is extremely demanding and not for the faint of heart. There were many sections where I was only able to pick up just what she was saying from the context. Her vocabulary is dense and elaborate. At first I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to rise to the occasion, but in the end I was richly rewarded.

The meat of Testament of Youth is Vera's writing of her wartime experiences as a nurse and as a worried sister, lover and friend of those serving in the trenches. I have never been so aware of just how debilitating this era in history was, not just to the soldiers, but to those who waited, worked and worried back at home.

The book runs out of steam after the War, and then Vera's completion of her education at Oxford. I didn't find her discussion of her work for the League of Nations Union nearly as interesting as the previous 450 pages, though I might have done if I'd known more about British political history. Testament of Youth shines when Vera is discussing her personal relationships and frailties. It is at these moments that the book grabbed me by the shoulders and absolutely refused to let me go.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An essential book, 28 Aug. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
I have just finished reading 'Testament of Youth' and thought you could hardly better the sense of experience, personal and national, that comes out of it. I come to the book from an 'autobiography' background, rather than of 'interest in the war' as such, and therefore to my mind the first two thirds of the book are best where Vera Brittain is conveying her personal experience and responses; I think she is less good in conveying her work for the League of Nations etc. But then, perhaps that is the point of it. As she says a couple of times in the text, these are experiences which I will never be able to overcome. Her courage in picking herself up after the war is fantastic, but you know in your heart that something has been lost in her forever. It was also very nice to read about a Buxton lass. I like Derbyshire & the Dales and I enjoyed the presentation of 'genteel' Buxton and her family and friends.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking Memoirs, 26 July 2009
By 
Rhiannon (Walsall, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
I first read this book when studying for my A levels 25 years ago -it totally overpowered me then and now it still does.It is my all time favourite book because it has such humanity and love at its core.
Vera Brittain was an amazing woman and her early years as documented in Testament of Youth shaped her views for the rest of her life.
With the recent passing of Harry Patch the last WW1 Soldier I picked up this seminal work again to remind me of that generation and all they endured.
Vera's Courage whether it be fighting to gain an education at University, or working as a VAD Nurse while all the time one by one those she loves perish shines through .I still cannot read the poem after Roland's Death without tears falling.
This wonderful work will remain a classic - a benchmark for Womens Literature.I will continue to reread it and pass it on to my children as an important message is contained within.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vera's legacy to us all, 17 July 2011
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
It is extremely difficult to get through this book without splashing the pages with your tears. I mentally clasped the author's hand throughout this tormented autobiography. I like strong women. People like me frequently do. Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth didn't disappoint. Brittain was a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) - a sort of auxiliary nurse - who were often middle or upper class civilian women with little or no experience of hardship or hospital discipline filling in for a lack of trained nurses in the wars. She coped as best she could, on one occasion finding herself in charge of a ward of 40 badly wounded men. While the men (rightly so) earned medals and distinctions, she was refused permission to return to the Front and help because she had broken her contract to look after her sick mother. Brittain writes with an insight into the First World War in a way that most men can't. Emotional, passionate and with a welcome frankness about sex and relationships.
"The ward was reserved for gassed classes, and I had once again the task of attending to the blinded eyes and scorched throats and blistered bodies which made the struggle for life such a half-hearted affair. One of the dying men had his wife beside him for two or three days; she didn't much enjoy her vigil, and had already began to flirt with the orderly sergeant before he came to superintend the removal of her husband's body. I wondered whether she knew that the dead man had been syphilitic as well as gassed."
The sub-text is rich. Her brother Edward's love of music, his dislike of women and his close friends: the beautiful Roland who Vera falls in love, the strong Victor, rendered totally blind by his injuries and the sensitive Geoffrey whose engagement in this brutal and futile war is reflected in a marching song of the time sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne: "We're here because, we're here because, we're here because, we're here....". Their loss brings you close to a woman who lost everything in life. Yet, long after her death, Vera Brittain continues to humble anyone privileged enough to read her book. Light a candle and with the strains of Elgar's requiem For the Fallen playing quietly in the background, why not let Vera Brittain lead you into the trenches to the very heart of the fighting and question what it was all for?
Compulsory reading. (Please click on the Amazon link on the National Secular Society website to help their work if purchasing. I'm sure she'd like that).
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72 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read book, 1 Nov. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
If you only read one book about the First World War, read this one. The true horror of the war is detailed, and it really makes you think about the loss and sacrifice.
I read this book first of all studying for my History degree,and I have re-read it many times since then.
Vera's life and what happened to her, and her friends has stayed with me always, and I have now encouraged other people to read it too.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important memoir of the Great War and its aftermath, 3 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
In 1929 Vera Brittain ( 1893- 1970) began using her extensive diaries and correspondence to start writing her auto-biographical epic from 1913-1925, which was published in 1933. At the time Brittain was a part time lecturer for supporters of the League of Nations, a journalist, and had written two novels which had not been particularly well received. Ambitious and a feminist, Brittain seemed determined to succeed at something, and her greatest achievement has been in autobiography.

The book is well written : Brittain depicts her own life, frustrations, personal losses , near breakdown and subsequent attempts at building new life and friendships after the Great War in an endearing manner. Her humanitarianism, her social observations, the fact that she reminded the world how those people away from direct military action, (especially women and men to old to fight) suffered along with the men who were maimed, traumatised, or killed . Brittain also nurses enemy soldiers and also visited Germany after the War, and her compassion extended to the German people. The book also clearly documents how women's lives changed during this time period.

`Testament of Youth' is not great literary fiction, compared with Siegfried Sassoon' Memoirs of an Infantry Officer'. The book has its opponents, one unkind critic referred to Brittain as the `princess of self-pity'. The book is centred around her own suffering and personal losses ( of fiancé, friends, brother), though millions of other people experienced great levels of bereavement at this time. Whether she has the right to be heralded as the `voice' of a generation in this respect is open to question. Certainly Brittain's supporters will point out that the book's success was due to a large number of her contemporaries feeling at least some affinity with her suffering.

Further research has suggested that her brother Edward killed in 1918, may have taken his own life or deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire so as to avoid the disgrace of a court martial ( see `Vera Brittain A life' , Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge 1995). In `Testament of Youth' this is not disclosed to the reader, and one wonders if other amendments have been made though it also to fair say that the book's detractors have found few factual errors in the work.

Above all `Testament of Youth' has undergone a revival , after its transatlantic success in the 1930's, with a new generation of readers as from the late 1970's, because its' vision of the Great War-as a senseless carnage- is now popular. The book was re-published by Virago, the feminist publishing house, whose mission was to showcase work by women authors. It's revival coincided with a new wave of feminist anti-militarism. It is easily the most cited Great War memoir written by a woman. Moreover, the tale of a survivor such as Vera Brittain who witnesses great tragedy but by the end of the book in 1925 has found love again, has great contemporary appeal. Ultimately Vera Brittain has ensured that her perception of the Great War was known to millions of people and the names of those who close to her who perished or also suffered great loss, have been remembered,which must make it a success
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars perhaps this is sacrilege, 13 Mar. 2014
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Perhaps this is sacrilege, but this is rather a turgid tome. I'm reading it for my bookclub, but I am having to make a great effort to complete it. I think we may tend to look at this book uncritically because it is about a great even in recent (relatively) history. But I find that I have to skim much of it to look for the important bits. I have also heard it described as self-indulgent, a comment I'm not sure I agree with, but can see why some would regard it so.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic: shattering at times, always enlightening, 23 May 2004
By 
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
Vera Brittain's account was written in the early 1930s, as she tried to make sense of the extraordinary bereavement that affected those of her generation who survived the First World War.
Growing up in provincial Edwardian England, a fascinating piece of writing in itself, she falls in love with one of her brothers's friends in 1914. The romance is going well, until the outbreak of war sweeps in to disrupt her life. Suddenly the love of her life, as well as her brother and some other close friends, are all in the trenches, trying to live out the noble heroic dream on behalf of King and Country.
Unable to support directly, she joins the nursing corps as a volunteer but there is no consolation for her as first her fiance, then her friends and finally her brother die.
Her account of desolation when she receives the news each time is traumatising and shows a side of life you don't get from the war poems: the horror of war not from the front line, but from the perspective of almost continuous bereavement, among people who feel helpless and increasingly angry with the world. Her perspectives on daily life in London in the war years are as insightful as the descriptions of nursing in Malta and France, where she spent the bulk of her time. Certain details, such as the atmosphere behind the lines as the British wilt before the Ludendorff offensive, but are rallied by a missive from Field Marshall Haig will interest even those who know a lot about the history of it.
Yet it is the human story which is most powerful.
This is a brutally honest book, and she does not paint herself without warts: she is obsessive about academic study, has a mental breakdown after the war and doesn't make it easy on anyone courting her thereafter. Yet Brittain's problems outside the war, of a woman trying to combine a career with marriage, anticipate the great feminist struggles of the 20th and 21st centuries. Indeed, her honesty gives the book a raw truth.
Yet this is not just her story. As she herself writes, this is the story of a generation whose men were wiped out in battle and whose women were shattered by bereavement.
The book continues after the war following her work with the League of Nations until 1925 and this has only limited interest today: the really timeless passages come from earlier on. Profoundly affecting and profoundly insightful, in beautiful prose, this deserves its classic status.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 'must read'., 4 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
Vera Brittain effectively conveys the anguish, pain, grief and helplessness of a civilian in times of war in a manner that I have not witnessed in any other account.
Having read this book twice I am not ashamed to admit that I wept on both occasions. I defy anyone to read Vera's biography with dry eyes.
By todays standards her prose may appear old-fashioned but it is extremely elegant and most effective considering her subject matter. The prosaic descriptions of her mental turmoil and sense of hopelessness contrast vividly with her determination and resolve to help alleviate the suffering of the soldiers by joining the nursing establishment at the front. Her inclusion of poems and letters within the text considerably aids the readers understanding of both her personal relationships and state of mind during this period.
Being well versed in the history, and statistics, of the Great War, I found 'Testament of Youth' extremely enlightening in terms of the personal suffering that was endured by individuals like Vera who were forever changed by the experience.
Perhaps, were it a prerequisite for aspiring politicions to read this book, our nations leaders may well find it a lot more difficult to commit a country to war.
This is an important book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and harrowing portrayal of a young nurse in WW1, 14 Feb. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago classic non-fiction) (Paperback)
I love this book. Vera Brittain explores her emotions during the war years and beyond with honesty and integrity. The most poignant part of the book is seeing Vera Brittain as a nurse losing her youth to the first world war. During which time she portrays her feelings of emotional and physical exhaustion in a harrowing way. Even so her description of her breakdown is so honest and true that the book is a beautiful account of struggle with life in the war years. The only downside of the book is that VB's style is sometimes difficult to follow. Her sentences can be very long and drawn out. However, despite this, this is a wonderful book.
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