Author: Vera Brittain
Synopsis: Vera Brittain was born in 1893 when her young life was still very much the Victorian age. When she is 22 years old, she leaves the life of Oxford that she knows to become a nurse in the armed forces during WWI. This is her story, of love, loss, courage, strength, and experiences not only during the war, but finding a way to be accepted at Oxford as a minority and becoming a working woman after the war including an author.
“I do not agree that my place is at home doing nothing or practically nothing, for I consider that the place now of anyone who is young and strong and capable is where the work that is needed is to be done. (pg. 214)”
Review: You guys Testament of Youth is a novel that needs to be read by everyone — like 12 Years a Slave, this is a true story. Vera Brittain weaves her life and the people who meant so much to her into words that make you mourn the death of these people a 100 years later. The story begins with Vera trying desperately to get her parents to let her go to Oxford and do something different than the typical idea of a young woman at her time. It is with the help of her brother Edward that she is allowed to go to Oxford — and what gratitude to read of this young man, who would have given up his own schooling in order to make sure his sister receives the education that she dreams of. Edward’s friends are also the same, especially Roland — who believed in Vera and believed she could become what she wanted to be in this world –an author/journalist, making a difference on top of being a nurse during the war. But then the War begins and Vera watches her brother, his friends and her soon to be betrothed head to war.
“I took the pale fingers in mine, thinking how ridiculous it was that I should be holding this man’s hand in friendship when perhaps, only a week or two earlier, Edward up in Ypres had been doing his best to kill him (pg. 376)”
“The world was mad and we were all victims; that was the only way to look at it” (pg. 376)
After the war begins, with Roland, Edward and the rest their friends heading to the army, she realizes she cannot sit by and wait to hear from them, so she enlists in the army as well as nurse. Here is where Vera Brittain brings her real world to life for all of those who have only heard about the war in history books. Not only is she descriptive in her tales and experiences all over the world as a nurse, but she includes letters and correspondences she had with her brother Edward and Roland — this is where you can feel the real passion and fear that they all dealt with during this time. Will they live? If so, will they be the same people they once were when they left for this war that seems to never end? Their letters bring all of this life, the music they once played, the poetry they once wrote makes you feel like these people are still alive and I found myself sad that anyone had to go through what they all went through (and for some who are still going through it).
“An uncontrollable emotion seized me — as such emotions often seized us in those days of insufficient sleep; my eyeballs pricked, my throat ached, and a mist swam over the confident Americans going to the front. The coming relief made me realize all at once how long and how intolerable had been the tension, and with the knowledge that we were not, after all, defeated, I found myself beginning to cry (pg. 421). “
Vera Brittain continues her story after the war. She becomes a spokeswoman for the League of Nations, she becomes a writer in her own right and she speaks in favor of the rights of women. She’s a worker, she doesn’t want to stay at home, she wants to do both if possible. She never gives up her dreams either. She learns that she is who she is and she will do anything to succeed and to find some way to be happy after all of the things that happened to her at such a young age. She understands it will be hard, but she never stops.
“The graves, each with its little garden in front, resembled a number of flower beds planted at intervals in long shadow of the slender memorial cross (pg. 533)”
Her story is everyone’s story during WWI but not one that is normally heard in such a visual way. I am not trying in any way to be rude but if there is a person out there that thinks themselves to understand the war or to even be a feminist and not have read Vera Brittain’s story, then they are not as knowledgeable on either as they might think. It might take you awhile but it’s worth every moment.
“They understood now that freedom, however uncomfortable, and self-support, however hard to achieve, were the only conditions in which, a feminist of the War generation —- and, indeed, a post-Victorian woman of any generation — could do her work and maintain self-respect” (pg. 536)