Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is based on her diaries, telling of her life up to 1925, concentrating on the World War One years.

It is an absolutely fascinating account of the war and all its horror and sufferings, and very moving. Vera was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) during the war, nursing casualties both in Britain and France. The conditions were appalling.

During the war her fiance, Roland Leighton, her brother, Edward, and two friends, Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Richardson, were all killed. Roland was killed the day before he was due home on leave at Christmas 1915 and Edward was killed just a few months before the Armistice – all heart-breaking. Vera’s life was irrevocably changed – as were those of so many others.

For me, her account of the war years is the most outstanding in this book, the most personal and vivid. The preceding years are about her childhood and youth and bring to life the social conditions and her struggles for education. By the outbreak of war she was an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford. But I found the final section after the war to be more detached. It’s about her work as a speaker on the League of Nations and International Relations, about the development of the peace ideal. The language in this section is more formal and so does not come across as fresh and immediate as in those on her childhood and war years.

 I read this book as a result of reading Climbing the Bookshelves by Shirley Williams, Vera’s daughter. It slots nicely into the War through the Generations Challenge – World War One.

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Edition with new cover edition (2004)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0860680355
  • ISBN-13: 978-0860680352
  • Source: borrowed from a friend – I’ve now bought the e-book version
  • My rating 4/5 (it would have been 5/5 apart from the change in writing in the last section)

War Through the Generations Challenge – World War One

I’ve been thinking about Reading Challenges for next year. At first I thought I would only do one or two, because I start out full of enthusiasm and then find that by listing the books I want to read often ends up with me forgetting about them and reading something completely different. I’m very much a ‘mood’ reader. This made me feel a bit pressured when I remembered that I haven’t read the books/finished a particular challenge.

But then I realised that the pressure is purely of my own making, and as I really enjoy making lists and seeing which books I already own would fit into a challenge, I’ve decided to go ahead, make my lists and if I do complete the challenge, so much the better. This of course, means that I’m not treating it as a ‘challenge’, but then I don’t consider reading is or should be a ‘challenge’.  I  think I’ll call it ‘themed reading‘.

My books fit so well into this theme, so I’m signing up for The War Through the Generations:World War 1 Challenge.

Here are the details:

The challenge will run from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2012.

The books, whether fiction or non-fiction must have WWI as the primary or secondary theme and occur before, during, or after the war, so long as the conflicts that led to the war or the war itself are important to the story. Books from other challenges count so long as they meet the above criteria.

  • Dip: Read 1-3 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.
  • Wade: Read 4-10 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.
  • Swim: Read 11 or more books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

And these are my books:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – a book I mean to read each year. I started it a couple of years ago and never finished it. I’ll have to start again.
  • The Ghost Road by Pat Barker – set in 1918 as the War came to an end. This is the third in the trilogy. I haven’t got the first two, so hope this stands well on its own.
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. This is Vera Brittain’s autobiography. She was 21 in 1914.
  • Chronicle of Youth by Vera Brittain. This is her war diary 1913 – 1917 on which she based Testament of Youth.