Review: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

I chose to read this book as part of the Women Unbound Reading Challenge. I selected this book for Women Unbound because it is the memoirs of a woman who lived through World War I and it’s considered an important example of feminist literature.

I don’t read many non-fiction books or biographies/autobiographies so this was something different for me.

Vera Brittain was born in 1893 and grew up in Buxton, Derbyshire. Her father was the owner of a paper mill, therefore she had a comfortable, privileged childhood. Vera was well-educated and ambitious and longed to break away from what she frequently refers to as her ‘provincial’ life in Buxton. She already considered herself to be a feminist and wanted more out of life than just to leave school and get married like most of the other girls she knew. Her father finally agreed that she could go to Oxford University, but just as she was beginning her studies, war broke out in Europe. With her fiance Roland, brother Edward, and two close friends fighting on the front line, she was unable to concentrate on her studies and decided to enlist as a V.A.D. nurse.

It was fascinating to read a personal account of the effects the war had on one woman’s life and on society as a whole. Reading this book made me realise how little I actually knew about World War I. A lot of the places and events mentioned in the book were unfamiliar to me and left me wanting to find out more.

Rather than just relying on her memory, Brittain uses a number of different sources, including her private diaries and correspondence and verses from poems, some of which were written by Roland or Vera herself. As I read about all the pain and sorrow she was forced to endure, I became completely absorbed in Vera Brittain’s story. I found it very inspirational that despite having her entire world torn apart by the war, she was still able to go on to build a successful career for herself as a novelist, feminist and pacifist.

Although Testament of Youth was a long, demanding and often heartbreaking book, I’m glad I read it and I feel I learned a lot from it.

Highly Recommended

Genre: Non-Fiction (Autobiography)/Pages: 640/Publisher: Virago/Year: 1933/Source: borrowed a copy

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6 thoughts on “Review: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

  1. Helen's Book Blog says:

    I remember watching a BBC show on Vera Britain when I lived in the UK; I really enjoyed it. I am working my way through Murder in the Name of Honor, which is pretty heavy stuff.

    Nice to see another book lover named Helen! Of course you’re British, it’s just not a name Americans ever have (my parents are British so that’s how I came to be a Helen)

  2. Care says:

    This sounds terrific! and I have not heard of her – but that’s not surprising. I’m quite thrilled with how this challenge is pushing me and exposing me to so many new people.
    Love the colors of your blog, too.

  3. Helen says:

    Thanks for the comments – I’m glad you liked my review.

    I didn’t know anything about Vera Brittain either until my sister told me about Testament of Youth and I thought it would be a perfect book to read for the Women Unbound challenge. 🙂

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