Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is a very long memoir of Vera’s life before the Great War, her work during the war, and the aftermath of the war. The memoir was first published in 1933 and many reprints were made, including the one I read, from 2014. Before reading the book I saw the movie with the same name, Testament of Youth, from 2014. The movie is nicely made and in most parts is an accurate depiction of the book. The small changes are not very important, although I think, in those cases, the book is better. At the same time, if you don’t fancy reading 580 pages, you can watch the 2h movie instead.

She comes from a middle class family and struggles to get a place at Oxford, as her parents were not keen on her studying. At that point women could not receive degrees from Oxford. It was only possible in 1920 and she talks beautifully about that ceremony, which took place at the Sheldonian Theatre. As I am studying at Oxford, reading about all these, the Examination School, the Divinity School, the Theatre, having to figure out how to find and borrow books from Bodleian, was lovely and a bit sad, especially as I haven’t been able to go to Oxford for a long time, with all these lockdowns.
If you don’t know her story and don’t want to see “spoilers”, do not read the continuation of the review after the picture of the book.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

After the war starts, she signs up as a VAD, while her brother, her fiance, and two friends leave for the front. Her fiance dies in 1915, the two friends die in 1917, and her brother dies in 1918. It is heartbreaking. I knew everything from the movie, but it was still poignant presented in the book. Knowing what happened did not diminish my enjoyment of reading the book. She talks in the book about going to the front in the 1920s to see tombs and where they died. She talks about her struggles as a woman, about how she feels, with a lovely turn of phrase. Vera worked hard, and, after the war, she was involved in politics. That part of the book was a bit boring unfortunately. Overall I loved the book, hence the 5 stars I gave it. She is witty and the prose is wonderful. I also liked that she shared letters from the front, including one in Latin, written by her brother.

I leave a quote from the book, page 70: “Never again, for me and for my generation, was there to be any festival the joy of which no cloud would darken and no remembrance invalidate.”

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Orion Publishing Co
Year it was published: 2014 (first published in 1933)
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): Memoir of the WWI
Pages: 582

About the author: 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.
Website & Social Media Links: –

4 thoughts on “Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain”

  • I read this decades ago when the BBC mini-series came out. It’s available on video and I think it is better than the movie — it gives more time for it to evolve and Cheryl Campbell was quite an amazing Vera Brittain. The story is remarkable but I do remember the book as being very long!
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  • I have to admit that this probably isn’t a book I would typically pick up and read, not because I have anything against reading non-fiction, but simply that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read every book, as ideally I want to read everything!! I knew nothing about Vera Brittain (excellent name she had), so I spent a lovely few minutes checking her out and I had no idea that she was Shirley Williams mother, until I spotted the by-line at the bottom of your post, so of course I had to search for the family resemblance and ended up by taking a trip down memory lane back to the days of the ‘Gang of Four’ rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981!
    Thanks for sharing and enjoy the rest of your week 🙂

    • She was not happy with her name, mentioning in the book that she would have preferred a name like Jones, so not to have to spell her name each time. 😀 I would highly recommend the movie too, it’s done wonderfully and her daughter was consulted for the movie.

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