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Testament of Youth

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  6,630 ratings  ·  765 reviews
Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain's elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war's end she had lost virtually ever ...more
Paperback, 688 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Penguin Classics (first published August 28th 1933)
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Jeslyn You're not the only one, and English is my first language. The postwar section was tough for me, there were points at which I pondered abandoning it.…moreYou're not the only one, and English is my first language. The postwar section was tough for me, there were points at which I pondered abandoning it. Except for a brief flash at the very end, it seemed that as she got more involved in the League of Nations and political efforts, she became less compelling and passionate to me. When she and Winifred head to Germany, Austria, France to observe postwar conditions, their attitudes feel almost callous in describing the conditions of occupied areas and the friction between oppressor and oppressed. Her sentences also are jam-packed (or overstuffed, it could be argued), which often disrupted the flow, particularly when she would add visual descriptions of people or views from a train, etc. smack-dab in the middle of a sentence about policy, conditions, etc. I liked 2/3 of the book very much, but the last 1/3 was almost a chore to get through, sadly. (less)

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It's another irony of that most ironic of conflicts that the greatest account of how 1914-18 was lived comes not from a male writer out of the trenches, or from some politician familiar with the negotiations, but instead from a middle-class girl from Derbyshire who experienced the war first as a waiting fiancée and later as a volunteer nurse. Vera Brittain grew up in Buxton, where her father owned a couple of paper mills; she was close to her musical brother, had a growing romance with one of hi ...more
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwi, 5-brilliant
Where to start?

I started reading Testament of Youth mainly for the information on WW1, not knowing that apart from suffering heartbreaking losses and being a VAD nurse, Vera Brittain also was a feminist of the first hour and a writer of great astuteness.

In consequence she proceeded to reduce me to openmouthed admiration as early on as her description of youth and life prior to the Great War. Never before have I truly understood the massive societal changes wrought upon people during that short p
Sep 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-one
This book has been on my to be read list for over thirty years and I really should not have left it this long to read it. It is much better known these days following the recent film and a TV adaptation some years ago. It is the account of Vera Brittain’s wartime experiences, from a sheltered middle class upbringing to starting at Somerville College Oxford and then to volunteer work as a VAD nurse in Britain, France and Malta. It shows the horrors of war through the eyes of a woman suffering the ...more
Shirley Williams was born in 1930. She is in fact The Baroness Williams of Crosby.She was also Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, from 2001 and 2004.From 2007 to 2010, she acted as Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The above quote was written to show how progressive the women's rights have become. More pertinently, Shirley is the daughter of Vera Brittain, who is the author of Testament of Youth. What Shirley enjoyed in her academic life, Vera h
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is great and painful, a memoir by Vera Brittain, the English writer and pacifist, mostly a wartime memoir based on her experiences during the First World War
Britain was an Oxford student when World War I began, volunteered as a nurse and was a witness on the vicious war and its victims, lost two of her loved ones her brother and her fiance
after the war she lived in a state of despair and she never completely gets over their death, and war scenes
years later she became a journalist, no
Apr 27, 2019 marked it as to-read
Just watched the 2014 movie based on this memoir. I can't compare it to the book since I haven't read it; but it really sends out a message. We, humans, have this tendency to forget the horrors we've brought upon ourselves in the past, and a tendency to forget how terrible war can be. Forgiveness we forget, we march to war hoping for honor. Telling us it's the right thing to do. One side gets hurt, and then it starts working on vengeance until the other side loses something, and then the cycle c ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Vera Brittain was, at that time, a bit younger that my daughter is now. Her elder brother Edward was then also one or two years younger than my son today. Sometimes I still see my children as babies, scratching their backs when they need to relax.

My daughter had just finished her first year of college with excellent grades, missing the Dean's list by a point. At that time, Vera Brittain had also just gotten in Somerville in Oxford on a scholarship. She was doing very well there. Unlike most girl
Whenever I think of the War to-day, it is not as summer but always as winter; always as cold and darkness and discomfort, and an intermittent warmth of exhilarating excitement which made us irrationally exult in all three. Its permanent symbol, for me, is a candle stuck in the neck of a bottle, the tiny flame flickering in an ice-cold draught, yet creating a miniature illusion of light against an opaque infinity of blackness.

The temptation to exploit our young wartime enthusiasm must have been
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have no question in my mind that this book deserves four stars. Why?

The woman, Vera Brittain (18931970) is a fascinating person and lived through a difficult but interesting time. Following Vera we see the Great War through the eyes of a British middleclass woman. She was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in England, France and Malta. Before the war she studied at Oxford. After the war she continued her studies at Oxford switching from literature to history, worked closely with the League
Testament of Youth is Vera Brittain’s memoir of her years just prior to, during, and shortly after World War I. It is a unique look at the war from the perspective of a woman who gave up her studies at Oxford to serve as a nurse in France and Malta. Like so many of her fellows, she lost all the important young men in her life: her brother, Edward; he fiance, Roland; and two close friends Gregory and Victor. When the war years had passed, she was alone and bereft and struggling to think what life ...more
Dec 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Much more than a book about a person's experience in a war. Although at times a bit tedious to read (lots of direct quotes from letters, for example), Vera moves from a rather pampered, sheltered, middle-class girl to an articulate, understanding, educated, caring woman through war, loss, deprivation, work, awareness and thought. She takes in and considers all sides and ideas, becoming in the end a strong, independent, loving woman.
This story take us to her marriage to who appears to be a warm,
"Down the long white road we walked together,
Down between the grey hills and the heather,
Where the tawny-crested
Plover cries.

You seemed all brown and soft, just like a linnet,
Your errant hair had shadowed sunbeams in it,
And there shone all April
In your eyes.

With your golden voice of tears and laughter
Softened into song: 'Does aught come after
Life,' you asked, 'When life is Laboured through?
What is God, and all for which we're striving?'
'Sweetest sceptic, we were born for living.
Life is Love,
Courtney Johnston
Nov 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned, history
I tried really hard, but after 132 pages I'm giving up.

Brittain's book is regarded as a classic of World War One memoir, and I don't doubt that it is. Brittain left Oxford (having fought her family and won a scholarship to attend) after a year to become a V.A.D in 1915. In the war she lost four men very close to her (including her brother and her fiance) and saw many of the bodily horrors of combat. After the war she returned to Oxford and became a well-known pacifist, feminist and author.

But as
Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: audible
This is a fascinating look at WWI from a woman's perspective. I struggled a bit with some of the characters as they came across as whiny and privileged white people but it was still interesting to see her decisions unfold as she went to Oxford and then went on to become a war nurse. I don't really know a whole lot about WWI so from a history perspective I enjoyed this and felt liked a learn some things. I listened to the audio narrated by Sheila Mitchell who did a great job.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww1
Testament of Youth was a best seller when it was first published in 1933, and became a bestseller once again in the 1970s. It is every bit as good as I'd remembered when I read it first about twenty years ago. Vera Brittain's lively intelligence, determination, bravery and passion all shine through.

At the start of World War One, and despite finally getting into Oxford University after an incredible effort to overcome her parents' objections (of course it was accepted that the son would go there
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, autobiography, wwi
I always thought of Testament of Youth as a war book, but this book is in fact much more than that - yes, the central part of the book (which consists of three parts) does recount Vera Brittain's first hand experience of the Western Front, where she served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse, but this is also in fact the watershed between the society that was before, and the society to come after.
Surely Vera Brittain wasn't the only girl brought up in a wealthy upper middle class by Victo
This book is without a doubt one of the best I've read on the subject of the First World War and it's devastating effects, this time from the perspective of those women who experienced an equal amount of conflict and emotional turmoil after signing up as VAD's. We follow Vera Brittain through her sheltered childhood in Buxton, the constraints of her engagement to Roland Leighton, her difficult and dangerous years spent nursing in both London and France, before reaching her return to Oxford and t ...more
Vicki Seldon
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Now that Downton Abbey Season 2 has premiered with so much of revolving around cataclysmic tragedy and change caused by WWI, my thoughts turn back to this book. Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain's memoir of life, love, and loss during WWI first came to my attention because of Masterpiece Theater which serialized it at least 20 years ago. In 2010, I read her memoir again and I may reread it a third time as I also experience these events through the fictional characters of Downton Abbey. If you ha ...more
Oct 06, 2015 added it
Shelves: memoirs
From page 645, while Brittain is touring devastated Central and Eastern Europe to gather material for her occupation as journalist and lecturer in support of the League of Nations

It did not seem, perhaps, as though we, the War generation, would be able to do all that we had once hoped for the actual rebuilding of civilization. I understood now that the results of the War would last longer than ourselves; it was obvious, in central Europe, that its consequences were deeper rooted, and farther rea
Tiffany Campbell
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, bookgroup
This book changed everything. I had read everything on WWi. But it was not until this author that the reality of the situation hit me. Yes I had read about the lost generation and understood the horror. But it was not until she is back after the war studying and she is going to see her parents and she realizes in its full desolation that there is no one in the entire world left alive that holds the same memories. Her brother is dead her fiancé is dead all her contemporaries are dead. It is as if ...more
I am almost curious if there’s an abridged edition of this book, one which foregrounds the insanity of the Great War at the expense of everything else. I don't understand the acclaim otherwise. She employs a moving concept from George Eliot about the personality being vulnerable to historical currents, so quaintly Marxist. I thought Brittain's evolution from sentimental shrinking violet to moribund activist equally as problematic, if not distasteful.

The opening sections capture her naïveté, her
Dec 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm too overwhelmed to write a proper review of this book. It gets you emotionally involved in it so deep that you keep thinking about it even when you're not reading it. How real the relationships honest those feelings were..and how it all went to waste for something bigger than all of them. Vera & Roland's letters to each other were especially beautiful & heartwarming. Their choice of words & its combination of tenderness & sophistication spoke volumes of how beautifu ...more
Dec 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Brittain was just beginning her studies at Oxford when WWI broke out. This is her memoir of a young woman maturing in those turbulent and painful years. As the men she knows and loves go to fight and die in the trenches, she volunteers with the Red Cross to serve in military hospitals. This memoir extends several years after the conclusion of the war as she grapples with new understanding of the fragility of life, the freedom for and empowerment of women just being sought, the dawning awareness ...more
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the most beautiful books I've ever read ..... Stunning
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I remember when I was a school girl being given a beautiful book, a prize from Shirley Williams who was then the local MP for the Liverpool suburb I grew up in. Her speech given to the gathering made an impression on me due to her remembrance of her mother who had made a great stance for the emancipation of women during the early 20th century. She was of course Vera Brittain.

Since then I always knew I would read this book at some point but have never got round to it until this year, to mark the
Nov 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
I don't read many non-fiction books or biographies/autobiographies so this was something different for me. 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.

As I read about all the pain and sorrow she was forced to endure, I became comple
Debbie Robson
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I've long heard of this book and presumed that it was such a classic because Brittain was (unfortunately) in the right position to write such a book ie working in the nursing service during WWI and secondly losing all the major males in her life except her father. But the book is much more than that. Brittain is an intelligent and gifted writer who manages somehow to write about the most harrowing of ordeals with an acute eye and a sense of balance that is surprising.
I was only going to skim th
Claire (Clairby11xxx)
(10/10) I am sitting here struggling to put into words my feelings about this book having just finished it. At once witty, insightful, heartbreaking, honest and bittersweet this is by far the best book I have ever read. Very rarely am I so moved that I have had to physically close the book and walk away to compose myself, if affected me that much on more than one occasion.

This is an absolutely essential read and I cannot believe it took a film for me to know it existed. My copy is destined to be
From IMDb:
A British woman recalls coming of age during World War I - a story of young love, the futility of war, and how to make sense of the darkest times.

A movie was made based on this book: Testament of Youth (2014), with Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton .

May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death, —
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland, —
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath, —
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against
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Around the Year i...: Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain 2 10 Aug 28, 2018 09:15AM  
WW1 Centenary Boo...: Testament of Youth Discussion 2 19 Dec 14, 2017 06:53AM  
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History in Vogue: Testament of Youth: Week Three 3 7 Sep 08, 2016 03:17PM  
History in Vogue: Testament of Youth: Week Two 2 5 Sep 01, 2016 06:46PM  
History in Vogue: Testament of Youth: Week One 2 15 Aug 24, 2016 06:08PM  
History in Vogue: Testament of Youth : Week Nine 1 4 Jun 15, 2016 03:53PM  

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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.

“There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past.” 119 likes
“Perhaps ...
To R.A.L.

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel one more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of you.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet,
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.”
More quotes…