Ruth's Reviews > Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
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Apr 06, 2015

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'Testament of Youth' is a fascinating account from a well-bred English girl with a streak of rebellion at her centre. Determined to get a good education she fights tooth and nail to get into Oxford as one of the first female students in preference to settling into a middle-class country life, and after WW1 she indeed becomes one of the first women to be allowed an actual Oxford degree. High-minded and with poetic sensibilities, she falls in love with a high-achiever and has friendships with men where discussions whirl around religion and morality. As time passes and brings amazing and life-changing experiences she becomes increasingly politicised and active, but not without the pains of bereavement and disillusion which she feels belong to her generation alone. Perhaps she earns her right to be a little scathing about the following generation of young people and their jolly optimism. There is a touch of priggishness, and the blue-stocking, going on, but this is part of the charm of the testament - a testament to a lost world and lost values. I was reminded of 'Parade's End' when I read this book, with its feeling of ancient values being snubbed and belittled. Vera's experiences after the war amount, for her, to a snub of her struggles during the war and the patriotism she and her contemporaries brought to that.

A VAD during the war, Vera had to put up with all sorts of petty regulations and a lowly status. After the war, clearly exhausted and traumatised, it took time for her to start living her life again and finding purpose. I think this would be recognised now as post-traumatic stress disorder. She finds her way onward through politics, in particular through pacifism and the League of Nations, but her experiences here paradoxically show her the futility of the war fought with optimism and spirit of self-sacrifice, to which she contributed her best-loved friends and her own energies. The peace rumbles on with promises of further conflict in the punishment of the defeated. The book is highly informative about this, and shows the further disaster taking root.

Very much rooted in its time, the book moves slowly and becomes repetitive in places. There is poetry in there - it seems the best vehicle for the high-minded sentiments and for the following griefs. The language is elegant and introspective. We also hear a lot about Vera's clothes, which is refreshing in such a serious book. VAD experiences are an eye-opener on life for the lowly nursing assistant in the stultifying hierarchy of the wards. We should read with awe for how far we've got (and maybe with more than a touch of gratitude).
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Finished Reading
April 6, 2015 – Shelved

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