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Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1995


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (January 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140188444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140188448
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When war broke out in August 1914, 21-year-old Vera Brittain was planning on enrolling at Somerville College, Oxford. Her father told her she wouldn't be able to go: "In a few months' time we should probably all find ourselves in the Workhouse!" he opined. Brittain had hoped to escape the Northern provinces, but the war seemingly dashed her plans. "It is not, perhaps, so very surprising that the War at first seemed to me an infuriating personal interruption rather than a world-wide catastrophe."

Her father eventually relented, however, and she was allowed to attend. By the end of her first year, she had fallen in love with a young soldier and resolved to become active in the war effort by volunteering as a nurse--turning her back on what she called her "provincial young-ladyhood." Brittain suffered through 12-hour days by reminding herself that nothing she endured was worse than what her fiancé, Roland, experienced in the trenches. Roland was expected home on leave for Christmas 1915; on December 26, Brittain received news that he had been killed at the front. Ten months later Brittain herself was sent to Malta and then to France to serve in the hospitals nearer the front, where she witnessed firsthand the horrors of battle. When peace finally came, Brittain had also lost her brother Edward and two close friends. As she walked the streets of London on November 11, 1918--Armistice Day--she felt alone in the crowds:

For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything that had hitherto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The War was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return.

First published in 1933, Testament of Youth established Brittain as one of the best-loved authors of her time. Her crisp, clear prose and searing honesty make this unsentimental memoir of a generation scarred by war a classic. --Sunny Delaney

Review

It would seem enough that Vera Brittain's autobiography is an honestly gut-wrenching love story, a haunting account of her romance with a brilliant young soldier who died at the front in World War I. Testament of Youth is her tribute to her beloved warrior, but it is also an insightful and beautifully written record of her world before, during, and after the war. As the book begins, Vera Brittain is a young woman determined to free herself from the constraints placed upon females in England. She longs for "a more eventful existence and a less restricted horizon." Ironically, soon after her hard-won acceptance at mostly-male Oxford, war begins, and the repressive English society is altered at its core. While the war cruelly robs Vera Brittain of her lover, her brother, her dearest friends, and her academic work, it also opens a new world for her, allowing her to leave her previously cloistered and chaperoned female enclave and to go alone to various foreign fronts as a nurse for wounded soldiers. She is a shrewd and intelligent observer of all aspects of the war, and her liberal use of passages from letters, diaries, and the poetry of her wartime contemporaries gives her story a directness and an emotional impact which obliterates the decades between then and now. In the end, this is a testament to a fiercely independent spirit and a strong, wise feminist who was not afraid. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Rebecca Sullivan

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Customer Reviews

When I read I want to learn something.
teri wells
This is the only book that upon finishing, I turned back to the first page and started reading again.
bdsil
A spectacular read for anyone interested in history.
Christiana Washington

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 74 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 24, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I first read this book when I was not much younger than Vera Brittain was when she "viewed the outbreak of the First World War as an interruption of her plans", and I was immediately touched by her experiences. I have read (and re-read & re-read) this book many times. While I am not of the same social class that she was, I can relate to her desire to make something of her life, first through a university education (then restricted to many women) and later through finding meaningful work. (This is something that we all seek.) She fell happily in love, only to lose first her fiance, then her two male friends, and finally her beloved only brother in the carnage of the First World War. Her experiences as a V.A.D. (Volunary Aide Detachment) nurse in the war--from describing what the wards were like, to the frenzy she faced during a "push", to watching the Americans arrive in 1917, to her life on the hospital ship "Britannic", that's right, the sister ship to "Titanic"--both went down, are unforgettable. When she writes, she does not spare herself, nor seek to make herself look good--and she takes an unflinching look at her own difficulties (a word which does not even begin to describe it!!) adjusting to a post-war world which did not want the survivors. She tells of the difficulties she had fitting in (again, but this time older & wisher) at Oxford, of her mental near-breakdown, and of the bright light that was Winifred Holtby. I cannot recommend this book enough. It should be required reading in colleges and universities, and not just for history, English, and womens' studies majors. Perhaps those who do not understand what all the fuss over "women's lib." is all about should make this required reading as well (both male and female).Read more ›
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on August 13, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Never have I read a better account of current events interupting the normal rituals of young adulthood and changing the destiny of a group of individuals so dramatically. This book so captures the dreams and longings of people coming of age and finding themselves in terms of careers and loves and then having the rug pulled from under them that it could stand as a testimony for all generations shattered by war. In sometimes heartbreaking and often very poetic language the writer takes you along on a journey of discovery under horrific conditions and the reader is made to understand the remarkable transformations that these young people go through. The fact that the book was written by a young woman and is one of the few war memoirs that reflect a feminine sensibility and perspective serves to make this a unique book in the literature of either World War. Required reading for anyone interested in 20th century history.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book by Vera Brittain is one of the most moving that I have read. Written as an account of the experiences of young men and women at the onset and during the First World War, it gives a particular insight which is different from, but equally absorbing as, those accounts, so often understated, of soldiers who fought in the trenches during the conflict. To be more accurate, while she recounts the feelings and experiences of the men who were closest to her, hers is the only woman's viewpoint which is given in any depth - and, indeed, it is her personal account, given in such depth that it draws in and involves the reader in a way unlike any simple factual account of events. While it recounts in some detail her own work as a nurse in the war theatres, it is a story with as much muted romanticism as those of the Brontes or Jane Austen, and belies to a degree the orthodoxy of Vera Brittain's feminism. This is a book to be recommended without hesitation, for anyone interested in the period, but also as a timeless account of human endeavour, endurance and love.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 7, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book changed my life. I first read it as a young
woman, and I have never stopped reading it since.
Vera Brittain became one of my first female role models.
She made World War I come alive for me; her courage, her
unflinching honesty, her integrity and her humor in the
face of the horrors of the Great War shine through in
her autobiography. Vera Brittain taught me that a woman
can lose her faith, her family, her friends and her love
and yet not lose herself. Her life was an act of hope
and belief in humanity.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By bdsil on January 23, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the only book that upon finishing, I turned back to the
first page and started reading again. I am currently reading it
for the fifth time. It is a unique story by one who suffered a
most unbelievable tragedy. It is also a picture ot the world just
prior to the cataclysm of 1914, duirng and after. It is actually
a book in three parts. Part 1 deals with the role and status of
English women prior to 1914. Part 2 details the 1st World War
tragedy from a woman's perspective. Vera Brittain lost her fiancee,
brother and the only two other male friends she had. Part 3
details how she regained a life after the war and how she
became involved in English political and social issues. She was
a most remarkable woman and in my opinion not given the credit
she truly deserves. "Testament of Youth" is the most incredible,
unique masterpiece imaginable.
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