|Cheryl Campbell as Vera Brittain in the 1979 BBC2 mini-series version of Testament of Youth.|
Testament of Youth (1933)
by Vera Brittain
This is the first volume of Vera Brittain's three volume auto-biography, covering the period between 1900-1925. Notably, it gives a first hand account of Brittain's work as a nurse during World War I, where she was stationed during some of the heaviest fighting. She lost her fiance, brother and cousin in the course of the fighting, and her memoir is also significant in terms of her experience as a woman who began pursuing her degree at Oxford University even before the start of World War I.
In addition to the vital first hand testimony about the horrors of war, Brittain conveys the actual change in mindset among the young before and after the war. This shift in attitude, which is often described in terms of "the Lost Generation" is well represented by Brittain both in terms of her material and her position as a well-to-do early feminist living in London after the war.
I think any reader facing the prospect on whether to engage a 650 page auto-biography about a World War I nurse is going to ask him or herself whether the time investment is "worth it." I would yes, for the female perspective, for the value of Brittain as an insider the post World War I English literary scene (she wouldn't call herself that.) Can one really read too much about World War I? Testament of Youth, published a full fifteen years AFTER the cessesation of hostilities, is still grappling with questions that remained unresolved for decades afterwards.