Testament of Youth

By Vera Brittain,

Book cover of Testament of Youth

Book description

An autobiographical account of a young nurse's involvement in World War I.

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Why read it?

9 authors picked Testament of Youth as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I first read this book about twenty years ago and still find it heartbreaking to think it was written by someone who experienced first-hand the horror of the First World War and with it so much pain and grief brought about not only from her experiences as a V.A.D. but also from her own personal losses.

It is a book that helped me understand as much as anything possibly could living in the twenty-first century, how much of a struggle it must have been for ordinary people to keep going and survive that dark time in history.

I first began reading this just as background research, in an attempt to get the character ‘voice’ right for my own WW1 series, but, as with many other books I was pulled in against my expectations. Vera’s decision to become a VAD nurse, and her determination to do the best possible job under unthinkable circumstances, made me want to learn everything about this era and the people who lived it. It threw a cold light onto what had, until then, been a sort of fuzzy half-knowledge, and it’s an example of the best in humanity, wrapped in what could easily…

Just before World War I began, Vera Brittain finally got permission from her father to attend Oxford - then watched as her brother and all his friends went off to serve in the war. Vera left school to volunteer in the war herself, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse. Women in the VAD, like Brittain, largely had no medical backgrounds and learned their nursing skills on the job, trying - at times, frantically - to help put back the pieces as they watched the world shatter around them. Brittain's world was never the same, and her autobiography…

From Tanya's list on womanpower.

This autobiographical study of Vera Brittain’s life in the time leading up to the Great War, through it and projecting into the inter-war years, brilliantly demonstrates the enormous changes that were wrought by the brutal and world-shaping conflict. Brittain is a fiercely intelligent, politically aware narrator as well as a likable, wry, honest, and vulnerable human being, and it is the combination of these traits which makes reading her account of the times such an intensely involving and emotional experience. Her book gives a real sense of what it was like to be a woman at the time, shielded by…

Vera Britain was twenty years old when the war broke out, and volunteered for service as a nurse. One by one all the young men she loved were killed, and this is the heart-breaking memoir of her loss and grief. She was an extraordinary woman and a pioneering feminist. Her civil courage and hatred of war led her to actively protest British bombing of Germany in World War II – a remarkable thing to do when your country is at war and fighting for its life.

From Benjamin's list on the legacy of the First World War.

Testament of Youth is a beautifully written memoir of Brittain’s life between 1914 and 1925, depicting the impact of the war on Brittain, her family, and colleagues.  Poised to study literature at Oxford University when war breaks out, Brittain decides instead to volunteer with the Red Cross as a V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment).  The memoir provides a close-up view of her experience working as a nurse in England, Malta, and France.  It also explores her acute suffering and disillusionment at the losses of her fiancé, brother, and several close friends.  A film version of the memoir made in 2015 is…

From Mary's list on WW1 through multiple perspectives.

Brittain lost a brother, a fiancé, and two of her closest friends in the war, all while nursing wounded soldiers. This is a very personal accounting of the impact of the war on her and her family. 

From Adam's list on the human impact of World War I.

A beautiful autobiography by a young Englishwoman who came of age as a nurse on the Western Front. Taken together with Death of a Hero, the books of these two young adults gives a sense of a generation whose lives were blighted by the war. Their stories are all the more heartbreaking when you realize that the Great War would be followed by the Great Influenza and the Great Depression, and all that it would all lead to the Second World War.

It would be impossible to list books about women in the First World War without putting Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth at the top. More than any other writer, her memoir captures the experience of the generation who lived through that war. Brittain was 20, about to study at Oxford, when war broke out. She gave up her plans to nurse the wounded in London and France. She lost her fiancé, her brother and two close friends to the war and it changed her forever. “The world was mad and we were all victims,” she wrote. Peace brought little solace…

From Wendy's list on women’s experiences in WW1.

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