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Old 06-06-2014, 07:51 PM   #1
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Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

This is the MR Literary Club selection for June 2014. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time! Guests are also always welcome.


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Old 06-07-2014, 12:21 PM   #2
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Since we are reading a personal account, I had the idea to do a google image search on Vera Brittain.
http://www.google.com/search?site=&t...tXk&gws_rd=ssl
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Old 06-08-2014, 12:24 AM   #3
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The availability of this book in Melbourne's libraries is a bit scattered, but if any Melbournites get into the city at all, there's a single copy of the Pengiun paperback at the East Melbourne Library (member of the Melbourne Library Service).

I think Bookpossum's already read this though. Do we have any other Melbournites?
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Old 06-08-2014, 09:44 AM   #4
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I bought the Kindle version converted to LRF for my Sony. The formatting is kind of a mess with the font size changing every few pages, but I'm quite enjoying the book.
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Old 06-08-2014, 09:49 AM   #5
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Hm, my ideas of the 'lost generation', perhaps an all too romantic one( and not a scientific one...I should have known better) are shattered in the introduction "'The existence of a lost generation is not literally true, and is entirely unsupported by the statistical evidence;'.
I must confess that I never asked myself whether this is true or false or based upon which statistics.

And the young lady does seem to know her own mind at an early age...remarkable.
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Old 06-08-2014, 06:43 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by desertblues View Post
And the young lady does seem to know her own mind at an early age...remarkable.
I decided to read Brittain's diary in conjunction with Testament, and she does misrepresent herself a bit. Yes, she was ambitious and driven, she had to be, to get her father's assent to her going to Oxford, but she also enjoyed Buxton's social whirl far more than she admitted. As I recall (I haven't gotten that far yet), she also experiences much more gung-ho war fever at the start of the war than she acknowledges in the aftermath.

I'm also rather amused that she ages Roland a year, presumably out of vanity, so she wouldn't seem so much older. She claims a few months, but in fact, he was 15 months younger than she and 8 months older than her brother Edward (Brittain says Roland was much older). Brittain didn't envision a world where these facts are easily checked!

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Old 06-08-2014, 06:55 PM   #7
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Thanks, issybird! I was distinctly surprised by the age difference between Edward & Roland so that explains it!

I really like the book so far, and it reads pretty quickly.
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Old 06-08-2014, 07:16 PM   #8
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Brittain was enlightened for her age, but I found this passage unsettling.

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I often wonder how many male homosexuals, actual and potential, owe their hatred and fear of women to the warped minds of the men who taught them in school.
She highly valued her intimacy with her beloved brother, and yet it's obvious he kept his homsexuality a secret from her. Roland also will keep at least one major personal issue from her, which she only discovers later. It's rather obvious that Vera doesn't care for other women and prides herself on her closeness to men, but at least some of that is more on her side, apparently..
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Old 06-10-2014, 08:01 AM   #9
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Thanks for the library information Caleb. I did read the book a very long time ago, and now can't find my copy, so I'm waiting on a copy from my library. I had hoped to get it today, but no email to say it's in, so fingers crossed I'll get it tomorrow. (It's coming from another branch.)

Thanks as usual, Bookworm_Girl for sharing your research!
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Old 06-11-2014, 12:13 PM   #10
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Just a thought while reading; there is a nice character development in the first 6 chapters.

And an afterhought: it is a kind of luxury to be able to look down on one's environment and critizise all. If this was a story about a girl from a somewhat lower class, thoughts on feminism and such would come after thoughts on how to get food or how to duck for a slap on the head....

On with the book. I am getting interested now the war has started. My country was neutral in this war, but suffered because of the embargo on various goods, the Spanish influenza and the rebellious atmosphere in the whole of Europe and Russia.
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Old 06-11-2014, 01:13 PM   #11
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I am reading the book in parallel with a collection of her poems and prose, Because You Died: Poetry and Prose of the First World War and After edited by Mark Bostridge (who started as a research assistant for her daughter and became a biographer and recognized authority on Vera Brittain). I have been somewhat obsessed with war poetry this year. I found it interesting that Vera said poetry was the only form of reading that she could really embrace during the war. The poetry is sometimes school-girlish. On the other hand some are especially beautiful and poignant when reinforced by inside knowledge of the event gained from reading the book, for example May Morning about Oxford. The prose is from articles that she wrote mostly after the war. There are also loads of great photographs interspersed throughout.

I liked this news article by Mark Bostridge. It is about the process she went through to develop Testament of Youth and the accuracy of the text compared to her sources. Apparently she stopped keeping a diary after 1917 and the chronology gets a little fuzzy and events embellished a little for their emotional impact.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/200...ardianreview18

I am nearly 50% complete and for some reason am so captivated that I feel a bit like Virginia Woolf that I can't put the book down. I have this restless desire to keep reading!
Quote:
Although she mocked Brittain's story - "how she lost lover and brother, and dabbled hands in entrails, and was forever seeing the dead, and eating scraps, and sitting five on one WC" - she admitted that the book kept her out of bed until she'd finished reading it, and later wrote to Brittain about how much Testament had interested her. Woolf's interest in the connections that Brittain had "lit up" for her between feminism and pacifism would leave its mark on the novel she was then writing that would eventually become The Years, and even more on the radical analysis of Three Guineas.
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Old 06-11-2014, 04:22 PM   #12
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I am reading the book in parallel with a collection of her poems and prose, Because You Died: Poetry and Prose of the First World War and After edited by Mark Bostridge (who started as a research assistant for her daughter and became a biographer and recognized authority on Vera Brittain)... The prose is from articles that she wrote mostly after the war. There are also loads of great photographs interspersed throughout.

I liked this news article by Mark Bostridge. It is about the process she went through to develop Testament of Youth and the accuracy of the text compared to her sources. Apparently she stopped keeping a diary after 1917 and the chronology gets a little fuzzy and events embellished a little for their emotional impact.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/200...ardianreview18

I am nearly 50% complete and for some reason am so captivated that I feel a bit like Virginia Woolf that I can't put the book down. I have this restless desire to keep reading!
Thank you for the links, Bookworm_Girl. I'll be sure to look them up.
I am at page 380 now and find myself more and more glued to this book.
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Old 06-11-2014, 08:51 PM   #13
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Thanks again, Bookworm_Girl. I got my hands on my library copy yesterday afternoon and found that most of that article by Mark Bostridge is reproduced in it, so it must be a relatively recent reprint - I hadn't looked at the date it in. It's good to know that it continues to be reprinted.
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Old 06-12-2014, 02:51 AM   #14
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Brittain was enlightened for her age, but I found this passage unsettling.



She highly valued her intimacy with her beloved brother, and yet it's obvious he kept his homsexuality a secret from her. Roland also will keep at least one major personal issue from her, which she only discovers later. It's rather obvious that Vera doesn't care for other women and prides herself on her closeness to men, but at least some of that is more on her side, apparently..
I have just got through to the very beginning of the War. On the matter of not liking other women, in her defence she at that time didn't have any women friends who were in any way like her. They were the unintellectual product of their schools and upbringing, when the aim in life was to get married, preferably as "well" as possible.

I remember doing a year of purgatory after I left school and went to a secretarial college (because I hated school and wouldn't stay on to matriculate - it took me ten years to get over that and realise I wanted to study). I was surrounded by vacuous females who thought I was weird because I actually read books during lunch time instead of sitting around talking about boys and pop music. It was awful, and I can remember thinking that if work was like this, life really wasn't worth living. Ah, the dramatics of youth! I was 17. Fortunately I found that it got better once I actually started work and was able to afford things like learning to play the flute, having German conversation lessons, fencing and of course, buying books!
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Old 06-18-2014, 05:55 PM   #15
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It is hard to put down this book. I feel that the emotions of the nursing experience of Vera are written from the heart, more than the ones of her early years as a young girl. I used to work for a long time on an Intensive Care Unit, saw many unexplicable things and experienced feelings similar to what she, heart wrenching, describes.
Spoiler:
p.446. 'Between 1914 and 1919 young men and women, disastrously pure in heart and unsuspicious of elderly self-interest and cynical exploitation, were continually re-dedicating themselves - as I did that morning in Boulogne - to an end that they believed, and went on trying to believe, lofty and ideal. When patriotism ‘wore threadbare’, when suspicion and doubt began to creep in, the more ardent and frequent was the periodic re-dedication, the more deliberate the self-induced conviction that our efforts were disinterested and our cause was just. Undoubtedly this state of mind was what anti-war propagandists call it - ‘hysterical exaltation’, ‘quasi-mystical, idealistic hysteria’ - but it had concrete results in stupendous patience, in superhuman endurance, in the constant re-affirmation of incredible courage. To refuse to acknowledge this is to underrate the power of those white angels which fight so naïvely on the side of destruction.'
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