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Old 06-21-2014, 10:20 PM   #16
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Yes, I made a note of that passage too, desertblues. Part of what is so heartbreaking about Vera Brittain's book, and the situation that people find themselves in in any war, is that in order to bear the dreadful injuries and deaths, people have to try to tell themselves that it is for a good cause, that the deaths are not senseless, even when it is clear she understands how pointless it all is. And each generation seems to be caught up in it anew.

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The causes of war are always falsely represented; its honour is dishonest and its glory meretricious, but the challenge to spiritual endurance, the intense sharpening of all the senses, the vitalising consciousness of common peril for a common end, remain to allure those boys and girls who have just reached the age when love and friendship and adventure call more persistently than at any later time. (page 250)
And another quote, this time writing about the disaster that was Gallipoli, where she is contrasting a report about the Dardanelles and John Masefield's Gallipoli:

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The latter (Masefield's book) makes you feel, in spite of the condemnatory language of the report, and the sense one has all through that the campaign was an utter failure with nothing in its result large enough to justify it, that it must have been a very fine and wonderful thing to have been one of that small army that fought so gallantly for such a forlorn hope. (page 288)
And finally, a comment about the changes to the landscape she knew in France, after the hasty burials were made beautiful and peaceful in the great war cemeteries:

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Even the weather-beaten crosses, with their bright gardens of pansies and stocks and marigolds, in the big cemetery below the pinewoods at the top of the hill have been replaced by the stone architecture of our post-war frenzy for memorials - as though we could somehow compensate the dead by remembering them regardless of expense. (page 321)
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Old 06-22-2014, 06:42 AM   #17
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I finished the book this morning and I have mixed feelings about it. It is a good book, that is a fact. Some things where women fought for a century ago are still being fought about; as for the war, that is such a waste.
I'll take the time to sort my notes, take some distance from the emotions in the book, and will report back.
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Old 06-22-2014, 11:19 AM   #18
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I was reading her diary in conjunction; the diary essentially stopped when she goes to Malta and at that point I needed a break from the raw emotion. I also own a book of the correspondence of Vera and her four soldiers, but I think I have to let that go for a while.

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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 think that her editorial hand was a little too strong when it came to her early years; I suspect it had something to do with her pride and her self-image, just as we have the evidence that she aged Roland by a year. Her early diary I thought was characterized by enthusiasm rather than rationality and her love of literature by emotion and personal resonance rather than intellect. In fact, I rather share her own astonishment at getting a Somerville exhibition! She also, as I mentioned, enjoyed the social whirl far more than she allows in retrospect.

One issue that leaves me gobsmacked every time I've read this, is that Roland didn't tell Vera of his conversion, neither in his correspondence nor at their last meeting. Oddly to me, even with hindsight Vera retains her deistic/agnostic perspective and ascribes it to Roland, also, and later I think she does him a potential disservice by assigning rather shallow motives to his action - his love of the pageantry and pomp.

I combine this with Vera's obtuseness about her brother's homosexuality and while I'm not surprised that he wouldn't tell her, times being what they were, I come away with the sense that Roland's and Edward's hearts and minds were not nearly as open to Vera as she thought. There's this sentence that Vera wrote to Edward, "I think there’s every hope for you in time to come from some woman several years older than you are now,’ when Edward had gone so far as to tell Vera that he didn't understand or like women. Vera cast her response in terms of her own relation to Roland, it seems to me, and even felt validated in her dislike of women, perhaps.

I admit it, I don't like Vera. I feel her pain about which she writes so excruciatingly, but there's something in her self-absorption that puts me off. I think she wrote a great book, but she reminds me of that old saw about loving humanity and not being able to stand people.

However, my memory of the book is imperfect and I have yet to finish this go-round, so perhaps I in turn will be kinder about her in the end.
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Old 06-22-2014, 07:05 PM   #19
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I'm on the home stretch now, with about 70 pages to go. I know what you mean about Vera's self-absorption, issybird. And I quite agree at being astonished about her not knowing that Roland had converted to Catholicism. Edward's situation is a bit more understandable I think, given the times. After all, to this day people find it hardest to "come out" to their families in many cases.

Mind you, self-absorption seemed to run in the family, with her father telling her it was time to come home and look after her parents because her mother had gone into a state of nervous prostration. But again, that was what was expected of a young woman at the time, and for many decades afterwards.
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Old 06-24-2014, 11:00 AM   #20
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I finished the book yesterday and also have a lot of thoughts to sort through. I find that books like this tend to leave me with a lingering arrangement of thoughts and feelings that tend to change or rearrange themselves in the weeks following. Overall, I can say with confidence that I really enjoyed this book. I knew nothing of the author prior to reading it and didn’t read any additional material at the same time – no letters, no poetry, no diary, no Wikipedia. Perhaps my feelings would similar had I, but I really didn’t find Vera to be all that self-absorbed. For me she seemed to transform from having a rather small, self-absorbed view of her life at Buxton and even Oxford, to someone, almost prematurely, forced to expand her world view.
I was impressed with her work ethic and her self-awareness, particularly during her time in Malta and regarding her decision to leave Malta. Perhaps I’m just a sentimental sap (trust me, this is something I’m not often accused of) but losing a fiancé, a close brother and two other close friends when barely into her 20s, just plain broke my heart. Her ridiculously superficial parents seemed peripheral at best in terms of providing support and influence. And yet, Vera seems to me to strike an impressive balance of interior introspection regarding her personal plight, and the larger meaning of the chaos she’s living through.
I love this:
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But I know that those things will never come back. I may see the rocks again, and smell the flowers, and watch the dawn sunshine chase the shadows from the old sulphur-coloured walls, but the light that sprang from the heightened consciousness of wartime, the glory seen by the enraptured ingenuous eyes of twenty-two, will be upon them no more. I am a girl no longer, and the world, for all its excitements of chosen work and individualistic play, has grown tame in comparison with Malta during those years of our anguish
I hate to admit this, but I every time Vera’s father made an appearance he was Hugh Bonneville, complete with that annoying Downton Abbyish look of perplexity. When he wrote to Vera “we can no longer manage without you and it’s now you’re duty to leave France and return to Kensington,” I just about tossed my ereader off the porch and onto the street. The 22 year-old Vera obviously cares deeply about her family responsibilities, but what a dilemma.
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What was I to do? I wondered desperately. There was my family, confidently demanding my presence, and here was the offensive, which made every pair of experienced hands worth ten pairs under normal conditions.
I’m still sorting through my thoughts of the post-war Vera. I’m sure I’ll figure out how I feel later. This was a long book and in some ways I wish that it ended after Chapter 10. The rest could have been a sequel. From Chapter 11 on it felt less like a “testament of youth” and more like something else.
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Old 06-24-2014, 11:52 AM   #21
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This was a long book and in some ways I wish that it ended after Chapter 10. The rest could have been a sequel. From Chapter 11 on it felt less like a “testament of youth” and more like something else.
I'm going to have much more to say about the book, too. For now, Ill agree that the book would have been stronger had it ended with the war. It was art up to that point, in prose and and its expression of restrained agony and the rest is much more pedestrian, in both the events and the telling.

And yet, I can see the argument in its favor in toto. It reminds me of the structure of Wuthering Heights, where the climax of the book occurs in the center and the rest is about re-achieving stasis. Everything after Catherine's death is rather a let-down, but the larger point which also applies here is that events don't have an end, but continue to work themselves out. Had Vera stopped with the Armistice, or with the end of her service, we wouldn't have had the whole story. Everyone dear to her died, but she did not. I even suspect she felt she'd have done both Roland and Edward a disservice if she didn't find a way to carry on, so they could live through her.
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Old 06-24-2014, 01:37 PM   #22
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I also had Downton Abbey in the back of my mind in terms of how each of the daughters responded. I seem to remember one of the daughters made the statement something like all the boys I danced with are dead. Obviously Lady Sybil is the closest parallel to Vera with her rebellious interest in women's rights and her service as a VAD. I think she even asked for cooking lessons downstairs. As I recall her entire family was not very happy about her decision to nurse!

Vera really struggled with her father forcing her to return home from France due to her family "duties". I think she always felt bitter about it. I read one of her post-war articles where she was still expounding on the need for reform in the future to prevent other women from struggling with this conflict between family and country.

I liked that the book was divided into 3 parts as before, during and after. I thought it was necessary to understand the full impact of the war. I was surprised at how much she was able to participate and witness in the post-war world affairs through the League of Nations Union. I am curious what the original ending of the book was like before George made her remove much of the text about him. I also think it's interesting that her daughter had such a long career in politics, surely influenced by her upbringing and views of both parents. Just imagine as a young woman watching women fight to vote and then to have a daughter serve as an MP!

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Old 06-24-2014, 02:31 PM   #23
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This article tells you a little bit more about what the rest of her life was like.
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...h-1578602.html
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Old 06-24-2014, 06:55 PM   #24
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Thanks Bookworm_Girl - interesting extra information.
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Old 06-25-2014, 06:33 PM   #25
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I'm rather playing "catch-up" now as a result of my absences.

I'm impressed so far with the wonderful sculpted style of Vera Brittain in the first section of the book dealing with her early life. She not only has a marvellous command of the precise syntax favoured in the Edwardian and Georgian periods but also skilfully conveys emotional registers--such as anger at the stereotypical patterns forced on women. But I noted too an endearing ability to look back with a wry humour at her younger self.
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Old 06-26-2014, 10:25 AM   #26
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I'm also playing catch-up due to a rare reading lull in which I began several books hoping for the book riveting enough to capture my attention. Having now completed three of them (had to clear the deck), I am finally at 12% of Testament of Youth. I love the way she writes and her account of her life in pre-war England.

Although I vowed to plow straight through in order to catch up quickly, it is the kind of book that inspires exploration and I've appreciated Bookworm_Girl's links. Here is another link I've enjoyed, especially for the audio of Vera's and Roland's letters to each other: Violets from the Trenches.
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Old 06-26-2014, 07:28 PM   #27
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Great find Belle - thank you!
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Old 06-27-2014, 07:49 PM   #28
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The Independent is doing a series called "A History of the First World War in 100 Moments". Very interesting! Every day is a new moment. One of the articles from this week is about women gaining the vote in 1918 and it mentions Vera Brittain.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/wo...n-100-moments/

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Old 06-28-2014, 12:02 AM   #29
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Thanks very much, Bookworm_Girl - I have bookmarked the page as a lot of those articles look very interesting.
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Old 06-28-2014, 12:55 AM   #30
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The Independent is doing a series called "A History of the First World War in 100 Moments". Very interesting! Every day is a new moment. One of the articles from this week is about women gaining the vote in 1918 and it mentions Vera Brittain.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/wo...n-100-moments/
What a treasure trove! Thanks, Bookworm_Girl.
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