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Remembered Today:

Vera Brittain


Katie Elizabeth Stewart
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I'd be intereseted in anyone's views on 'Testament of Youth', by the aforementioned woman of the Great War! I recently borrowed it, being keen to read something by a woman who loved and lost twice, and was not much older than I am now when the war broke out, but I'm really finding it difficult to get my teeth into. So far, it reads more like a philosophy textbook than a novel.

As well, I was wondering if anyone can recommend other women's Literature of the Great War? I'd rather attempt something where the woman doesn't attempt to make light of what was happening in France, as it were. I'm not too sure about Margaret Postgate-Cole's poem about falling leaves, for instance. Bit of a natural world related euphemism!

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Can't help you, I'm afraid, Katie. But I can tell you that you may find that much of what was written then may be hard going - it was a different time, and people wrote differently. (Think of Dickens, although he was earlier).

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Sorry, Katie, I'm out of 'help' on this one, as well. But I believe this was autobiography, not fiction. Someone with considerable knowledge and appreciation of Vera Brittain and other female WWI writers will be along at any moment (hopefully not to correct this small input... :) )

Meanwhile, type "Vera Brittain" (with the quotation marks) into the Search box and you'll find a number of previous threads in this forum. There's also a number of threads in 'Book Reviews' forum.

Jim

Edited by Jim Clay
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I would recommend you persevere Katie as it is a poignant love story but an unsentimental view of the war. ( I found, though, when I read it that I had the voice of her daughter, Shirley Williams, in my head as the narrator)

'Letters from a Lost Generation ' by Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge is worth reading alongside it as it quotes directly from, and places into context, the letters between Vera and her fiance Roland Leighton , as well as to her brother and two other close friends. The writing is definitely of its time... and of its class. My avatar by the way comes from a letter written by Roland to Vera. He wrote that there was a grave a few yards away from where he was sitting. It was the grave of a private soldier. Nearby there was the grave of a major around which he had put a new fence. “I cannot help thinking of the two together and of the greater value of the one.” he wrote. “What a pity it is that the same little piece of lead takes away as easily a brilliant life and one that is merely vegetation. The democracy of war!...” I really warmed to Vera and her enthusiasm and determination and the strength of her feelings - I cant say I felt the same way about Roland.

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Katie

I will avoid a discussion of Vera Brittain, as I'm not a fan [to say the least] but many others here are, and I might get lynched along the way :wacko: . I don't know what you have in mind really - if it's accounts of women's working life during the war, or fiction written by women with a Great War bias? I find the problem with all of this is that the women who wrote at that time, whatever the genre, were educated and middle class, and simply not representative of their sex as a whole. It's a bit like taking one officer of the Great War and imagining that he can speak for every member of the rank and file, as well as all those who are not actively involved in pursuing the war, but more so.

Can I suggest that you might be interested in George Simmers Blog about Great War literature - he's a retired academic who writes an entertaining and erudite column on a regular basis about fiction of all sorts written during and shortly after the War. If you have a stroll through you will find lots of references to women's writing, and he's a great fan of authors like Rose Macaulay - you should get lots of ideas about interesting books, written by both men and women. The Blog is here:

Great War Fiction - George Simmers

Beside that, a few books of various sorts that might fit the bill:

Rose Macaulay [anything really!]

Sylvia Pankhurst

The Home Front: A Mirror to Life in England During the World War

Irene Rathbone

We that were Young

Daisy Noakes

The Town Beehive: A Young Girl's Lot, Brighton 1910-1934

Juliet Huxley

Leaves of the Tulip Tree

Enid Bagnold

A Diary Without Dates

Anne Powell [editor]

Shadows of War - British Women's Poetry of the Second World War

Sue

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The Heart of England branch of the WFA as a talk on Vera Brittain - Wednesday evening 11th July at Warwick. By Phylomena Badsey. Google her name and Vera B and there is an interesting draft paper which she has written.

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Agree with the thoughts on different time and place, my easiest way round that was the interpretation of her work that led to the TV series many moons ago

John

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For a novel based (apparently) upon the diaries of a female ambulance driver, try Not So Quiet… Stepdaughters of War. by Helen Zenna Smith (1930, The Feminist Press, 1989). Comparing it to what I've read in Janet Lee's War Girls: the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in the First World War. (Manchester University Press, 2005), it gives a more gritty portrayal of life at the Front than the FANY were prepared to admit.

As a sharp contrast to Vera Brittain, read The Rainbow Comes and Goes. by Lady Diana Cooper, (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1958)

I did enjoy Testament of Youth as well. :)

Gabriele

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I'd be intereseted in anyone's views on 'Testament of Youth', by the aforementioned woman of the Great War! I recently borrowed it, being keen to read something by a woman who loved and lost twice, and was not much older than I am now when the war broke out, but I'm really finding it difficult to get my teeth into. So far, it reads more like a philosophy textbook than a novel.

As well, I was wondering if anyone can recommend other women's Literature of the Great War? I'd rather attempt something where the woman doesn't attempt to make light of what was happening in France, as it were. I'm not too sure about Margaret Postgate-Cole's poem about falling leaves, for instance. Bit of a natural world related euphemism!

Hi Katie Elizabeth Stewart,

I just read a good book by Val Woods - "They followed there hearts" which was about the warbrides who married NZ'ers and travelled to NZ after WWI and WWII. Reasonably good read, much of it the information are quoted from warbrides who contacted her over a proposed reunion. The following is a listserv which might also provide useful information on what you are looking for - WARBRIDES@rootsweb.com

Cheers JM Cooke

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I think it is worth persisting with this book. At the end I don't think I liked her very much but she certainly suffered a great deal. Her description of the return of Leighton's uniform after his death was shocking.

Kevin

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Thanks for the help everyone - on the contrary to what someone wrote, I have actually found it extremely difficult to find anyone that is a fan of Vera! There are a couple of things she says that, in the harshest judgement, sound pretentious. One thing in particular struck me: a highly philoshophical comment, the gist of which was, young people cannot change the course of history - well, does she imply that old people can?!

Regards,

Katie

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I'm sure that I would have disliked her as well had I met her, she does come across as very humourless and she uses a lot of highbrow words and expressions, but I hope that you carry on. I'd try Chronicle of Youth, her diary of the period, it is a lot less calculated and her diaries especially in the early stages of the war show as jingoistic quite unlike the embryonic pacifist she portrays herself in T of Y. In the 1930s when she was writing it she was an Oxford graduate and was self opinionated and was writing with the benefit of hindsight. Letters from a Lost Generation is also worth reading. I have We That Were Young and Not So Quiet as well. They are both very interesting.

As an aside you might want to check out Vera Brittain-A Life by Mark Bostridge and Paul Berry.

Regards, Michelle

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I agree that Vera is difficult to warm to. I thought her opinions and prejudices perhaps a good example of the society and class from which she came. So in that regard, T of Y gives up perhaps a glimpse into the mindset of Edwardian upper-middle class youth. Of course, one always has to be careful not to generalize.

That's why I found Lady Diana Cooper's book so surprising. From the upper class (everyone expected she would marry the Prince of Wales), she gives us a completely different viewpoint of work as a VAD (sneaking out to party, etc), and life in Britain during the war. She seemed to accept it with a sense of humour, excitement, and duty that one didn't make a fuss about, which perhaps makes her seem somewhat shallow in comparison with Vera, but in some ways, more likeable. I expect that her class sensibilities also kept her from expressing her thoughts completely.

Gabriele

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I'm sure that I would have disliked her as well had I met her, she does come across as very humourless and she uses a lot of highbrow words and expressions, but I hope that you carry on. I'd try Chronicle of Youth, her diary of the period, it is a lot less calculated and her diaries especially in the early stages of the war show as jingoistic quite unlike the embryonic pacifist she portrays herself in T of Y. In the 1930s when she was writing it she was an Oxford graduate and was self opinionated and was writing with the benefit of hindsight. Letters from a Lost Generation is also worth reading. I have We That Were Young and Not So Quiet as well. They are both very interesting.

As an aside you might want to check out Vera Brittain-A Life by Mark Bostridge and Paul Berry.

Regards, Michelle

T of Y was started in 1929 and published in 1933. She was not an embryonic pacifist yet. This was in 1936. In 1933 she still believed in the League of Nations Union and collective security with teeth.

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