Testament of Youth is a memoir written by Vera Brittain, first published in 1933, and deals with the author’s life during World War I. The most important thing that the reader learns about World War I, as well as about war in general, is how truly sad, shocking and unnecessary the loss of so many innocent lives was. Whilst this is often the case in many books that are set during a war, the message in Vera Brittain’s book comes from a slightly different angle. Books about war, especially when written from a man’s perspective, usually are linked to the perspective of a soldier. All Quiet on the Western Front, for example, also deals with the horrors of war and points a finger at the unnecessary suffering and loss of life. However, unlike Brittain’s book, it is written from the perspective of a soldier.
Vera Brittain, on the other hand, shows the reader how war was perceived by those who did not go to fight. Through her female perspective, we learn to understand the agony that families had to go through when their loved ones were fighting in the battlefields and the people back home had no means of knowing whether they were even still alive or not. For example, when Vera was waiting for a message about when her fiancé, Roland Leighton, would return home for a visit, she instead received a phone call informing her that he had died. Through Vera’s story, the reader begins to realize how the war affected and traumatized everybody.
Only through a female perspective is it possible for the reader to begin to understand how the unnecessary loss of lives affected everybody, not just the soldiers at the front.
Later in the book, we read that Brittain had found work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. As a result of this, she was able to see the horrors of war for herself when she was caring for wounded soldiers. Again, this allows the reader to see the horrors of war from a slightly different angle than the typical male soldier’s perspective.
Yes, many books about the war point out the unnecessary loss of lives and highlight the need for peace. But it is through Brittain’s account of the war, written from a woman’s view, that we truly begin to understand how war did not only affect the lives of those fighting at the front, but equally those who stayed behind and who did not fight.