Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Shortly before her death, Winifred Holtby was asked to write her autobiography; ill health and the press of creative and political work prevented her from undertaking the project. Several years later, Vera Brittain wrote the biographical memoir Testament of Friendship from the unique perspective of an intimate friend of sixteen years with whom Holtby had shared apartments, houses, and holidays, both before and during Brittain’s marriage to G., whose academic and political activities frequently kept him away from the lodgings the three—and later Brittain’s children—shared in London.

The biography begins traditionally, with an account of Holtby’s Yorkshire ancestors and her early life at Rudston House in the East Riding, where her father was a farmer and loyal Councillor; her school years and her fifteen months as a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps nurse; and her experiences as a student at Somerville College, Oxford. It was at Somerville that she met Vera Brittain, with whom she formed the extraordinarily close friendship and literary association that provides the principal focus for this biography. The two met because they had the same history tutor, but they soon discovered more significant common ground: Brittain’s loss of her brother and fiancé in the war and Holtby’s heartfelt but forever unrealized attachment to Bill, a young soldier whose prospects for a normal life were undermined by the war’s psychological aftermath; the...

(The entire section is 541 words.)