Testament of Youth Critical Context - Essay

Vera Brittain

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

For a long time, Vera Brittain was noted chiefly as the author of Testament of Youth, generally agreed to be the best, if not the only, account by a woman of the spiritual and psychological effects of World War I. Critics pointed out Brittain’s own insistence that her life was typical; by studying it, they could understand both her generation’s initial idealism, even gullibility, and its postwar disillusionment.

Testament of Friendship was generally regarded as interesting, but inferior to Testament of Youth; Testament of Experience brought mixed reviews. Many critics believed that it lacked the single focus of Testament of Youth; they resented Brittain’s assumption that readers would find the details of her marriage and her travels as interesting as the significant observations on world affairs which she interspersed. Others, however, found Testament of Experience important because it did reveal a life that was whole. It might be argued that Brittain’s later autobiographical book was intended to show a merging of idealism with reality, a reconciliation of the artistic and social selves, and, above all, a proof that marriage and motherhood need not negate a woman’s being but can instead deepen her understanding of life. Even though Testament of Youth will probably always be ranked as Brittain’s finest work, her story is incomplete without those two books in which she illustrates the triumph of hope over despair.