Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Testament of Youth is the story of the loss of an entire generation’s youth and innocence to the shattering tragedy of World War I (1914-1918). Though often remembered as one of a very few World War I memoirs written by women, Testament of Youth contains only one section devoted to Vera Brittain’s wartime experiences as an Army nurse and two equally long sections dealing with her childhood and her experiences as a writer, lecturer, and activist in the postwar years. Woven into the narrative of wartime tragedy and peacetime frustration are consistent threads of puzzlement and irony over the political, social, and sexual double standards that relegated women to ancillary roles in all areas of life. Born into a middle-class British family near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), Vera Brittain, like many women of her generation, chafed against the restrictions imposed on women by the strict morality of the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras. In Brittain’s day, any girl might be—as Brittain herself was at the age of eleven by her mother and aunt—severely chastised merely for chatting with boys her own age, and the education of women consisted chiefly of preparation for marriage. Throughout her narrative, Brittain attacks the various legal and social constraints that kept women from becoming equal partners with men in politics, social life, and even in such personal institutions as marriage and parenthood.

Part 1 of...

(The entire section is 596 words.)