Vera Brittain Gladys Davis - Essay

Gladys Davis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miss Vera Brittain is a stirring person, and to stay with her through six hundred of her closely written, documented pages is a moving experience. In this first novel, Honourable Estate, she is trying deliberately to raise the status of woman, to record what has been achieved in the last four decades in her struggle for liberty and equality, throwing into question the whole notion of woman as inevitably domestic, and ending up with stressing as a last phase the married woman's need of a career. (p. 33)

Obviously Miss Brittain's gifts are not domestic—some day perhaps one of the 'new' women will appear in print as a glamorously good cook—but she can put herself intensely into her characters, especially when they are wrought from her own experience. Because of this the war years are the best in the book. One knows that she gives a one-sided picture of the war; it is too unrelieved, too consistent a death in life. And one suspects that the first part of the novel gives a one-sided picture of feminism. Throughout all history men have never achieved anything apart from women, and surely it is doubtful how far these women got who ranged themselves against men as a sex in the suffragette movement…. [They] have to work through both sexes, one interacting upon the other. The true value of this book as a social or political document lies in Miss Brittain's literary abilities, and in the curious unity achieved by a constant straining towards a goal despite an enveloping sense of frustration and death. (pp. 33-4)

Gladys Davis, "Jerusalem Captured," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XVI, No. 192, January, 1937, pp. 33-4.