Vera Brittain Helen Beal Woodward - Essay

Helen Beal Woodward

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Testament of Experience" retraces the frightening pattern of increasing tolerance to cruelty, beginning with the civilian air raids in Spain which once seemed so savage, and mounting through obliteration bombing to the "superlative atrocity" of Hiroshima.

I suppose there are many people who will loathe Vera Brittain's new book. Hers is a thorny and, as she admits, a combative personality. As a young woman she was a bit of a prig. In middle age she has a predilection for visiting graves that amounts almost to a hobby. The letters she and her husband exchange are so beautiful as to arouse the unworthy suspicion that they were written with one eye on posterity. And yet, though one may not be able to accept all Miss Brittain's hard choices, "Testament of Experience" is truly a remarkable book, searchingly and sensitively written, the distillate of a life richer than most in love, thought, pain, and achievement. It is about as far from a religious do-it-yourself as a book could be, but I think it would be difficult to read it thoughtfully without having, oneself, something of a religious experience. (p. 18)

Helen Beal Woodward, "The Rebel Grows Older," in The Saturday Review, New York (copyright © 1957 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XL, No. 34, August 24, 1957, pp. 17-18.