Vera Brittain

Start Free Trial

Mary M. Colum

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

The life that was lived in childhood and adolescence by that generation of boys and girls who grew into young manhood and womanhood just before the outbreak of the War is deader than the age of Queen Anne, yet it is all less than a quarter of a century ago, and the people who belonged to it are still young or, anyway, young-middle-aged. But it was a doomed generation, and few of those who survived the War and the revolutions consequent on the War were ever really at home in the world afterwards. (p. 340)

["Testament of Youth"] is a great help toward understanding that generation and toward understanding, not only why the young were so thoroughly sacrificed in a democratic age, but why they permitted themselves to be so sacrificed. "Testament of Youth" is the account of the life of a typical girl of that doomed generation, belonging to the classes that used to be called the middle in the islands that used to be called the British. (pp. 340-41)

Though the great value of Vera Brittain's book lies in the fact that the life she records was typical, she herself has not the detachment from that life, nor a sufficient insight into history, nor sufficient power properly to assess what was beyond doubt one of the most foolish ages in history. Probably nobody living has these qualifications, nor will have until that generation which fought the War and which is now making opinion and coming into the control of affairs is either superannuated or dead….

And, as Miss Brittain says, her life was typical. It was—all that generation did, said and wrote the same things. They were all dreamers; they drew their ideas and ideals, not from reality, not from experience, not from history, but from romantic literature and the social and political theories of the nineteenth century. They went forth to battle urged by meaningless catchwords—"A war to end war," "To make the world safe for Democracy," "A war for Civilization."

Of course Americans of that generation suffered less than Europeans; very few people in this country can have had Miss Brittain's history—she lost in the War her only brother, her fiancé, and all their young men friends; she spent her girlhood nursing war-wounded men, German prisoners among others, and when her service was over she returned to her Oxford college and was made to feel, like other veterans of the World War, that "Survivors Were Not Wanted."… If the survivors were not wanted in the conquering countries, what greeting could have met the poor survivors who returned to the conquered countries, or those ravaged by revolution, and who also had been fighting a war to end war, etc., or to make their country safe for something. (p. 341)

Mary M. Colum, "Ancien Régime" (reprinted by permission of the Literary Estate of Mary M. Colum), in The New Republic, Vol. LXXVI, No. 987, November 1, 1933, pp. 340-41.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Fred J. Ringel


The Times Literary Supplement