Vera Brittain Phillip Whitehead - Essay

Phillip Whitehead

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The reader approaches [Chronicle of Youth] with some reservations. Vera Brittain made a number of unsuccessful attempts to have her war diaries published in her lifetime, after Testament of Youth, for which they had provided much of the raw material. The recent successful televising of that book, and its renewed appeal to a fresh generation haunted by the fear of the holocaust has led to a Vera Brittain revival…. Is this, perhaps, an attempt by the publishers … to cash in on the Brittain boom? The answer is that it is much more than that, more even than a companion volume for Testament of Youth. Every pang and pash of provincial girlhood, every burgeoning literary ambition, is here. Then it all turns to nightmare. (p. 342)

[The diaries] record the maturation of a formidable writer through a time of havoc, and they make an indictment of that insane war as profound and as terrible as the poems of Wilfred Owen. The literary ambitions and talents of Roland Leighton, which shaped the girl who grieved for him, have the memorial she intended. (p. 343)

Phillip Whitehead, "The Girl They Left Behind" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1981; reprinted by permission of Phillip Whitehead), in The Listener, Vol. 106, No. 2728, September 24, 1981, pp. 342-43.