Vera Brittain The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There was a time when autobiographies were only written by the old, who alone, it was supposed, had had experiences numerous and notable enough to make a book. After the War, however, that supposition, perhaps never wholly justifiable, became obviously untenable. So, perforce, there came an era of autobiographies written by those still young in years; and among such books Miss Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth" must have a high place….

Few people could have brought themselves to write such a chronicle. The task must have been painful, in many of its aspects, to Miss Brittain. Yet it was well worth doing—as a record of spiritual growth, as a memorial to sacrifices nobly made, and as a testimony to the horror and waste of war. For Miss Brittain, active pacifist though she is, can see the real difficulty of the fight against war—the truth, which it is useless to deny, that war stirs men to thoughts and deeds that are as splendid as anything humanity knows…. [Indeed] the book is, as a whole, a wise one. There are certainly irritating things in it, but they are all in inessentials. In the important things of the story—tragic, noble, and in the end not without consolation—there is, in spite (or perhaps because) of its unshrinking frankness, no failure of taste, no irreverence for theatricality in the lifting of the veil from past sorrows.

"'Testament of Youth'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1933; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1648, August 31, 1933, p. 571.