Plot: `Testament of Youth` has become a well-known story over the last year due to the release of the film. However, it is a story that has been told – or attempted to be told – since Vera Brittain first tried to record in writing her memoirs of the First World War and all that it entailed for her.
Mark Bostridge tells Vera’s story. What happened to her, how it affected her life and what her struggles involved in order to become a novelist in such a time. It also explores his own journey in getting involved in such a remarkable tale.
Quote: `Then I hit on an idea that had been lodged in the back of my mind for some time: I would write a short book about Shirley’s mother, Vera Brittain, feminist and pacifist, and author of the classic woman’s memoir of the First World War, Testament of Youth.`
Opinion: I intended to read the Testament of Youth novel penned by Vera Brittain herself. This was an accidental read. I’m so glad it happened. I didn’t realise the novel itself is precisely that; a story told by an author about `fictional` characters. Through sheer luck, I ended up reading exactly what I had intended to – the story about what happened to Vera Brittain and all that she endured during the First World War.
Having seen the film, I knew I was letting myself in for a heart-breaking tale. I was aware of some of the losses in her life. While there has been some cinematic changes for the screen, the real story is no less of a tragedy. But what Bostridge portrays is how Vera struggled to actually get herself heard in a time that was meant for men. Disobeying the rules and regulations of nursing to be with the ones she cares about shows a depth to her character that somehow, the film missed. She was prepared to literally do whatever it took to be where she felt she was needed the most.
Despite the tragedy of the content, the book is written in such a way that it is engaging and keeps you page turning. Bostridge tells Vera’s story by making her the heroine of this tale, making the reader empathise with her in a way you would if she was a character in a fictional novel. He doesn’t shy away from her faults but presents a real woman – an important distinction reminding us she existed.
This is the first biography I have read for a long time. Bostridge has encouraged me to seek out more, giving a glimpse into the past that makes the reader feel like they knew Vera herself. It opens up a time of war, not by presenting the battles but by showing the heart-break for those left behind and what it meant to be a woman in the First World War. For anyone interested in either this time period or feminism itself – or even Vera Brittain – then this book is a must read.