Vera Brittain and the First World War

VB My 2015 reading year started off so well – but recently it hit an obstacle or two. I’ve continued with books about World War 1, but started committing myself to too many similar books at the same time.

A few years ago I started my first book blog with the hope that I’d be more disciplined with my reading and would always stick with a book until it was finished. Until that time I had a habit of starting books and then giving up on them if something that appeared more interesting came along.
Mostly I’ve kept up that discipline and the results can be seen in the lists of books I’ve completed over the years (see “books read” tab above).

It has now been two months since my last blog post – which also means two months since I finished a book. That changed last night when I reached the last page of Vera Brittain and the First World War by Mark Bostridge.

It’s a book that I picked up for some “easier” reading to give me a break from those that I’ve been struggling through for a while.

Recently I retrieved Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth from storage (most of my book collection is stacked in cupboards in the garage). I’ve had that book for around 30 years but still haven’t read yet. I sought it out again because it fits in with my current reading about the 1914-18 war.

Brittain’s brother Edward and some male friends enlisted, were sent to the Western Front and didn’t return. Brittain herself worked as a nurse. Her experiences led her to write her best-selling book and set her on a path of pacifism. Her story fits into a primary area of my war interest, which centres on the human cost with a special focus on those trying to pick up the pieces (such as stretcher bearers and nurses), and also the cost born by those who lost their loved ones to a brutal conflict.

Mark Bostridge’s book gives a brief summary of Brittain’s war time experiences: her attempts to write about those experiences in her diary, in fiction and later in Testament of Youth. Bostridge then gives the reader a glimpse of the various ways her story has been explored in other media, including TV and ballet and culminating with a recent film. He also offers insight into some of the unknowns surrounding Edward Brittain’s death, potentially finding answers that Vera herself was never able to discover.

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