This classic memoir of the First World War is now a major motion picture starring Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington.
In 1914 Vera Brittain was 20, and as war was declared she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life - and the lives of her whole generation - had changed in a way that would have been unimaginable in the tranquil prewar era.
Testament of Youth, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain's account of how she survived those agonising years; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded; and how she emerged into an altered world.
A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time and has lost none of its power to shock, move and enthral readers since its first publication in 1933.
©1970 Mark Bostridge & Timothy Brittain-Catlin, Literary Executors of Vera Brittain (P)1998 Isis Publishing Ltd
I read Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience in print ages ago and loved them both. This edition is accompanied by introductions and explanations from the author's daughter and the author herself. I was excited to have an audio version of the book and looked forward to a long happy listen.
My problem lies in the fact that the narration makes the author sound like a haughty arrogant very old dowager. The listening is tough going as Mitchell, the narrator, allows her voice to drop off at the end of sentences and rushes through the cumbersome and complex ornate prose. This mix makes hearing what is being read difficult and understanding the words at times almost impossible.
This book was first published when the author was in her late 30's looking back at her experience of life before WWI and the impact the war had on her generation. The voicing the narrator uses sounds too old. I had come to think that this was the only voice Mitchell was capable of--then at the two hour point when the journal entries entered the picture--she switched to a young woman's voice for these portions--so this elderly voice seems to have been a choice. What a shame, because the younger clear voice made the elderly voice even worse by comparison.
I think the problem lies in that the author's intro for the 1970's edition was written when Brittain was 80 years old. It seems that production for this recording assumed the whole book should be voiced by an eighty year old instead of the age Brittain actually was when the book was written. This error makes listening to this recorded version impossible for me.
If you read the reviews on Amazon for the print edition you will find an even bigger debate going on over the content of the book. Reviewers sounding off, arguing about and judging what Brittain says--not how the narrator voices the story. To me, this is a book from history and about the author's personal thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. You may find many of her assumptions offensive--but I think they represent the culture of the time. I do agree with several reviewers in that Brittain was very contradictory in her opinions and to me that just exposes the "youth" from the title of the book.
This book is still an excellent look at one person's experience of WWI--even with its flaws. However, the unfortunate narration makes it impossible for me to hear and understand the words. Listen carefully to the sample before you decide and keep in mind that the actual narration is even worse than the sample suggests.
"Almost impossible to listen to"
The book is really fascinating and I think I will have to read it instead of listen to it. The writer comes across as arrogant, self obsessed, pompous, pious and extremely unlikable but I think this is due to a horrible narration that makes her sound dry and remote.
As this is an autobiography it is rather odd to consider "favourite character" - this book is about real people and their real lives and deaths not about "characters".
Juliet Stevenson or any other decent actress with a voice that varies in tone and texture and brings life to a story - Sheila Mitchell kills it dead and makes it such a difficult listen.
Go and read the book and dump the audio! It did make me think about the state of the world - about war and power and how those who want peace are ridiculed, marginalised and sometimes even punished. It did inspire me to reflect on vested interest and how the powerful abuse their position - but the dreary narration mostly inspired me to go and listen to anything other than this.
What a waste! Such a good and worthwhile book with such depth of feeling, intelligence and poignant interest turned into a long drawn out drone - read the excellent review on audible.com for a more detailed dissection of how this narrator gets it so wrong and read the book don't bother with the audio it becomes actually painful after several hours listening and is long in any case. HORRIBLE narration - excellent writing - a good book massacred and some dreadful pronunciation too - don't the editors EVER correct these narrators when they repeatedly mispronounce basic words to such a degree it grates. This is badly done and I will wish for someone to re-do the whole thing.
I was forced to read this book for English Literature A Level 30 + years ago and hated it. I was however, 17 and had little life experience. Unlike the young Vera Brittain, who is put in a situation of sink or swim. She chose to swim. I was as an A level student not particularly interest in the pain and suffering of others. Now, as I have lived my own life and worked as a Nurse for many years, this book came to life for me.
The book starts before the outbreak of the Great War and explores women's - 'not quite equal' relationship to men. Remember though, that Brittain is from an upper class family and would not experience the oppression of that of a working class woman. On the contrary, she is relativity privileged. Even so, she eloquently objects to her father 'why can't she go to Oxford when her brother is allowed'.
Later the book tells of her romance with a friend of her brothers, whom she falls madly in love with, but who is sent off to war as it starts. She joins the Nursing team of the Volunteer nursing core and from hear we enter into a story of repeated heartbreak as VB looses her lover, her brother and her closest friend.
So, this time round, I loved and devoured this book with the wisdom I did not hold at 17. lest we forget the great war and the human sacrifice. The book is beautifully narrated and is full of insightful notes of wisdom and philosophy that can only come about through the experience of pain.
I give it a 5 * recommendation as I have been deeply touched by this prose.
"a moving insight to living through immense tragedy"
learning how to forgive yourself for surviving, whilst accepting that life and love moves on
"Emotion recollected in perspicacity"
This is a life-changing book about a changed life.
The expert narration of Sheila Mitchell brings the vivid and brilliant mind of Vera Brittain into the sharpest mental focus, and this voice from a dead past speaks the words of the dead into present that needs - perhaps, sadly, will always need - to hear the lessons of history. Her near future failed to heed them; I fear the voices of the Great War through which she lived and suffered are needed as much as those of the subsequent conflict that Brittain's commitment to internationalism could not prevent. From out of those two disasters we have built, in the west at least, structures that have prevented, for the most part, the return of those conflicts for a period that has extended long beyond Vera Brittain's own life yet to which now we seem bent on turning our backs.
Vera Brittain's emotional and intellectual acuity and conviction has steeled my own resolve to be on the side of the right, even if I fear I may not be in the right side of history.
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