29 December 1893|
Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire, England
|Died||29 March 1970
Wimbledon, London, England
|Alma mater||Somerville College, Oxford|
|Notable works||Testament of Youth|
Vera Mary Brittain (29 December 1893 – 29 March 1970) was an English nurse, writer, feminist, and pacifist. Her best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth recounted her experiences during the First World War and the beginning of her journey towards pacifism.
Life and work
Born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Brittain was the daughter of a well-to-do family who owned paper mills in Hanley and Cheddleton. She was the daughter of paper manufacturer Thomas Arthur Brittain (1864-1935) and his wife, Edith Bervon Brittain (1868-1948). She had an uneventful childhood with her only brother her closest companion. At eighteen months, her family moved to Macclesfield, Cheshire, and when she was eleven they moved again, to the spa town of Buxton in Derbyshire. From the age of thirteen, she attended boarding school at St Monica's, Kingswood, Surrey where her aunt was the principal.
After overcoming her father's initial objections, she studied English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford, delaying her degree after one year in the summer of 1915 to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) nurse for much of the First World War, initially in Buxton and later in London, Malta and France. Her fiancé Roland Leighton, close friends Victor Richardson M.C. and Geoffrey Thurlow, and her brother Edward Brittain M.C. were all killed during the war. Their letters to each other are documented in the book Letters from a Lost Generation. In one letter Leighton speaks for his generation of public school volunteers when he writes that he feels the need to play an 'active part' in the war.
Returning to Oxford after the war to read History, Brittain found it difficult to adjust to life among the postwar generation. It was at this time that she met Winifred Holtby, and a close friendship developed, with both aspiring to become established on the London literary scene. The bond lasted until Holtby's death from renal failure in 1935. Other literary contemporaries at Somerville College included Dorothy L. Sayers, Hilda Reid, Margaret Kennedy, and Sylvia Thompson.
In 1925, Brittain married George Catlin, a political scientist (1896-1979).Their son, John Brittain-Catlin (1927–1987), with whom Vera had a difficult relationship, was an artist, painter, businessman, and the author of the autobiography Family Quartet, which appeared in 1987. Their daughter, born in 1930, is the former Labour Cabinet Minister, now Liberal Democrat peer, Shirley Williams.
Brittain's first published novel, The Dark Tide (1923), created scandal as it caricatured dons at Oxford, especially at Somerville College. It was not until 1933 that she published the work for which she became most famous, Testament of Youth, which was followed by the sequels Testament of Friendship (1940) – her tribute to and biography of Winifred Holtby – and Testament of Experience (1957), the continuation of her own story, which spanned the years between 1925 and 1950. Vera Brittain wrote from the heart, and she based many of her novels on actual experiences and actual people. In this regard, her novel Honourable Estate (1936) was strongly autobiographical, dealing with Brittain's failed friendship with the novelist Phyllis Bentley, her romantic feelings for her American publisher George Brett Jr, and the death in action on the Italian Front in 1918 of her brother Edward. Brittain's diaries from 1913–17 were published in 1981 as Chronicle of Youth. Some critics have argued that Testament of Youth differs greatly from the literature Brittain wrote during the war, suggesting she is more in control of her memories when writing retrospectively.
In the 1920s, she became a regular speaker on behalf of the League of Nations Union, but in June 1936 she was invited to speak at a peace rally in Dorchester, where she shared a platform with Dick Sheppard, George Lansbury, Laurence Housman, and Donald Soper. Afterwards Sheppard invited her to join the Peace Pledge Union. Following six months' careful reflection, she replied in January 1937 to say she would. Later that year, Brittain also joined the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship. Her newly found pacifism came to the fore during World War II, when she began the series of Letters to Peacelovers.
She was a practical pacifist in the sense that she helped the war effort by working as a fire warden and by travelling around the country raising funds for the Peace Pledge Union's food relief campaign. She was vilified for speaking out against saturation bombing of German cities through her 1944 booklet Massacre by Bombing. Her principled pacifist position was vindicated somewhat when, in 1945, the Nazis' Black Book of nearly 3,000 people to be immediately arrested in Britain after a German invasion was shown to include her name.
From the 1930s onward, Brittain was a regular contributor to the pacifist magazine Peace News. She eventually became a member of the magazine's editorial board and during the 1950s and 1960s was "writing articles against apartheid and colonialism and in favour of nuclear disarmament".
In November 1966, she suffered a fall in a badly lit London street while on the way to a speaking engagement. She fulfilled the engagement, but afterwards found she had suffered a fractured left arm and broken little finger of her right hand. These injuries began a physical decline in which her mind became more confused and withdrawn.
Vera Brittain never fully got over the death in June 1918 of her beloved brother, Edward. She died in Wimbledon on 29 March 1970, aged 76. Her will requested that her ashes be scattered on Edward's grave on the Asiago Plateau in Italy – "...for nearly 50 years much of my heart has been in that Italian village cemetery"— and her daughter honoured this request in September 1970.
In 1998, Brittain's First World War letters were edited by Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge and published under the title Letters from a Lost Generation. They were also adapted by Bostridge for a Radio Four series starring Amanda Root and Rupert Graves.
Because You Died, a new selection of Brittain's First World War poetry and prose, edited by Mark Bostridge, was published by Virago in 2008 to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the Armistice.
In February 2009, it was reported that BBC Films was to adapt Brittain's memoir, Testament of Youth, into a feature film. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan was cast to play Brittain at first. However, in December 2013, it was announced that Alicia Vikander would be playing Brittain in the film, which was released at the end of 2014 as part of the First World War commemorations. The film also starred Kit Harington, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, Alexandra Roach, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Jonathan Bailey and Anna Chancellor. David Heyman, producer of the Harry Potter films, and Rosie Alison were the producers.
Plaques marking Brittain's former homes can be seen at 151 Park Road, Buxton; Doughty Street, Bloomsbury; and at 117 Wymering Mansions, Maida Vale, west London. There is also a plaque in the Pavilion gardens, Buxton, commemorating Brittain's residence in the town, though the dates shown on the plaque for her time there are incorrect.
Vera Brittain's archive was sold in 1971 to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. A further collection of papers, amassed during the writing of the authorised biography of Brittain, was donated to Somerville College, Oxford, by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge.
Plaque at 52 Doughty Street, London
Tombstone of Edward Brittain, Granezza British Cemetery, Asiago Plateau
- 1923 – The Dark Tide
- 1929 – Halcyon: Or, The Future of Monogamy (To-day and To-morrow pamphlet series)
- 1933 – Testament of Youth
- 1936 – Honourable Estate
- 1940 – Testament of Friendship
- 1944 – Seed of Chaos (Massacre by Bombing: U.S. title)
- 1957 – Testament of Experience
- 1981 – Chronicle of Youth: The War Diary, 1913–1917, edited by Alan Bishop with Terry Smart
- 1998 – Letters from a Lost Generation, edited by Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge
- Vera Brittain by Hilary Bailey. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 0140080031
- Vera Brittain: A Life, by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge, Chatto & Windus, 1995, Pimlico, 1996, Virago 2001, 2008 ISBN 1-86049-872-8.
- Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life, by Deborah Gorham, University of Toronto Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8020-8339-0.
- Vera Brittain and the First World War, by Mark Bostridge, Bloomsbury, 2014. ISBN 9781408188446 OCLC 902612485
- Mark Bostridge (21 May 2012). "Vera's Testament is young again". The Daily Telegraph.
- Brittain, Vera (1998). Letters from a Lost Generation. London: Little, Brown and Company. p. 30.
- Mark Bostridge (15 March 2012). "The story of the friendship between Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain". The Daily Telegraph.
- Ouditt, Sharon (1994). Fighting Forces, Writing Women: Identity and Ideology in the First World War. London: Routledge. p. 33.
- Berry, Paul and Bostridge,Mark, Vera Brittain: A Life, 1995, ISBN 0-7011-2679-5 (p. 445).
- Loretta Stec, "Pacifism, Vera Brittain, and India". Peace Review , vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 237–44, 2001.
- Paul Berry in the foreword to Testament of Experience, 1980 Virago edition.
- Berry and Bostridge, Vera Brittain: A Life, 1995 (p. 523)
- "Prose & Poetry – Vera Brittain". Firstworldwar.com. August 2001. Retrieved 27 May 2008.
-  Archived 2 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- "BBC Two – A Woman in Love and War: Vera Brittain". Bbc.co.uk. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
- Film. "Vera Brittain to be subject of film". The Daily Telegraph, 13 February 2009. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
- Anita Singh (20 May 2012). "Cannes 2012: BBC to dramatise life of WW1 writer Vera Brittain". The Daily Telegraph.
- BamigboYye, Baz (19 December 2013). "Chiwetel in the danger zone: Star tells of the 'dark moment' he had to 'whip' actress in new film 12 Years A Slave". dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- Kit, Borys (4 February 2014). "'Game of Thrones' Star Kit Harington to Headline 'Testament of Youth'". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- Ge, Linda (13 February 2014). "Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan and Alexandra Roach Join Alicia Vikander in 'Testament of Youth'". upandcomers.net. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- Bullock, Dan (16 March 2014). "Filming Begins On 'Testament of Youth' Starring Alicia Vikander & Kit Harington". thehollywoodnews.com. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
- "Vera Brittain author of "Testament of Youth" lived here 1907–1914". openplaques.org. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- City of Westminster green plaques. Archived 16 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
- Brief Biography by Paul Berry, her literary executor, in the foreword to Testament of Experience, 1980 Virago edition.
- Profile of Vera Brittain at Peace Pledge Union website. Accessed June 2008
- The making of a peacenik, Mark Bostridge, The Guardian, 30 August 2003. Accessed June 2008
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vera Brittain.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Vera Brittain|
- Vera Brittain's archives are held at McMaster University
- The Vera Brittain Collection in The First World War Poetry Digital Archive by Oxford University contains images of Brittain's War poetry manuscripts, letters, diary, plus a searchable text corpora.
- Images of Vera Brittain at JAMD.
- Biography and List of Works at Litweb.
- Vera Brittain at Find a Grave
- Archival material relating to Vera Brittain listed at the UK National Archives