A Personal Confession of Faith
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Oct 1934, p. 81-98
Brittain, Miss Vera, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The difficulty of talking in an impersonal way about one's own work and one's own views. What the speaker's book, "Testament of Youth" is all about. The book as an autobiography, not a novel. The impact of war on four young people. A synopsis of the events in the book. The literary work into which a book of this kind had to fit. A brief sketch of some of the events of 1933 to 1934 which have made the topics of peace and war two very important subjects of discussion. Ways in which people were ready for a book of the type of "Testament of Youth." The speaker's lack of expectation that her book would be read by men. How the book came to be written and the philosophy that lay behind it. Ways in which the book is literature as will as autobiography. The three parts into which the book naturally fell. The speaker reads from her book. What the book endeavours to do, to show, to persuade. A look at the book's reception, and reasons for it. Hope for the book's message.
Date of Original
30 Oct 1934
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Emailinfo@empireclub.orgWWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
October 30, 1934.
The guest of honour, Miss Vera Brittain, was introduced by the President of The Empire Club, Mr. Dana Porter.

MR. DANA PORTER: Miss Brittain and Gentlemen: If Adam and Eve had survived long enough to read Milton's "Paradise Lost", it might have been that they would, perhaps, not agree with some of the accounts of what took place in the garden, as described by the poet and they would perhaps not, most certainly not, agree with his description of the standard of living in the Garden of Eden.

I may say that I am not making this reference as casting any reflection in any way on "Youth's Morals, Today and Yesterday"„ but those people who actually lived through the events that were recorded will be the one's to be most critical, the ones who would be most quick to pick holes in the various details recorded and perhaps they would be slowest to realize the main purpose of the work. Therefore, it seems to me, that in spite of the unanimous acclaim which has been received by Miss Brittain's "Testament of Youth", by what she describes as the war generation, nevertheless it seems to me that that book will be most appreciated by the generation which is, perhaps, better known as the postwar generation and the book will live because it speaks in their own language, the language of those of us who are of the post-war generation. In reading that book, we read a great and classic tragedy, a tragedy which concerns the most intimate details of a most interesting personality, as affected by the pressure of world events. As the events unfold themselves, the relentless sequence reminds us of the tragedies of the Greeks, but what impresses us the most is the magnificent comeback after the war, when a new life seems to be created and new interests are aroused and it is Miss Brittain's faith that she proposes to speak to us about today. I have very great pleasure in calling on Miss Brittain. (Applause).

MISS VERA BRITTAIN: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: Whenever I am asked to speak about my "Testament of Youth", and the philosophy of life that lies behind it, I am reminded of a story that I heard not long ago about a young American sculptor who was exhibiting a large group of symbolic statuary at an exhibit of sculpture. The statue was enormous and rather mystifying and somebody at the exhibit came up to him and said, "I admire your work very much, Mr. Brown, but I should be so glad if you would explain to me a little bit of what it is intended to represent and he replied, a little unhappily, "Well, to tell you the truth, I don't rightly know. It started as salt cellars but it has gotten away from me."

Well, I feel a little like that about my "Testament of Youth." It started in a very humble fashion, and I feel the fact that it has landed me on this lecture tour, among other things, with so many delightful visits to countries with which I had comparatively little acquaintance, and then that it has been so kindly received in England where it is very difficult to move anybody to be excited about anything, is all rather evidence of the fact that something or other in it has gotten away from me and I feel that I am the very humble originator of something that has rather gotten out of my own control.

I hope that this speech won't get out of my own control because it is always a little difficult to talk in an impersonal way about one's own work and one's own views. I think I should begin for the benefit of, I am sure, the majority of you who haven't read my book, by giving just a brief summary of what it is all about before I begin to talk about it.

"Testament of Youth" is not a novel. I think I ought to begin by saying that, partly because I have been told by so many people that the appearance I give of having nothing in my head has made people say that it cannot possibly be true that I really went through those horrors--that if I had done so they would have left more marks on me than they have done. I cannot do anything about it; can only constantly assert that "Testament of Youth" is autobiography. However unconvincing it may seem, it is my own story, or the story of four young people, four boys and a girl, upon whom the impact of war fell just as they were leaving school and going up to college. The book begins with quite a trivial account of the girl's war against provincial young ladyhood, in order to show the type of life that got caught up in the war and that had its ambitions and ideals and all its attitude to life changed by being taken up, as it were, by a great world event and used for purposes of which it had never dreamed.

So, we being with that account of life in a small English provincial town and the attitude of a rebellious young woman toward her unfortunate parents and her endeavours to get away from the cramping limitations of the society in which she lived. But very soon the war breaks out and we find that little group involved in it. First of all the boys all go in the early weeks of the war. Three of them serve on the Western Front, the fourth one serves both on the Western Front and in Italy. None of them come back from the War. In the case of the girl, myself, she starts by going to Oxford, but very soon finds the life intolerable with still more important things going on and she becomes a Red Cross nurse and serves in London and in the Mediterranean and on the Western Front and is the only one of the group to be left alive after the war was over. And she finds, on returning after Armistice Day, that everything that made up her life has disappeared with the men who went down in the war, as so many women must have found in those days, and at a comparatively early age life seemed to have been lived and to be over 'and the only thing that remains, if she has the energy for it, is to try and create a new life, based, perhaps, on new values and certainly involving new friendships and new human relationships.

So, the last part of that book which some people have told me is the dust but which I, personally, agree with my Chairman is the most important because construction is no less dramatic than destruction and seems to me more important to the world of the present day than even the dramatic memories of what we went through and which I hope no generation will go through again.

That is just a brief account of what this book was intended to be about and because it is a little difficult to start straight away in talking about the personal aspects of how it came to be written and the philosophy behind it I think it is worth while just giving you a brief picture of the literary world into which a book of this kind had to fit, because I think part of the reason for the really overwhelmingly kind reception it has had on both sides of the Atlantic has nothing to do with me and nothing to do with the merits of the book, but is due as so often happens in the case of the best seller, to the time and the hour and the exigency, altogether as it were. The time had come when a book of that kind was desirable and perhaps, subconsciously had been waited for, particularly by the women of the war generation and at the moment owed to the catenation of events which had nothing to do with the 'author and had nothing to do with its appearance. I expect here, as with us, you had directly after the war a very strong reaction against war literature. Everybody was saying at home, "I don't want to read about the war." That was quite understandable; we did not want to read about what we had all lived through and what for a time was quite intolerable to remember. So there was the reaction against war literature for a period of seven or eight years although during that time some very eminent war books were published, such as R. H. Mottram's "Spanish Farm," which did not become best sellers and probably won more reputation for their writers since those days than at the time.

About 1927 or 1928,, there came a violent reaction in favour of war books and the play, "Journey's End," had its marvellous reception and progress through the British Empire and through non-English speaking countries as well. Robert Graves "Goodbye To All That" and Richard Addington's, "Death of a Hero," found a large number of readers and for a time everybody was reading books about the war.

Then, very naturally, there came a reaction against that. People said, "I am tired of these war books; I don't want to read any more about war."

It had just happened that none of these books were by women. I don't know whether that fact was particularly present in my mind. I never especially thought of it in my mind as a war book; I thought of it as a book about my generation. It was a fact that by 1929, with the exception of an American woman, Mary Lee who wrote a large and decidedly wicked book called, "It's a Great War"-of course, beginning only in 1917, with America's part in the war; that wasn't her fault, she didn't experience the war before 1917 and she doesn't suggest that it didn't exist before then--there had been no books by a woman dealing with the war in a comprehensive way. It was just in this period of reaction against war that I started to do "Testament of Youth." My literary agents, with the best possible intentions, advised me not to touch a book about war if I wanted to get over to the public. At that time I was indifferent to literary agents and everybody else and I had to go, just had to go ahead and write the book for reasons I will explain a little later on. I might have suffered very badly from that reaction if it had been published then. As it happened, the events that caught up the world just in the year my book was destined to be published were of a type to turn the minds of all thinking men and women to international questions.

I think perhaps it would be worth while to give a brief sketch just to remind you of some of the events of 1933 to 1934 which have made the topics of peace and war two very important subjects of discussion. You remember that the year started-1933 I am referring to now-with Japan's adventure in Manchuria. I remember so well the evening that the Japanese went into Jehol. (I am sure that is pronounced wrong but you probably know where I mean). It was a cold February night and I was going to have dinner with the English novelist, Storm Jameson, I had to change busses at Hyde Park corner and the news of the Japanese adventure had just come through. Most of you who know Hyde Park corner can picture what it looks like on a stormy February night. You can imagine the shock I got to see the corner plastered with posters just issued with the words, REMEMBER 1914. It gave one a shock and made one realize just what that particular adventure might lead to. Fortunately, it did not, though it gave us all a great deal of anxiety for quite a long time.

Then, in March, came the trial of the four British engineers in Moscow which created quite a tension for a time between Great Britain and Russia. Then, we had in the summer, the failure--one has, I am afraid to call it that--of the World Economic Conferences. We had the dissatisfaction in many countries with the Disarmament Conference and in October last year, there came another shock to the world when Germany left the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. Now, all this could not help but lead to a new interest in war books. It was a different kind of interest to that of 1927 and 1928. One might almost say that the success of the war books of an earlier period was due to a desire on the part of men to get the war out of their minds by a description written by some one else, a story of life at the trenches and just what life at the trenches had meant. Most of those books owed their success, as had "Journey's End," to the very poignant and graphic details of life as lived by men during the war. But the international situation in 1933 to 1934 made people, I think, more interested in the background of wars, in the kind of situation„ political, economic and social, that led to war and, also in the type of psychology that war creates in those who go through it. So there was a sort of interest in, I don't like to call it a bigger book, but the type of book that would see things in a larger perspective than, for instance, "Journey's End," which is, I suppose, an immortal picture of what actually happens to a group and through a group to all the men who took part in the war, but the whole end is psychological rather than economic; they approach more of the background than the whole picture of even what happened to a small group.

You know Frank Swinnerton--he is read here as much as at home. He has quite a revealing paragraph in his book entitled, Authors and the Book Trade." called, 'Why books become best sellers, and in mentioning the reasons he states that it is not necessarily the case that any mixture of sex and religion will have a large sale. A best seller is a book written by one whose mentality and preoccupations are those of a large number of persons. A popular best seller is a book written by a sincere author whose talent may be greater than the common palate but whose tastes are similar to the popular taste.

In those years the preoccupations of most thinking people were with questions of peace and war and so they were ready to read a book which tried to link a personal story, which tried to link up the private life of an individual with what George Eliot has called "the larger destinies of mankind" and which endeavoured to show how in this interconnected world it will henceforth be impossible to ever hope to live in the sort of disregarding isolation from the great events of the world that they were able to live in when distance and space and time had not been conquered in the way they have today. So, I think, people were ready for a book of the type of "Testament of Youth," even though it was written by a woman. I never expected that any men would read my book. I certainly did not expect that a group of men of such a distinguished Club as this would have the patience to listen to a mere woman hold forth on why she wrote her book. The explanation is just that I think that the book got away from me to the extent that large events always get away from mere individuals and it is the events rather than the person or the book in which the readers have been interested.

I have to try to tell you quite briefly, how the book came to be written and what was the philosophy that lay behind it. As I said just now, it was written because it had to be written and I suppose it is an example of what a great many men are still opposed to--the attempt to combine marriage and a career-and the fact that in certain situations this can be done, because I suppose never had any woman more interruptions to contend with than I had when I was trying to write this book. One of my children was born while I was in the process of writing it. I had also to move house as my family was growing larger. My husband became a parliamentary candidate in an election and I had to speak for him. Everybody that I had anything to do with became ill and I had to have something to do with their recovery. In fact, life was just one damned thing after another, and I suppose the fact that the book revived and got written was due to the fact that something was trying to express itself from a generation through the pen of one person and for some unknown reason. Fate elected me to be the person to make that particular type of expression.

I had known for quite a long time what I wanted to do. I wanted to show what the whole war period which had gone and after had meant not to women, as has often been said, but to my generation. I did not try to speak for men; I allowed the men to speak for themselves, as those of you who have read it know. I made a good deal of use of their letters, as I imagine many of you here who went through their experiences could write and probably did write. Probably you did not write them to somebody who had the habit of keeping letters or was bold enough to put them in a book. I claim in my introduction that I took three and a half years to write the book. Actually, I suppose, I really took about fifteen, because the germ was first in my mind when I came back from an experience that many of you have shared with me and which I cannot pretend that I went through in the way you went through it, although perhaps some of your feelings were reflected in the way I felt about it--I mean the great German Offensive of 1918 in France.

When I came back, although a very young girl, I felt that I had been rather steam-rolled through the events I had been living under. I had a great idea that something had been happening that had nothing to compare with it in the history of the world and I made a sort of record of that Offensive and my life in France in a semi-fictional form which never got publication, happening never to be submitted to any publisher without the common sense which most publishers possess. I did rescue certain parts of that contemporary record and did put them in my "Testament of Youth." When I had the book in my mind I also saw it as reflecting my own philosophy which is probably a more pacifist philosophy than many of you might be prepared to accept wholesale;, but it did involve a vehement protest against war as I had seen it and it became a plea for peace, not because women, like men, are not ready to suffer but because a war of the type of the last war does remove the best people from generation. The kind of propaganda that war propaganada is today does make its appeal to the young and the idealistic and the finest people who hear it, both the physically finest and the mentally most heroic. Therefore, in the Great War, from all the countries who took part in it, the finest people went and. a very large proportion of them did not come back and today I think nobody would refuse to admit that we are feeling, deeply feeling, particularly, perhaps, in England and France and Germany, which had the onslaught of the war from the beginning, the lack of those people of the middle generation who should now be taking their place in the councils of war and who now are not there to take it. So we have our international councils and our political affairs--I am speaking of England now. I don't know very much about Canadian politics--still very much in the hands of people whose minds were hard set before the war. The younger people are not old enough to take the responsibility from them; there are so few of my generation there to take it, and I think that gap is a constant reminder of the waste and futility of that type of war that involves the best of civilization and kills them off.

I also mean the book to be literature insofar as I could write literature. I didn't want it to be direct propaganda. There is a great work for direct propaganda to do and I am very glad that Beverley Nichol's book, "Cry Havoc," has had such a great success in this programme because I think that it puts certain problems connected with the manufacture of munitions, which can be very dull for the ordinary person to read about if they just appear in newspapers and pamphlets, in a most interesting light, and I think Beverley Nichols did a great work in making readable that particular type of war propaganda. I didn't just have that object in mind. I wanted the story I told to present a moral, if one can call it a moral, just by the sheer reality of the events of the story I had to tell. I didn't want to say until the end what my own (conclusions were, except quite indirectly.

Some people, particularly those who haven't read it, have suggested that "Testament of Youth" is chiefly an appeal to the emotions. A very well known woman critic in reviewing my book said, that while she must admit she hadn't read "Testament of Youth"--she was reading the poems--it would appear that the author holds it in her power to touch the human heart. She is a very fine poet herself and is inclined to be sarcastic of a mediocre poet such as I am. I would like to say to her and to everybody else that "Testament of Youth" was not intended to be, primarily, an appeal to the human heart. It was intended to appeal to the human head, although it had to give from the point of view I started to write it, a complete view of the shattering effects of war on the most intimate human relationships. Although such pictures cannot help but be moving to others who shared experiences of that kind, I didn't intend to make people weep; I wanted to make them think, because all the weeping in the world won't prevent another war.

It is only thought that will do that. That is one of the things I find myself having to say so often to women. Women still, as a whole are prepared to demonstrate in favour of peace but they are not yet prepared to study intensively the questions with which any complete picture of war and peace is tied up. I would like to see fewer women demonstrating vehemently in favour of peace and many more having a really intelligent idea of what lies at the back of those questions. I do not say that it is only women who do that but because I am a woman, I am prepared to indict my sex and not yours. I do say it is equally true of men.

In effect, "Testament of Youth" tries to say to the reader and this is, I suppose„ my philosophy, if one can state one's philosophy in a few phrases, this wastage of life and youth and joy actually happened and from it has resulted the world we know--the world of unemployment and chaos and depression in which every activity of life is hampered by lack of the first class men who fell in the war. Do you think that anything which has happened since has made that wastage worth while? Do you want such ruin to happen again? If not, what are you going to do about it? For if you don't do something that tragedy is bound to recur. Well, this book fell, naturally, into three parts with, of course, the highest tension at the concluding moment of the war when we weren't quite sure they weren't absolutely the concluding moments--the last year of the war we weren't quite sure whether we were going to win it or not.

I have been asked to read one of the passages about that high point of the war which has been selected to be broadcast on Armistice Day in Great Britain as a part of the British Broadcasting Company's programme, entitled, "Nineteen Eighteen." I am sorry if this bores you--I am reading by request and maybe some of you who went through the experiences with me will remember them as I do and will forgive me, I am sure,, for writing about what is so much less of experience for a woman, what could mean so much less risk to a woman at the base than it meant to you at the Front. When I think of the men who read my book, I always have a sort of inferiority complex because, for a long time, I thought a woman oughtn't to try to write a book about the war at all. That barrier of experience is always between us and you know so much I never can know! But I just had to put down what that experience meant to me.

"However long I may be destined to survive my friends who went down in the Flood, I shall never forget the crushing tension of those extreme days. Nothing had ever quite equalled them before--not the Somme, not Arras, not Passchendaele-far into our minds had crept for the first time the secret, incredible fear that we might lose the War. Each convoy of men that we took into be despatched, a few hours later, to England after a hasty wash and change of dressing, or to the cemetery after a laying-out too hurried to be reverent--gave way to a discouragement the none of us had met with in a great battle before.

"There's only a handful of us, Sister, and there seem to be thousands of them!" was the perpetual cry whether the patient came from Bapaume or Peronne or St. Quentin, where the enemy hordes, released from the Eastern Front, were trying to smash the Allied resistance before the rescuing Americans arrived in force. Day after day, while civilian refugees fled panic-stricken into Etaples from threatened villages further up the line, and the wounded, often unattended, came down in anything that would carry them--returning lorries, A.S.C. ambulances and even cattle-trucks--some fresh enemy conquest was first incredulously whispered and then published tentatively abroad. One after another, Peronne, Bapaume, Beaumont Hamel, were gone and on March 27th Albert itself was taken. Even Paris, we learnt, had been shelled by a long-range gun from seventy-five miles away. Gradually we became conscious that we were in the midst of what a War historian afterwards called, "The most formidable offensive in the history of the world."

"On the 4th of April, after a fortnight of fourteen-hour days, with the operating theatres going day and night, the "Fall-In" sounding continuously, and the day staff taking it in turns to be called up to help with night convoys, we limped wearily into the Mess for supper to hear a new and yet more hair-raising rumour.

"The Germans are in the suburbs of Amiens!" it ran round the tables.

We looked at each other, speechless, with blanched faces; I was probably as pale as the rest for I' felt as though cold fingers were exploring my viscera. We were already becoming a Casualty Clearing Station, with only the advance units at Abbeville between ourselves and the line; how much longer should we be able to remain where we were? How long until we too fled before the grey uniforms advancing down the road from Camiers? This horror ...... monstrous, undreamed of, incredible...... this was defeat. That night we began to pack our boxes. Each evening when we came off duty, we wondered whether the morning would find us still at our posts."

Then it describes how for a fortnight that state of tension went on and then occurred an incident which many of you will remember as having pulled together people far more important than the nurses who were at the base in the hospitals.

"Three weeks of such days and nights, lived without respite or off-duty time under the permanent fear of defeat and flight, reduced the staffs of the Etaples hospitals to the negative conviction that nothing mattered except to end the strain. England, panic-stricken, was frantically raising the military age to fifty and agreeing to the appointment of Foch as Commander-in-Chief, but to us with our blistered feet, our swollen hands, our wakeful, reddened eyes, victory and defeat began--as indeed they were afterwards to prove-to seem very much the same thing. On April 11th, after a dizzying rush of wounded from the new German offensive at Armentieres, I stumbled up to the Sisters' quarters for lunch with the certainty that I could not go on-and saw, pinned up on the notice-board in the Mess, Sir Douglas Haig's "Special Order of the Day." Standing there spellbound, with fatigue and despair forgotten, I read the words which put courage into so many men and woman whose need of endurance was far greater than my own."

And, I think, as we are so near to Armistice Day, it is perhaps well to remember, to recall the very fine words with which that manifesto ended:

"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man; there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment."

I suppose that the philosophy that is behind "Testament of Youth" is an attempt to show that the safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind still depend to a large extent, perhaps to as great an extent as it did in the War, upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment. We fought in the war and if we were defeatists we were regarded as very poor spirited people and yet when we encounter difficulties in this business of working for peace, we think it is quite all right to give way at the first difficulty, and so we say, "O, well, it won't work. The war machinery is a part of man; it is human nature and you cannot conquer human nature". In the war we had to conquer a good deal of human nature; we had to conquer fatigue and fear and death which, I suppose, is the last enemy human nature is ever capable of conquering. It seems to me, when we were able to do this thing in a time of war, we should be able to do it more so in the less dramatic, but none the less dramatic task of reconstruction.

So the last section of this book endeavours to point out that the endeavour to live for a country instead of dying for it was something just as important and perhaps requires a greater amount of courage than the splendid courage which laid down life in the war. That at any rate, is, T think, the only kind of appeal we can make to the youth of the present day. As I said last night, they are anxious to work, anxious to sacrifice themselves and perhaps our task today lies in trying to persuade them that the greater, grander glory lies in repudiating the glory of the flag, and in working for that distant and more difficult thing which we call a New Order, based upon the ruins of the past, but looking forward to something which those of us here will never see but which involves, as I tried to express in that quotation from Cicero in the beginning of the third part of "Testament of Youth," where you read he said, "So at last I care far more for that long age I shall never see than for the little I hold of time."

Well, "Testament of Youth" is an endeavour to try to persuade people to work for that long age even though they won't see it, instead of giving way to the passions and the hatreds and the dangers and the difficulties that occur to all of us in the little that we hold of time.

Well, I haven't really very much more to say. Some people have tried to make me account for the reason why this particular message I have tried to. give has been received with such great kindness on both sides of the Atlantic. I can explain it, perhaps, only in two ways first of all, that I did put into the book very intimate pictures of human relationships, very intimate incidents of love and grief and pain which are interesting, perhaps, for people to read but for which I have been criticized a good deal for making use of. I didn't do that for any reason of sensationalism or because I wanted to advertise myself or make people sorry for me. The last thing I wanted to do was to make people sorry for me. Let them grieve, if they wish, for those who didn't survive as I had the fortune to survive into this business of reconstruction. There is inspiration in reconstruction for if death is the end it is further opportunity. I did this because I thought it was one of the most effective ways of trying to persuade the youth of tomorrow to abstain from war, to try to seek any alternative to war that may be available because if they understand what war did to the most intimate human relationships, at least they would know the whole story and wouldn't be deceived by the kind of official records that remind most of us of the wars of the past history books and in official documents. If you read of the Napoleonic War you get the idea that it is really rather glorious, rather exciting and a great many important things happened, and you don't get the reaction of the ordinary man and woman. You don't get the record of the wives who lost fathers or the babies starved to death in one particular blockade. I wanted to tell what war did to human psychology and those precious relationships between lovers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and parents and children, of which the stuff of our private lives is made up for all of us. I felt if they knew that, if they understood what war did to a private life„ they would understand something more of the whole story than they ever could from official records. If they choose to go to war after that they at least know what they are going to get. They won't be deceived into thinking as my generation did, that war was grand, glorious, that these other things did not matter, that the suffering is comparatively unimportant.

That is one thing and the other thing is a change in the character of personal books themselves and a change in the attitude toward them. When I was first starting to write this book a young friend of mine, on being told I was doing an autobiography and not a novel said, very frankly, "I shouldn't have thought anything in your life was worth recording." That is the attitude, I think, of a past day when we thought people only justified in writing of themselves or their works if they were monarchs or statesmen or ambassadors whose names were known all over the world but today, with the development of psychology and the growth of Democracy, we have come to be interested in the life of the ordinary person, to feel that the ordinary person is perhaps more significant than the statesman because he is not artificially raised by humanity to his official position but that he or she shares the experiences which might come to any one of us and might make decisions that at some future times in our lives we, ourselves, might make. So life for an ordinary person, lived at a time when great events are likely to happen, has come, perhaps, to be the kind of autobiography which is most valuable to the type of world in which we are going to have to live in when the ordinary man and woman is coming to count more and more the history of the facts.

So, perhaps it is not vain glorious to hope that "Testament of Youth" may have that message I have suggested to the youth of tomorrow, may perhaps have some slight influence in deterring the young of the next generation from going to war without at least a great deal more thought than my generation put into the business of going to war and I hope it may have this effect upon them--not because it is in any way a literary masterpiece; I don't claim that for a moment, but because it is a story of a very typical woman who happened to live in a stupendous age. (Prolonged applause.)

Immediately following her address, Miss Brittain was presented with a beautiful sheaf of roses, the presentation being made by Professor E. H. Morrow of the MacMillan Publishing Company.

MR. DANA PORTER: I think that perhaps everyone is always most interested to tap for a moment the springs of creative genius and to get some inside view of the purpose behind the books that we read and the initiative which has created them. I think you will perhaps agree with me that one of the most striking features of Miss Brittain's address today is that she has revealed to us that she sees events not only in a perspective from the point of view of the past, but she sees them in a perspective from the point of view of the future.

I wish on behalf of the Club, to thank you, Miss Brittain, very much indeed for your most unusual and interesting address.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


A Personal Confession of Faith

The difficulty of talking in an impersonal way about one's own work and one's own views. What the speaker's book, "Testament of Youth" is all about. The book as an autobiography, not a novel. The impact of war on four young people. A synopsis of the events in the book. The literary work into which a book of this kind had to fit. A brief sketch of some of the events of 1933 to 1934 which have made the topics of peace and war two very important subjects of discussion. Ways in which people were ready for a book of the type of "Testament of Youth." The speaker's lack of expectation that her book would be read by men. How the book came to be written and the philosophy that lay behind it. Ways in which the book is literature as will as autobiography. The three parts into which the book naturally fell. The speaker reads from her book. What the book endeavours to do, to show, to persuade. A look at the book's reception, and reasons for it. Hope for the book's message.