Vera Brittan: Testament of Youth

Vera Brittan recounts her fight for her independent self as an uphill battle. We get this, as it seems that she is engaged in a Sisyphus task in order for her to accomplish her education.

Our hero is put to test her belief; the devil is society, her milieu.

I find it amazing how Beauty for these Victorian writers seems to be the highest ideal of all. Edmund Gosse, for example, became offended because zealots in the Christian community destroyed pieces of art in museums. Vera Brittan, p.48, says that ‘…my sexual curiosity was always a bad second to my literary ambition.’ And war is ‘…an infuriating personal interruption …’ to her studies.

The appreciation of a literary education is on a higher pedestal, and a higher social class. There is no higher aspiration than to acquire a profound knowledge of the arts, letters and conversation. Social life is at best a nuisance, an obstacle to that end. Although fine coterie is desired.

Spanish philosopher and novelist writer Miguel de Unamuno comes to mind at times when one is reading this autobiography. He comes to mind so much because this autobiography has what he terms ‘intrahistoria’ that is, the story of the common people, away from the shakers and movers of power.

World events were just in the way for her, hindering progress, her way for an upper education. There is much time spent brooding over how these significant events like war, Edward the seventh’s postponed coronation or the death of the Queen played little importance in the life of Brittan in the early chapters of the novel. (p.98,110)

Our pity is for her, the invocation of pity according to Aristolean principles that leads to catharsis?

This histrionics idea bothers me more and more. I suppose she is bound to histrionics (hysteria?) but only, I believe, in her life, the hurdles she encounters on way to meet her goals. I would prefer to name those acts as acts of indignity. She is indignant at how others react to her femininity, gender. How she developed this acute sense of independence is not told I believe, but her impulse, metered by her patience and temperament, is in the end met. One thing disturbs me here though, inasmuch as men are granted the belief that they are ‘predestined’ for X why isn’t this same belief granted to females? Robert Graves after all did the same, although he expressed it in the name of valour, is this a minimizing of the female voice once again?

Wherein lies the feminine here? In the way her indignant voice comes out? In the display of shock at the behaviour of her surrounding ‘barbarian’ society which fails to include women? I believe this is so since she is battling a society bent in turning down her best desires. She asserts herself as a woman through many emotional perils.