Sunday, April 19, 2009

TSS: Vera Brittain's Because You Died

The Sunday

First of all I would like to send a shout out and say way to go to all the Read-A-Thon participants. I have not had a chance to read through any read-a-thon posts yet but I am sure you all rocked and had a great time. Hopefully, I will be joining you again for the next one.

My first order from The Book Depository arrived Friday afternoon and I could not have been more thrilled to pull that package out of my mailbox. I knew as soon as I discovered The Book Depository that I would order Because You Died, a collection of Vera Brittain's poetry and prose, first because I really wanted to read it but it is not available here in the States.

I first discovered Vera Brittain's writing about ten years ago during a history class in college. We were doing a unit on WWI when my professor showed us video that quoted from Brittain's Testament of Youth. I don't even know what was quoted now but I remember being intrigued and scribbling her name down so I would not forget it. I was able to track down a copy of Testament of Youth at the library but as soon as I started reading it I knew I needed my own copy. When I went to order a copy for myself I also found and ordered a published copy of her war diary and a compilation of the letters between Brittain, her brother, fiance and two friends from the war.
I am not sure why Vera Brittain's account of the war sucked me in so completely. I imagine it is probably because WWI seemed like such a male dominated period of history and here was something that gave the female perspective on this horrible war. Here was the aftermath, the lives of those left behind to pick up the pieces.

Mark Bostridge and the people at Virago have put together a really lovely volume of Vera Brittain's poetry and prose from the first World War and after. The first half of the book is the poetry with lots of photographs and the second half of the volume contains selections of prose. I've just started reading the prose section today and am hoping to read through the rest of it this afternoon and evening.
I thought it was interesting to read her piece on working in the German ward while at the field hospital at Etaples, France. I think the beginnings of Brittain's later pacifism can be traced in part to this experience.
"But when I think of Edward in one part of France working to annihilate these very same people that I in another part am working to save, I begin to realise the folly and tragedy of war in a way I never did before."
Vera Brittain's writing reminds us that women did play a major roll in and were very much effected by the war and that their experiences should be represented in literature and history. I think there seems to be a decent amount of writing about women's experiences during the Second World War but a substantially less amount from WWI. Maybe I am wrong though and just have not been steered in the right direction to find more women's history from that war. I'll have to keep looking into it.
I am sure I will have more to say when I have finished reading.

I also received a second book from The Book Depository this weekend, Two People by A.A. Milne. I am very eager to begin reading this book. This story about marriage is sure to be a vastly different reading experience from reading Milne's Winnie the Pooh series, the only books by Milne that I've read.

I am going to have to refrain from ordering more from The Book Depository. While the shipping is free, the books are not. I have, however, filled my wish list with more than 20 books that I would like to order. Wouldn't it be so nice to be able to order them all?


Marg said...

I have heard of Vera Brittain but I don't recall hearing much about her! This sounds as though it could be really interesting. Thanks for posting about it!

Jennifer Dee said...

Vera Brittain is one of my all time favourite authors. I thought I had read all of her works but this one passed me by. I shall now go onto Amazon and order it. Have you read any of her friend Winifred Holtby? If not please do; 'South Riding' is what she is known by. If you look onto the Peresphone web site they have another of her books 'The Crowded Street', which I think is very good. Unfortunatley she died very young another blow for Vera Brittain. Please read 'Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War' by Helen Zenna Smith real name Evadne Price; this is a real account of woman Ambulance driver during WW1.

Molly said...

I wanted to say THANK YOU for your kind encouraging comments regarding the readathon! I hope you are able to join us in October -- it was a blast!!