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Poor Darling

Jean McNicol, 21 March 1996

Vera BrittainA Life 
by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge.
Chatto, 581 pp., £25, October 1995, 0 7011 2679 5
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Vera BrittainA Feminist Life 
by Deborah Gorham.
Blackwell, 330 pp., £20, February 1996, 0 631 14715 2
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... Soon after Vera Brittain returned to continue her interrupted studies at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1919, she began to avoid mirrors, believing that there was a dark shadow, like the beginnings of a beard, on her chin. A strikingly pretty woman with a concomitant interest in clothes she was thoughtfully given a college room containing five large mirrors: ‘I avoided it from breakfast till bedtime and if ever I had to go in to change my clothes or fetch a book, I pressed my hands desperately against my eyes lest five identical witches’ faces should suddenly stare at me from the cold remorseless mirrors ...

Determined to Spin

Susan Watkins, 22 June 2000

The Clear Stream: A Life of Winifred Holtby 
by Marion Shaw.
Virago, 335 pp., £18.99, August 1999, 1 86049 537 0
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... of a minor classic of the critical portrait-of-England genre. And that flatmate, pretty, political Vera Brittain. And that busy, unconventional household: the two women – radical liberals, feminists – writing, talking and organising as they brought up Vera’s two children; the sensitive American academic (the ...

Living Doll and Lilac Fairy

Penelope Fitzgerald, 31 August 1989

Carrington: A Life of Dora Carrington 1893-1932 
by Gretchen Gerzina.
Murray, 342 pp., £18.95, June 1989, 0 7195 4688 5
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Lydia and Maynard: Letters between Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes 
edited by Polly Hill and Richard Keynes.
Deutsch, 367 pp., £17.95, September 1989, 0 233 98283 3
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Mazo de la Roche: The Hidden Life 
by Joan Givner.
Oxford, 273 pp., £18, July 1989, 0 19 540705 9
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Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby: A Working Partnership 
by Jean Kennard.
University Press of New England, 224 pp., £24, July 1989, 0 87451 474 6
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Dangerous by Degrees: Women at Oxford and the Somerville College Novelists 
by Susan Leonardi.
Rutgers, 254 pp., $33, May 1989, 0 8135 1366 9
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The Selected Letters of Somerville and Ross 
edited by Gifford Lewis.
Faber, 308 pp., £14.99, July 1989, 0 571 15348 8
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... tradition. Her authors are Dorothy Sayers, Margaret Kennedy, Muriel Jaeger, Doreen Wallace, Vera Brittain, Winifred Holtby. In Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby: A Working Partnership, Jean Kennard looks at their experiment in friendship as an idea of ‘the second self, someone close enough to be ...

The Real Johnny Hall

Penelope Fitzgerald, 3 October 1985

Our Three Selves: A Life of Radclyffe Hall 
by Michael Baker.
Hamish Hamilton, 386 pp., £13.95, June 1985, 0 241 11539 6
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... the book sincere, but overemphatic. The Times Literary Supplement also called it sincere, and Vera Brittain said it was ‘admirably restrained’. It sold quite well, going into a second impression, and Radclyffe Hall, with her lover Una Troubridge, thought of taking a cottage in Rye. She may have felt some disappointment, having planned her novel ...

You’re only interested in Hitler, not me

Susan Pedersen: Shirley Williams, 19 December 2013

Shirley Williams: The Biography 
by Mark Peel.
Biteback, 461 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 1 84954 604 1
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... even as a child that her father was not the person who counted. That would be her mother: Vera Brittain. Brittain became a household name on both sides of the Atlantic in 1933, three years after Williams’s birth, with the publication of her war memoir, Testament of Youth. As the millions who have read that ...

On Jews Walk

Andrew Saint: Eleanor Marx’s Blue Plaque, 9 October 2008

... got lashings of Latin American braid and a naval brass band, bemusing the residents of Richmond. Vera Brittain in Holborn elicited a family reunion of Brittains, Catlins and Williamses. Eleanor Marx’s event, arranged by the Sydenham Society on 9 September, felt like a last hurrah for the elderly socialists gathered to salute a fallen heroine. ‘The ...

Playing Fields, Flanders Fields

Paul Delany, 21 January 1982

War Diary 1913-1917: Chronicle of Youth 
by Vera Brittain, edited by Alan Bishop.
Gollancz, 382 pp., £8.50, September 1981, 0 575 02888 2
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The English Poets of the First World War 
by John Lehmann.
Thames and Hudson, 144 pp., £6.95, August 1981, 0 500 01256 3
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Voices from the Great War 
by Peter Vansittart.
Cape, 303 pp., £7.95, November 1981, 0 224 01915 5
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The Little Field-Marshal: Sir John French 
by Richard Holmes.
Cape, 427 pp., £12.50, November 1981, 0 224 01575 3
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... When Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth was published in 1933 it struck a deep chord among those in England who felt, as she did, that their youth had been ‘smashed up’ by the Great War. Nearly a million men of their generation lay buried in Flanders and Gallipoli; many of those who remained felt condemned to hollow lives, haunted by loss and grief ...

Great Warrior

Robert Wohl, 21 January 1982

Memoirs of War 1914-15 
by Marc Bloch, translated by Carole Fink.
Cornell, 177 pp., £9, July 1980, 9780801412202
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... who have derived their idea of what the war was like from Robert Graves, Erich Maria Remarque or Vera Brittain may be surprised, and even slightly shocked, by what they find in these pages. There is no bitterness towards those held responsible for the war, no sense of betrayal by the older generation, no shattering of dearly held illusions, no dwelling ...

Faculty at War

Tom Paulin, 17 June 1982

Re-Reading English 
edited by Peter Widdowson.
Methuen, 246 pp., £7.95, March 1982, 0 416 31150 4
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Against Criticism 
by Iain McGilchrist.
Faber, 271 pp., £12.50, May 1982, 0 571 11922 0
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... in 1893. For a long time this remained largely a women’s course and in The Women at Oxford Vera Brittain noted that English was commonly dismissed as ‘pink sunsets’. In the 1920s English freed itself from its dependent status as an element in the study of ‘the national culture’ and became an autonomous academic subject whose prestige was ...

Mr Dug-out and His Lady

Helen McCarthy: Woman’s Kingdom, 19 November 2020

Endell Street: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran World War One’s Most Remarkable Military Hospital 
by Wendy Moore.
Atlantic, 376 pp., £17.99, April, 978 1 78649 584 6
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... but it was essentially liberal and individualistic. It attracted younger feminists such as Vera Brittain, who was weary of the sex war and demanded only the ‘recognition of women as human beings’.Murray and Anderson had struggled for that too, but did so through a politics rooted in female community. Feminism remained a major force between the ...

Courage, mon amie

Terry Castle: Disquiet on the Western Front, 4 April 2002

... student, I read and acquired the obvious classics: Graves, Owen, Sassoon, Remarque, Barbusse, Brittain, Fussell. But I had lots of other fads and hobbies going too: opera, Baroque painting, Kurosawa films, the Titanic, the Romanovs, trashy lesbian novels. Sometimes my preoccupations overlapped: I became fascinated, for example, with the long World War One ...

For a Lark

Patricia Beer, 21 March 1996

Hearts Undefeated: Women’s Writing of the Second World War 
edited by Jenny Hartley.
Virago, 302 pp., £12.99, May 1995, 9781853816710
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... hands at rendering the speech of those less fortunate than themselves. A mere corporal addressed Vera Brittain as she was seeing her children off to America: ‘I’m sending the wife and kid. She don’t want to go but I tells her ...’ And so on. Hilary Wayne of the ATS made the preposterous statement: ‘Before I joined up I took my voice for ...

C (for Crisis)

Eric Hobsbawm: The 1930s, 6 August 2009

The Morbid Age: Britain between the Wars 
by Richard Overy.
Allen Lane, 522 pp., £25, May 2009, 978 0 7139 9563 3
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... rate more than two lines in Overy’s index – of the Eugenics Society’s Charles Blacker, of Vera Brittain, Cyril Burt, G.D.H Cole, Leonard Darwin, G. Lowes Dickinson, E.M. Forster, Edward Glover, J.A. Hobson, Aldous and Julian Huxley, Storm Jameson, Ernest Jones, Sir Arthur Keith, Maynard Keynes, Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Basil Liddell Hart, Bronislaw ...

Mother-Haters and Other Rebels

Barbara Taylor: Heroine Chic, 3 January 2002

Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage 
by Elaine Showalter.
Picador, 384 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 330 34669 5
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... icon enthusiasts, turning to each other for heroic inspiration. For Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Vera Brittain, the ideal was Olive Schreiner, who in turn liked to imagine herself a second Mary Wollstonecraft (‘the greatest of all English women’). The young Juliet Mitchell, we are told, identified with Margaret Mead, while the influential critic and ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine, 3 December 1981

The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... and Lady Lloyd-George) and royals (Princess Marina, Queen Victoria Eugénie, the Princess Royal). Vera Brittain, Ivy Williams (‘the first woman to be called to the English bar’) and Rachel Crowdy (she ‘belonged to a generation when women had to possess very obvious strength of character if they were to attain recognition’) are the only women who ...

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