Chronicle of Youth

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Testament of Youth (1933) is perennially moving and, for better or for worse, still helps define our response to #WW1 but for an authentic and visceral insight into what it was really like to (a) be Vera Brittain and (b) live through the early years of the War in a provincial English town, a chilly Oxford college and a miserable nurses’ home, then read her diaries, published as Chronicle of Youth in 1981. —- Reading Chronicle, I alternated between wanting to slap the young Vera for her snobbery (almost obligatory at the time) and superiority (in her defence, she bewitchingly pretty, seriously clever, and unbelievably hard-working) – and hug her for being so unpopular and uptight, so emotionally vulnerable, so naïve – and so desperately unhappy so much of the time. Like the author of Testament, the author of Chronicle demonstrates no understanding of the wider causes of the Great War and holds no strategic overview; she simply describes, day by exhilarating, excruciating day, the creeping onset of hostilities and gradual realisation of horrors. And, since there is no benefit of hindsight and no poetical honing of emotions, the cruel spikes of sudden death and each crashing wave of grief are all the more terrible in their rawness and incomprehension. (Although, as when watching Titanic for the umpteenth time, one desperately hopes that just this once the iceberg may float on past…) —- There is a further fascinating difference between Testament and Chronicle; the telling of VB’s relationship with Roland Leighton. Whilst Testament revisits this into a sweetly conventional love story, the latter hints at the tangled web of emotions and uncomfortable ambiguities on both sides – and it is precisely this untidy authenticity that makes this book (usefully read in tandem with Berry and Bostridge’s biography Vera Brittain: A Life) so gripping for a novelist. —- I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, nothing – not even Alicia Vickander looking beautiful in her beret or Sam Claflin acting tortured in his dugout – beats reading contemporary accounts of the #GreatWar all their bigotry and bravery, heartbreaking idealism and false hopes. #amreading

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About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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