Fall down the rabbit hole with us! In our Reading Intersections series, we’ll give you a place to start and where to go next, piling titles on until you’re neck-deep in books, and movies on a similar theme.
This is the movie adaptation of Vera Brittain’s classic World War I memoir by the same name. Even if really sad coming of age stories set before, during and after World War I are not your thing, the cinematography alone makes this movie worth seeing.
“Handsomely mounted, skillfully acted, exquisitely photographed and genuinely touching, Testament of Youth is one of those rare film experiences that is just about perfect. An unforgettable mosaic of World War I, it is based on the best-selling memoir published in 1933 by feminist author Vera Brittain, a nurse on the front lines who counted her fiancé, her beloved brother and all of their friends among the casualties. But while this remarkable film, adapted by Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls) and directed by James Kent, does not flinch from showing the atrocities and agonies of the victims, it’s more about the shifting social changes on the British home front and the effect of the loss of life on the people left behind than the action in the trenches. It’s too long and sometimes paced too slow for its own good, but the rewards of watching more than two hours of the revered Ms. Brittain’s pacifist chronicle, which took her 17 years to complete, are monumental.”
Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth : an Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 1933
This was Brittain’s first book and is one of several autobiographies and memoirs she wrote spanning her life into the 1950s. The others, Testament of Experience, covers 1925 to 1950, and Testament of Friendship is about her close association with author Winifred Holtby (who gets a cameo in the movie).
“In 1915 Vera Brittain abandoned her studies at Oxford to enlist as a nurse in the armed services. Before the war was over she had served in London, Malta, and close to the Western Front in France–and she had lost all the men she loved. Out of that experience came this cauterizing book, at once a memoir and an elegy for the bright, passionate generation who came of age on the eve of the war and vanished in its trenches.”
There are several other memoirs by nurses in World War I. They aren’t available in our library system, but we would be happy to get them for you through Interlibrary Loan.
Bagnold, Enid. A Diary Without Dates.
Borden, Mary. Forbidden Zone.
Rathbone, Irene. We That Were Yong.
A Little To The Left:
Graves, Robert. Good-Bye To All That 1929.
This is a classic World War I memoir written in the post war period that focuses on the war as a breaking point with the old order of England. However, it is from the perspective of an officer in the trenches. It captures a lot of the bitterness and trauma felt by soldiers returning from the war.
“In 1929 the author went to live abroad permanently, vowing ‘never to make England my home again’. This book is an account of his life up until that ‘bitter leave-taking’: from his childhood and desperately unhappy school days at Charterhouse, to his time serving as a young officer in the First World War that was to haunt him throughout his life.”
Sassoon, Siegfried. The war poems of Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon was an associate of Graves and well he wrote awesome poetry so I had to put him in here.
“In later years, Sir Rupert Hart-Davis writes in his introduction, when Siegfried Sassoon had written much else in prose and verse, he was annoyed at always being being referred to simply as a war poet, but it was the Great War that turned him into a poet of international fame, and I feel sure that his ghost will forgive me for thus bringing together these magnificently scarifying poems.”
Ok so technically it’s all true since we’ve been talking about memoirs, but how about some non-fiction to give your memoirs some context.
“First Aid Nursing Yeomanry during the First World War. Examining their experiences on the Western Front with the Belgian, British and French Armies, this book shows how the FANY worked as nurses and ambulance driver-mechanics, inspiring stories of female heroism and solidarity. The FANY created skilled gendered performances against the cultural myths of the time, and in concert with their emerging legend. Coming from privileged backgrounds, they drew upon and subverted traditional arrangements, crafting new and unconventional identities for themselves.”
“The number of soldiers wounded in World War I is, in itself, devastating: over 21 million military wounded, and nearly 10 million killed. On the battlefield, the injuries were shocking, unlike anything those in the medical field had ever witnessed. The bullets hit fast and hard, went deep and took bits of dirty uniform and airborne soil particles in with them. Soldier after soldier came in with the most dreaded kinds of casualty: awful, deep, ragged wounds to their heads, faces and abdomens. And yet the medical personnel faced with these unimaginable injuries adapted with amazing aptitude, thinking and reacting on their feet to save millions of lives.”
In a tented field hospital on the coast of France, doctors, nurses, and volunteers work together to heal the bodies and souls of men wounded in the trenches of WWI. The hospital is a frontier: between the battlefield and home front but also between the old rules, hierarchies, class distinctions, and a new way of thinking.
A Farewell to Arms 1957
“Based on the Ernest Hemingway novel, this World War I drama follows American soldier Lt. Frederick Henry (Rock Hudson) and his romance with a nurse, Catherine Barkley (Jennifer Jones). While fighting alongside the Italian army, Frederick is separated from Catherine, who is pregnant with his child. After helping locals escape to freedom, Frederick searches for Catherine while enemy forces hunt him across Italy. But Catherine’s poor health may prevent Frederick from reaching her in time.”