Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Profile in Courage

I recommend Chronicle of Youth: The War Diary 1913-1917 by Vera Brittain to all, especially to young women. Brittain wrote a novel based on her diaries, Testament of Youth, which was made into a highly acclaimed BBC movie of the same name.In their spontaneity, freshness, depth of thought and emotion, her diaries represent a unique document of the life if young people in Britain at the brink of World War I and how in 1914 their lives were dramatically disrupted and changed "in the twinkling of an eye."

As she writes on August 25, 1914, "Truly, we of this generation are born to a youth very different from anything we even supposed or imagined for ourselves. Trouble and disasters are menacing us the nature of which we cannot even guess at."

And again on September 3, "It is so strange how the very fact of going to Oxford...is transformed by the same grey despondent mist that alters everything now. Despondent is not quite the word for we are too proud to be really that. So it seems that sad word, 'joy,' must be banished from our vocabularies, and that if it is ever reinstated, it will be sadder than ever because of the toll of our lives that will have paid for it. This is no longer a time to see how much enjoyment one can get out of life, but to see how much courage and strength one can give to it. Not self-satisfaction, but self-sacrifice is the order of the day... There are only two things possible now--to act when that can be done--and to endure--to endure grief and disappointment with patience and courage, and with a brave cheerfulness which will make other people's burdens seem more bearable to them."

Brittain left Oxford and became a nurse until the war's end.


Edward Brittain, Vera's brother, Roland Leighton, her fiance, and close friend, Victor Richardson--all killed in the war.

At the time that she wrote these diaries, Brittain knew that she wanted to be a writer and they were for her an explicitly literary outlet. This does not detract from their truth, but only makes her record more vivid. Miss Brittain was a top honors student all of her young life, as were her friends, both male and female. In numbers of ways, her diary stunningly highlights the paucity of the culture of many youth today. She tells how she fell in love with Roland Leighton and their deep love for each other--although they kissed only once--far different than the sex-drenched but loveless relationships many young people experience today. You can read some of their letters online.

5 comments:

willow said...

This looks like something I would really enjoy. I am fascinated with historic letters. Thanks for the recommendation!

Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me of reading about the many British women who never married because of the great number of men killed in WWI.

I just found the following link. According to a reviewer on Amazon, Vera Brittain's story is also part of Singled Out - How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War -

http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryOther/HistoryofWomen/?view=usa&ci=9780195378221

This quote: "...to endure grief and disappointment with patience and courage, and with a brave cheerfulness which will make other people's burdens seem more bearable to them," reminded me of this essay on the changing British character over the last century.

http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_4_otbie-british_character.html

Your comment is right on: "...how she fell in love with Roland Leighton and their deep love for each other--although they kissed only once--far different than the sex-drenched but loveless relationships many young people experience today."

What a pity for young people, the media's part in this. How many of them don't even know that something more is possible.

Donna

Hummingbird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

British author Patricia St. John was a nurse during WWI and she wrote in her autobiography "An Ordinary Woman's Extraordinary Faith" of her wartime loss: "I had just heard that the only man I had ever wanted to marry had been killed in Crete. There had been other possibilities, but my ideal of manhood was a high one. All but that one had fallen short. In none other had I ever sensed quite that same simple compassionate integrity and cleanness of life." However, she continues, "But some of these casualties had worse troubles than I had."

I love her autobiography. It's sold on amazon and there is also a US edition with the title "Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story"

http://www.kingsleypress.com/patricia-st-john-tells-her-own-story.php

Donna

Anonymous said...

One final comment - I think :-)

It's interesting to read the response of some of the students, who seem to suddenly realize there is another way, when a modern-day chaste courtship that was part of a documentary was shown in their secular college class:

"...a secular college professor who told me:

'I use that video of Chad and Heidi in my college class every semester. I have girls in tears who have lost their virtue. I have guys who are speechless. I have young men who have ‘partied,' and they look me right in the eye and say, ‘that's the way I want to get married.'

'A young man from Florida with no church or religion said, ‘that's the way it ought to be.'

'Every semester I have shown it in the class, the response comes immediately: ‘I'm saving myself for my husband. This is how I want to live and how I want to court.''

The professor told me that a silence falls over the class while the video is playing. Then he said, "When Chad and Heidi kiss, every semester kids burst into tears.

He viewed some as tears of regret and some as tears of commitment."

Chad and Heidi's story, among others, is on this link:

http://www.ylcf.org/courtship-stories/eves.htm

Donna