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Testament of Friendship

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The author traces her friendship with the author, Winifred Holtby, from their meeting at Oxford to Holtby's death at the age of thirty-seven.


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The author traces her friendship with the author, Winifred Holtby, from their meeting at Oxford to Holtby's death at the age of thirty-seven.

30 review for Testament of Friendship

  1. 5 out of 5

    Graceann

    Unfortunately, Winifred Holtby is not well remembered today, even in her home country. The woman who wrote this book, Vera Brittain, has scarcely fared better, despite outliving Holtby by more than thirty years. This is a shame, because they are both worth remembering for numerous reasons. I was deeply moved by Brittain's "Testament of Youth," but if possible, I loved "Testament of Friendship" even more. Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and human rights activist who was active in the y Unfortunately, Winifred Holtby is not well remembered today, even in her home country. The woman who wrote this book, Vera Brittain, has scarcely fared better, despite outliving Holtby by more than thirty years. This is a shame, because they are both worth remembering for numerous reasons. I was deeply moved by Brittain's "Testament of Youth," but if possible, I loved "Testament of Friendship" even more. Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and human rights activist who was active in the years between the wars. Her life was taken by Bright's Disease in 1935, when she was only 37 years old. In the short time she was here, however, she made her mark, authoring several well-received books, including the classic "South Riding," having a distinctive effect on the publication "Time and Tide" and, most importantly to those who loved her, being an amazing friend to countless people from all walks of life. The disparity of lives in South Africa was a problem especially troublesome to her, and she spent most of her money and energy trying to make her complacent, prejudiced countrymen see reason at a time when it was more convenient to turn a blind eye. If Holtby had been more comfortably saying "No" to all the requests she received in the course of her professional and private life, she might have lived longer and had a more comfortable life. As it happened, however, she found it very difficult to refuse a plea for assistance from the friends and strangers who constantly found their way to her door. Vera Brittain was her closest friend, and became her biographer. In these pages, Brittain tells us what a singular, fascinating woman Winifred Holtby grew to be, and how much poorer the world is for her loss. Vera Brittain is a brilliant writer. Her ability to bring people to life through the use of language is admirable, and her pain, still so fresh (Holtby had only been gone four years at the time of the book's release) is palpable. She was also gifted in her choice of Holtby's poetry, letters and fiction in order to express just what we had lost in her passing.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I had to put Testament of Friendship down about ten pages from the end because I just couldn't bear it anymore. I was wracked with sobs--not just for Winifred Holtby, but for her mother (who outlived her whole family), for Vera Brittain (who saw everybody she loved die in the war, then her father and Winifred), for her long-time love Bill who never could get his act together until it was too late, and for everybody who knew her. Because it's a biography of Winifred written by her best friend, an I had to put Testament of Friendship down about ten pages from the end because I just couldn't bear it anymore. I was wracked with sobs--not just for Winifred Holtby, but for her mother (who outlived her whole family), for Vera Brittain (who saw everybody she loved die in the war, then her father and Winifred), for her long-time love Bill who never could get his act together until it was too late, and for everybody who knew her. Because it's a biography of Winifred written by her best friend, and contributed to by many other people who knew her well, references to her death appeared at every turn, even during the Oxford years, even during her childhood. I found it excruciating, especially since before reading this book, I had also read Testament of Youth (Brittain's memoir of the Great War and the years just before and just after), The Dark Tide (Brittain's first novel), Anderby Wold (Winifred's first novel) and South Riding (Winifred's posthumously-published masterpiece). Never in my whole reading life have I been better acquainted with an author--or really, two authors, Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby. I feel like I've just lost a friend, and she died nearly eighty years ago. To be clear, I gave this four stars because as a reading experience, I didn't like it as much as I liked Testament of Youth. It's possible that the reason I found this easier to put down was because I didn't actually want to get to the inevitable ending. Either way, Vera Brittain's writing is exquisite, as always, and I'm going to go put Winifred Holtby's whole output on my reading list. And re-read South Riding so I can cry over it again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A touching biography of one of my favourite writers, Winifred Holtby, by her great friend Vera Brittain. Brittain and Holtby met while studying at Somerville College, Oxford, and lived together for most of Winifred's short life, including after Vera married and had her two children. Born and raised in Yorkshire, Winifred Holtby is now best known for her last novel, South Riding, but, apart from her other novels and short stories, was an accomplished journalist and poet. She was involved in the w A touching biography of one of my favourite writers, Winifred Holtby, by her great friend Vera Brittain. Brittain and Holtby met while studying at Somerville College, Oxford, and lived together for most of Winifred's short life, including after Vera married and had her two children. Born and raised in Yorkshire, Winifred Holtby is now best known for her last novel, South Riding, but, apart from her other novels and short stories, was an accomplished journalist and poet. She was involved in the women's rights movement, especially after the rise in fascism in the late 1920s and '30s threatened to take away the hard-won advances that had been made earlier in the century, and, after a seven month trip to South Africa, she became an ardent supporter of native African rights, raising money and giving many speeches in Britain to increase awareness of the situation in South Africa. The subject of Holtby's death is never shied away from, and indeed is mentioned so often that it hints that Brittain had some difficulty coming to terms with it. It is almost as though only by reminding herself that Winifred is gone will she believe it, and I expect the book must have had some sense of catharsis for its writer. Having said that, anyone who has read Brittain's autobiography, Testament of Youth, will know that the death of many of her loved ones was something she was only too familiar with.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Catie

    Buddy read September 2016 w/ @bookmusings and @teresasimmons on IG

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Everyone should be lucky enough to have her best friend write her biography. This was a marvelous book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Helen Smith

    really liked it, but so sad and so moving

  7. 5 out of 5

    jillian

    Strengths: beautiful prose, focus on female friendship, exquisite portrait of a woman of the 1920s and 1930s who never married and died at thirty-seven years old, having famously penned the line, 'I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I’m going to spin.' Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain met at Oxford University after the First World War where they were both majoring in history. Vera, a tiny, dark and intense woman, kept to herself at school, for the most part, while Winifred, tall, blonde, an Strengths: beautiful prose, focus on female friendship, exquisite portrait of a woman of the 1920s and 1930s who never married and died at thirty-seven years old, having famously penned the line, 'I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I’m going to spin.' Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain met at Oxford University after the First World War where they were both majoring in history. Vera, a tiny, dark and intense woman, kept to herself at school, for the most part, while Winifred, tall, blonde, and generally laughing, was surrounded by friends. Vera shared a tutor with Winifred, & was amused and pleased when Winifred would often show up late for her lessons, her hair askew and her face flushed, having read few of her assignments. Winifred’s writing received stern critique by the tutor, while Vera’s was praised. Both women had served in the war, but while Winifred had seen violence, Vera had lost nearly everyone. Vera felt imperious about college — considering those who had stayed behind to attend college during the war shirkers who had known nothing of real life. She made her opinion clear to her peers, who grew weary of her lectures. One day the students decided to hold a debate on whether life experience or scholarly studies were more valuable in the long run. Vera was thrilled to be invited and intended to blast them all with a strong argument for life experience and against scholarly vegetation. She delivered her argument, and then Winifred Holtby stood, asking Brittain if her example of darkness and anger and clear dissatisfaction with life was the evidence in favor of life experience. Humiliated, Vera left the debate feeling she had lost, and feeling more than ever misunderstood. After several days, Winifred appeared in her room with a handful of grapes as a peace offering. From that point forward, until marriage took Vera, and death took Winifred, the two remained inseparable even when they were continents apart. They walked the gardens at Oxford for weeks. Winifred listened as Vera spoke to her of her losses, the terrors she felt every night, her profound loneliness. After college, they moved into a flat in London and became novelists together, discussing their work, and critiquing one another’s writing. When Vera married, Winifred felt the loss and departed for South Africa to begin a trip that opened her eyes. Vera moved to America with her husband and watched Winifred’s career soar as her own came to a halt. They exchanged letters & came together again like two magnets only months later. Winifred moved in with Vera and her husband and helped care for their children, and when she became ill, Vera helped care for her. Vera confided to Winifred that while she certainly loved her husband, she would never, ever love anyone as she loved Winifred. When Vera’s writing took off with the publication of Testament of Youth, Winifred encouraged her. And life, all too short, made every moment vital. Testament of Friendship, the second book in Brittain’s Testament trilogy, was supposed to be a biography of Winifred Holtby, the much-too-forgotten British author, reformer, and feminist of the early twentieth century who died of Bright’s disease at the height of her career at age thirty-seven. Brittain was asked to write a biography of her friend — to describe her work in South Africa, her feminism, her career. The book Brittain produced was born out of her grief, her admiration, and her love for a woman who changed her life, and who inspired her by always seeing the best in people, and always fighting for the best in the world. When Winifred died, Brittain considered that the third phase of her life had begun: she had been destroyed by war; Winifred had saved her. In 1935, she had to begin again. Brittain couldn’t write a flat biography on Winifred Holtby. It had to be a memoir — a memoir of friendship between two vastly different but equally strong women who decided to not to be rivals, after all, but to be soulmates. The result is a work I find magnificently inspiring. Winifred Holtby was a wonderful human. A valiant human. So was Brittain. Brittain drew on Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë for inspiration as she wrote this book. She wanted to write of female friendship. She notes in her prologue that female friendship is underrated in literature, while male friendship is held up as a standard. Her book sets out to illustrate a friendship between two women with the same reverence given to male friendship. The book is about Holtby — her work, her life, her home, her soul and sense of honor and sense of humor. But it is as much about the impact she had on Brittain’s life: the way she changed Brittain despite the certainty Brittain had that life was to be conquered rather than lived. By the time Winifred Holtby died she was well-known in British literary circles, having worked as the director of the feminist journal Time & Tideand just completed her posthumous masterpiece South Riding (which I have on my TBR.) The public clamored for a book about her. Virginia Woolf apparently felt that Brittain didn’t capture enough of Winifred Holtby’s work and life in Testament of Friendship, though the book actually covers Holtby’s life at school and in Yorkshire, her work in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during the war, her life at Oxford and development as a student, her life in London with Brittain after the war, her development as a writer, her thinking process in all of her novels, the story of the unrequited love of her life (Holtby’s philosophy: 'If I can’t have what I want, I’ll want what I have'), her feelings as Brittain met and fell in love with George Catlin, her awakening world perspective when she journeyed to South Africa (these passages are beautifully, beautifully written), her feminist work, her relentless work fighting apartheid, her struggle to write when her disease set in and family obligations demanded her time, the peace she made with death, the peace she made with unfairness in life, the way she gave to those she loved to the last minute, yet showed anguish when she learned of her fate. I think Brittain wrote a rich biography of her friend, telling not only of her accomplishments and her home, but of who she was at the soul, and how courageously she faced death. Brittain tells of Holtby’s fears, her hopes, her triumphs. She makes Holtby and her world come alive. And those final moments — when Holtby died — they are incredibly written. Brittain has the timing to write tragedy. She doesn’t over-egg it. She tells it so simply it falls like a raindrop. At one point near the end of the book, Holtby is on a ferry and sees a friend she served with in her war days. Knowing she’ll be dead soon, Holtby stands ramrod straight and holds a silent salute as the two pass. For me this was the most striking moment in the memoir and exemplifies Holtby’s incredible courage and strength. (I told this story to a friend at work as I was reading this, & she held her breath when I described that salute, asking, 'Where are the monuments to these women?' Where, indeed.) Months after reading this book, the incredible writing has not left me. The descriptions of South Africa, and Holtby’s home in Yorkshire (gorgeously described), the days at Oxford, and Winifred herself, have not left me. The poems by Holtby that begin each chapter — have not left me. The final moments, when Brittain watches her dearest friend die — have not left me. Somehow Brittain managed to write of the decline and death of her closest friend, and make it into something joyful, and hopeful, and life-affirming. This book awoke me, just as much as Testament of Youth did, but in a different way. In Testament of Youth, we see the very young Vera startled to life. She is basically destroyed, & stumbles up from the ashes of her former life into the vicinity of Winifred Holtby, & she tries to swing at her because she is angry with everything. But Holtby is so kind and funny and open that she will not fall, and Vera cannot help but come to know her. In Testament of Friendship,we see her made over again — into a woman not only focused on international affairs and peace and feminism, but the quiet delights. Writing, together. Collaborating on a story as two unknowns. Worrying about the heat and the bills. Alongside Holtby, who listens night after night to her terrors until she can find a place for them, we see her tentatively awake. We see deep conversations between two women who are shrewd and relentless and polar opposites and who do not let go until the final breath. We see them grow as writers together. We see them grow as humans together. Winifred Holtby dedicated her book  Women & a Changing Civilization  to Vera Brittain, calling her the woman who taught her how to be a feminist.  Testament of Friendship is the second book in Vera Brittain’s Testament trilogy. The final installment is Testament of Experience: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1925-50, which I own and intend to read. The last book is about Brittain’s marriage and experiment balancing a career and motherhood. It also apparently includes detail about her work for pacifism during the Second World War. Vera Brittain worked all her life to better the lives of women. In the 1930s, with the Second World War on the horizon, she urged women to awake: 'It was no good a woman becoming obsessed by the domestic routine, worrying about keeping her house clean and her children tidy, when ‘the ideal nursery and its inhabitants upon which so much of her time has been spent may be annihilated by enemy bombs within two or three years.’ If, as Vera believed, feminism proclaimed the equality of women with men, then feminism also gave women the responsibility to think about world affairs and take an active part in politics.' – from Vera Brittain a Life  Brittain tried to prove to other women that it was possible to be a mother (& wife), and still spend your life working — writing, traveling, making speeches, and involving yourself in politics. Her daughter, Shirley Williams (named after the protagonist in Charlotte Bronte’s lesser-known novel  Shirley ,) is Professor Emerita of Electoral Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has been politically active in the British Parliament for decades. When I picked up Testament of Friendship, I knew basically nothing about Winifred Holtby. I had never heard of her prior to reading Testament of Youth. Holtby appears near the end of Testament of Youth as Brittain’s rival at Oxford — but who Holtby would prove to be, and the impact her optimistic perspective would have on Brittain’s life, is not clear until Testament of Friendship. Since reading this book, Winifred Holtby has soared to the top of my list of writers to explore. I’ve just completed a collection of her poetry, and she may be one of my favorite poets. Her style is open and earthy and strong and joyful and REAL. I don’t think she writes anything like Brittain. Where Brittain is elegant and writes of enormous emotion in understated, almost clipped prose, contrasting that with brilliant descriptions of earth and sunrise, Holtby is open, blunt, straightforward, clever, and nearly laughing as she writes, it seems. I can’t wait to read to read  South Riding . I actually read the beginning already out of curiosity, & laughed aloud after only a few pages. The book is amusing and joyful as it opens, which is phenomenal considering Holtby wrote it knowing she was dying. I think her happy spirit must have been infectious. Brittain makes clear, though, that alongside Holtby’s joy was a shrewd mind out to change the world. If she mourned anything, it was lack of time. I can’t wait to see some of her energy in not only her novels, but her non-fiction. 'The closer one person has been to another, the greater is the need for time to elapse in order that the bitterness of loss and the arbitrary selections of memory may be modified by perspective and detachment… I can therefore only plead for understanding and forgiveness when I say I could no more have produced a truthful study of the best friend whom life has given me in the months directly following her death, than I could have written Testament of Youth immediately after 1918.'  'She knew I should understand that for her, even more than before, the most important thing in life was to write books which would enshrine some permanent quality of truth and beauty, simply because this had always been the most important thing in life for myself.'  'In portraying the numerous minor characters of [South Riding], Winifred’s lifelong endeavor to understand other people’s emotions in the light of her own experience approaches a superhuman wisdom and clarity. She was drawing so close to the border-line between life and death that she saw men and women as the God of Mercy sees them, with infinite pity and loving comprehension.'

  8. 5 out of 5

    John Scothern

    Took me a while but I got there eventually! I found it useful as an illustration of the social background of the writer and Winifred Holtby, as well as of their travels, experiences and deep, enduring friendship during the post-war period. So sad that Winifred Holtby died young, but what a lot she packed into it, nevertheless. Making every day count is a lesson that I take away from the book. She was an amazing, truly exceptional and gifted lady who - it seems to me - seldom took a step backward Took me a while but I got there eventually! I found it useful as an illustration of the social background of the writer and Winifred Holtby, as well as of their travels, experiences and deep, enduring friendship during the post-war period. So sad that Winifred Holtby died young, but what a lot she packed into it, nevertheless. Making every day count is a lesson that I take away from the book. She was an amazing, truly exceptional and gifted lady who - it seems to me - seldom took a step backwards. Showing courage and an ability to adapt to and work through difficult and tragic situations, she was nevertheless ever ready to celebrate the beauty and delights encountered in her brief life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    How wonderful to have such a marvelous biography written about you by your best friend - and how wonderful to be such a deserving subject! I read Vera Brittain's biography of Winifred Holtby after finding WH's "South Riding" on a list of supposedly 'Forgotten Classics' - and loving it. I wanted to know more about her, and doubt I could have found a better biographer. Vera Brittain's writing is so beautiful that I am now committed to reading as much of her work as possible - starting with Testament How wonderful to have such a marvelous biography written about you by your best friend - and how wonderful to be such a deserving subject! I read Vera Brittain's biography of Winifred Holtby after finding WH's "South Riding" on a list of supposedly 'Forgotten Classics' - and loving it. I wanted to know more about her, and doubt I could have found a better biographer. Vera Brittain's writing is so beautiful that I am now committed to reading as much of her work as possible - starting with Testament of Youth.

  10. 4 out of 5

    MadgeUK

    This is the second of Vera Brittain's autobiographical trilogy and gives a loving account of her deep friendship with the Yorkshire born author, journalist and political activist, Winifred Holtby, whom she met at Oxford. Both of these women were pioneers in their day but sadly, are now largely forgotten.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Helen Billington

    This is a marvellous book of its time, written in 1939 it is a biography of Yorkshire writer Winifred Holtby. I read Vera Brittain's other 'Testament' books whenI was a student in the 80s and had forgotten that I hadn't read this until it popped up as an Amazon suggested read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Winter Sophia Rose

    Beautifully Poetic!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Helen Meads

    Another one I’d had on the shelves for years - this one recommended by my mother (who died in 1981). Unique insight into he world of pacifist campaigning.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Winifred Holtby was a name I recognised but in the past knew little about save that I recently enjoyed the BBC's adaptation of South Riding. So I was fascinated to read about what turned out to be an astonishing woman who appeared to be ahead of her time and died at a point in her writing life when she would probably have gone on to produce astonishing literature. Vera Brittain writes a very touching biography of her friend who she met at Oxford in 1919 as she was one of the first generation of Winifred Holtby was a name I recognised but in the past knew little about save that I recently enjoyed the BBC's adaptation of South Riding. So I was fascinated to read about what turned out to be an astonishing woman who appeared to be ahead of her time and died at a point in her writing life when she would probably have gone on to produce astonishing literature. Vera Brittain writes a very touching biography of her friend who she met at Oxford in 1919 as she was one of the first generation of women to study for a degree. As we see both women are deeply affected by their experiences of the First World War and they live together in London as Holtby develops a career in Journalism and writing. Holtby is a woman who appears to have no limit to her emotional generosity and empathy as she manages crises for friends and family at the same time as energetically running a career as journalist and then editor of Time and Tide a literary magazine. As Vera Brittain marries Holtby tours South africa and lectures including outspokenly championing the rights of native South Africans and continuing that cause on her return, as I said a woman ahead of her time. The book also poignantly touches on her personal losses including perhaps most movingly her lost love Bill a friend affected by the war and leading subsequently an almost lost life. Winifred Holtby is a woman loyal to her friends and family who gives herself without any demands and her death at a prematurely early age is moving, perhaps most of all as it is only after her death that her loss seems most acute. It is a life that deserves to be celebrated more and this is a brilliant book to start as a very personal tribute. It makes me now want to reread Testament of Youth.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    This is probably very much a book of its time as it felt so dated in a way that many older books don't. The language was far too flowery for me and I didn't feel that we got to know the real Winifred Holtby. It is obvious that her early death left a huge gap in Vera Brittain's life and this tribute to her may have helped in the grieving process but as a book it did not thrill me. I rarely leave a book before I have finished it but I have really had enough of this one.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Judy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Fearn

  18. 4 out of 5

    Monica Sakellariou

  19. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Skinner

  20. 5 out of 5

    Krista

  21. 4 out of 5

    Honestmitten

    a must read after Testament of Youth.... and although this was read in 1980, at 14 years, I look back and recall how it made changed my opinion of the female "friends" at school at the time and how I became more selective in the friends I sought and valued in the intervening years...... I am indebted to being introduced so early to the writings of Vera Brittain & Winifred Holtby and feminist writers that followed as a result.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  23. 5 out of 5

    Becky

  24. 4 out of 5

    Liz Muir

  25. 4 out of 5

    Winka

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jia-Yi

  27. 4 out of 5

    Onss

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tina

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charles W. Kilpatrick

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bookmusings

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