Genre: Autobiography / Memoir, War
Narrative Structure: Chronological, First Person
Synopsis: Brittain was just about to go to Oxford when the first world war broke out and interrupted her and her friends lives. This memoir details her life before, during and after the war, describing the losses to her personally and to the country as a whole.
I remember when the film of this memoir came out a few years ago and I saw the trailer and I decided there was no way I would watch it because they all just seemed so unbearably posh. I would have done well to remember this before I started to read this. All the way through this, Brittain’s sense of her own worth and the privileges she felt she was losing because of the war were incredibly annoying. Her tone of voice grated on me from the very first. I admit, I found this a real slog.
I was fairly keen to read it as I have read a lot of narratives of the first world war that focus on the soldiers but very little about the nurses experience. And if this memoir had focused solely on this, then I probably would have coped with the tone – and the long and twisting sentences that snaked away from me, causing me to have to start the sentence from the beginning again – but there is actually only about a third of this that focuses on her nursing. In fact, I was quite despairing of even making it to the outbreak of war because I didn’t find Brittain’s life beforehand all that interesting.
Brittain does suffer some terrible losses during the war – including her brother Edward , her fiance, Roland and two other close friends. However, I was so irritated with her style by then that I found sympathy hard to come by. She was very young, I suppose, and I found her way of dealing with her grief had to relate to. I found it more touching when she visited the graves of Edward and Roland, particularly the Italian grave of her brother.
As for finding out about nursing during the war, about a third of the book was about her experiences. This was the most interesting part of the book although even then I would have preferred more close detail and less focus on Brittain’s emotions. What did come across was the physical and emotional cost of nursing on Brittain and other women of her generation.
The memoir finished five years after the war and details Brittain’s brewing romance with a man she names G and her early attempts at getting published. Again, the main thing that came across was the luck of her privileged position. She could afford to concentrate on her writing. She had helpful connections. I didn’t find it all that exciting. It was good to learn though that her scars did heal and she was able to find love with someone new.