A prominent figure in TV and the arts in Britain, Joan Bakewell has been a broadcaster for more than 40 years and a print journalist for over 20 years. All the Nice Girls was her first novel. She was made a Dame in 2008. Her second novel, She's Leaving Home is available in hardback in November.
Testament of Youth mattered to me very much when I was growing up. It was published in the year I was born, so by my teenage ears it was still enjoying its huge wave of popularity. In the late 1940s the Second World War was still fresh and raw in our minds and as a young girl I was very susceptible to the tenderness of Vera Brittain’s feelings and appalled by the loss of so many of the young men she loved. My own latent feminism was nurtured by her struggle against the conventions of her day. She grew up in Buxton, not far from my own home, and I recognised the stifling limits that society put on the lives of its girls. Testament of Youth – the title itself fired my ambition. And the story of Brittain’s resolve, her determination to get to Oxford, her insistence on contributing to the war effort, all inspired me with pride in my sex, and the will to make something of my own life.
Years later, rereading it, I was aware of the youthful eagerness of the prose, the spontaneous passion so directly and unselfconsciously expressed. It remains a highly charged and inspiring account of women in war. But it told me more than that: it told me about friendship between women. Her friendship with Winifred Holtby seemed a fine thing and one to be envied. Later in the book, with the war behind her, she comes to terms with the loss of her first love and moves into a mature and considered marriage. I decided then she must be a remarkable woman and I still think so.
The 2011 Mslexia Writer's Diary contains a series of monthly inspirations from current Virago authors who each discuss a Virago Modern Classic.
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