Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Biographer commands his subject

Mark Bostridge
Henley Town Hall

THERE can be few biographers who know more of their subject, Vera Brittain and her 1933 autobiography Testament of Youth, than Mark Bostridge.

He has already published a biography of Brittain and has
co-edited her diaries and wartime letters for later publication. He was also a consultant on the 2014 film of Testament of Youth.

Here he was discussing his contribution to the current edition of the book, which is published to coincide with the centenary of the end of the Great War this year.

Mark is an accomplished speaker — and in this case an experienced interviewee — and he kept his large audience transfixed with his stories of the life and loves of the author and her friends who appear in the book.

Most of the audience had read the book, seen the BBC serial adaption or watched the recent film, so seemed fairly conversant with the storyline and characters.

What many were not aware of was Vera Brittain’s life after the war — she lived on till 1970 — and her involvement with the peace movement between the wars.

Her close friendship with her fellow author Winifred Holtby before the latter’s early death, and even the subsequent ménage a trois when Vera married late in life, were adroitly glossed over.

But the speaker made his audience want to revisit the book, especially in its modern edition, if for the one reason that it is now on many school and college reading lists. Always useful to be better read than one’s teenage offspring!

Ian Black

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