Cover image for Letters from a lost generation : the First World War letters of Vera Brittain and four friends, Roland Leighton, Edward Brittain, Victor Richardson, Geoffrey Thurlow
Letters from a lost generation : the First World War letters of Vera Brittain and four friends, Roland Leighton, Edward Brittain, Victor Richardson, Geoffrey Thurlow
Brittain, Vera, 1893-1970.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Northeastern University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xix, 427 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D640.A2 B75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This poignant work collects correspondence written from 1913 to 1918 between Vera Brittain and four young men -- her fiance Roland Leighton, her younger brother Edward and their two close friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow -- who were all killed in action during World War I.

The correspondence presents a remarkable and profoundly moving portrait of five idealistic youths caught up in the cataclysm of war. Spanning the duration of the war, the letters vividly convey the uncertainty, confusion, and almost unbearable suspense of the tumultuous war years. They offer important historical insights by illuminating both male and female perspectives and allow the reader to witness and understand the Great War from a variety of viewpoints, including those of the soldier in the trenches, the volunteer nurse in military hospitals, and even the civilian population on the home front. As Brittain wrote to Roland Leighton in 1915, shortly after he arrived on the Western Front: "Nothing in the papers, not the most vivid and heartbreaking descriptions, have made me realize war like your letters."

Yet this collection is, above all, a dramatic account of idealism, disillusionment, and personal tragedy as revealed by the voices of four talented schoolboys who went almost immediately from public school in Britain to the battlefields of France, Belgium, and Italy. Linking each of their compelling stories is the passionate and eloquent voice of Vera Brittain, who gave up her own studies to enlist in the armed services as a nurse.

As World War I fades from living memory, these letters are a powerful and stirring testament to a generation forever shattered and haunted by grief, loss, and promise unfulfilled.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Readers familiar with Vera Brittain's heart-wrenching Testament of Youth will devour the letters that provided the primary resources for that memoir of her wartime experiences. Between 1913 and 1918, Brittain, a former Oxford student and a volunteer military nurse, maintained an active and avid correspondence with her beloved brother, her fiance, and two good friends, all eventually stationed on the Western Front. These letters reflect the critical stages these young people passed through in relation to the war. Initially eager, enthusiastic, and idealistic, each became increasingly cynical and disillusioned by the brutal realities of sustained trench warfare. As each of these young men died in turn, it was left to Vera to comfort and inform the others, until only she was left to be the repository of their final thoughts and feelings. The historical value of this remarkable collection of first-hand accounts of the horrors about military battles and hospital duty is immense; the human value of these poignant and passionate missives to friends in the midst of utter chaos and despair is immeasurable. --Margaret Flanagan

Library Journal Review

This book is a collection of letters written from 1913 to 1918 between Vera Brittain and her brother, her fiancé, and two other friends. Some of the letters were included in Vera Brittain's classic account of her wartime experience, Testament of Youth (Penguin, 1994. reprint), but most of them are now being published for the first time. The letters provide insight into the youth of the day and how their feelings and emotions developed during the war, turning from idealism to disillusionment to an acceptance of death. The collection is unique because these letters span the entire war, showing both male and female perspectives. By the end, you know the people, feel their tragedy, and see hope change to despair as loved ones are killed. Bishop is the editor of three volumes of Brittain's diaries, and Bostridge is the coauthor of Vera Brittain: A Life (LJ 4/1/96). The collection is easy to read, with notes to explain unfamiliar terms and historical events. Recommended for all libraries.‘Mary F. Salony, West Virginia Northern Community Coll. Lib., Wheeling (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A revival of interest in Vera Brittain began 20 years ago when the BBC broadcast a six-part dramatization of Testament of Youth, her memoir of WW I. Long out of print, the book was immediately republished, followed eventually by three volumes of her diaries, a biography, and various scholarly assessments of her life and career. Now Bishop, who edited her diaries, and Bostridge, a coauthor of one of her biographies, have edited the wartime letters of Brittain, her brother Edward, her fiancee Roland Leighton, and two other mutual friends, Geoffrey Thurlow and Victor Richardson. Like few other sources, these documents provide an intimate glimpse of the experience of war for its more articulate combatants. In particular, the exchange of letters between Vera and the gifted Leighton, killed in December 1915, vivify the often deeply conflicted emotions of youthful lovers separated by the monotony and terror of war. Thurlow and Richardson were killed in 1917; Edward died a year later. "The terrible things you mention & describe," Vera wrote to Roland in April, 1915, "fill me, when the first horror is over, with a sort of infinite pity I have never felt before." All levels. D. L. LeMahieu; Lake Forest College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
A Note to the Textp. xi
Chronologyp. xv
Biographical Notesp. xviii
Introductionp. 1
Part 1 28 September 1913 - 29 July 1914p. 9
Part 2 21 August 1914 - 1 April 1915p. 23
Part 3 3 April 1915 - 26 August 1915p. 69
Part 4 27 August 1915 - 26 December 1915p. 147
Part 5 8 January 1916 - 17 September 1916p. 205
Part 6 19 September 1916 - 19 December 1916p. 273
Part 7 26 December 1916 - 11 June 1917p. 305
Part 8 25 June 1917 - 24 June 1918p. 359
Notesp. 403
Select Bibliographyp. 417
Indexp. 419