Thursday, April 2, 2015

Vera Mary Brittain: World War I Poet

Vera Mary Brittain
Vera Brittain.jpgfig_Brittain.jpg
“As soon as I could hold a pen I started to write, and before that I told stories to my brother. I had written five ‘novels,’ illustrated with melodramatic drawings, before I was 11.”
-Vera Brittain

“As a child I wrote because it was as natural to me to write as to breathe, and before I could write I invented stories” -Vera Brittain

  • Pacifist
  • Feminist
    • Denied her father’s/mother’s perception that a female must always be a housewife

Early Life
  • Born December 29, 1893 in Newcastle, Staffordshire, England
  • Her father, Thomas Arthur Brittain, was paper manufacturer
  • June 1925 - Married George Edward Gordon Catlin
    • “Political Scientist and Philosopher”
  • Attended St. Monica’s boarding school (Oxford DNB)
  • Studied Literature at Somerville College (Oxford DNB)

  • Member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakerism)
  • Member of the Labour Party
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • Member of the Royal Commonwealth Society
  • Vice President of the International League for Peace and Freedom from 1945 to 1970
  • Vice President of the National Peace Council from 1930 to 1970
  • President of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists from 1965 to 1970
  • Member of PEN
  • President of the Married Women's Association in 1962
  • Member of the National Arts Theatre Club

How She Was Affected By WWI
  • Roland Leighton, her fiance, died during WWI
  • Her younger brother, Edward, died during WWI, whom she was very close to
  • 1915-1919 -- Worked as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Department of the British Army during WWI
    • Worked in London, Malta, and Francea93377bc1e5e9c9bc72edfac7c7df27c.jpg

Famous Literary Works
  • The Dark Tide (1923)
    • Banned by her alma mater, Somerville College, because it talked about how hard it was to be a woman in college
  • Testament of Youth (1933)
    • Autobiography about her education and her coming of age during WWI
  • Verses of a V.A.D. (1918)
  • Testament of a Generation: The Journalism of Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby (1985)
    • Holtby was a good friend of Brittain and also a student at Somerville

Vera passed away on March 29, 1970

Perhaps by Vera Brittain:

Perhaps (To fiancé) by Vera Brittain:

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,

And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'  

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

August 1914 by Vera Brittain:

Works Cited:

  • Websites

"Vera Brittain: Perhaps." No Glory. No Glory, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

"Vera (Mary) Brittain." DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student
    Resources in Context. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. "Vera (Mary)
    Brittain." DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale,
    2003. Student Resources in Context. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

“Vera Mary Brittain." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2015. Web. 17 Mar.
    2015. <>.

“Bishop, Alan. “Brittain , Vera Mary (1893–1970).” Alan Bishop Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oct. 2008. 17 Mar. 2015 <>.

NNDB. Soylent Communications, 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <

Brittain, Vera Mary. "August, 1914." Verses of a VAD and Other Poems. N.p.:
    n.p., n.d. N. pag. Excerpt from Verses of a VAD and Other Poems. N.p.:
    n.p., 1918. Poetry Foundation. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Remarque, Erich Maria, Trans. A. W. Wheen. All Quiet on the Western Front.
New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

  • Pictures/Videos

"Vera Brittain in V.A.D. Uniform." The First World War Poetry Digital Archive. U
    of Oxford, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. <
    files/original/a93377bc1e5e9c9bc72edfac7c7df27c.jpg>. \

“Topic Page: Brittain, Vera, 1893-1970." Credo. Credo Reference, n.d. Web. 17
    Mar. 2015. <

"Vera Brittain." Somerville College. Somerville College, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

"Vera Brittain Biography." Biography Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

NNDB. Soylent Communications, 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <

"Feminist writer Brittain's (left)." Associated Newspapers Ltd,
    n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <

August, 1914. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <

Pacifist. IZ Quotes. iz Quotes, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <

Past and Future. Quoteimg. Quotes, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Wifehood. IZ Quotes. iz Quotes, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <

The Dark Tide. Goodreads. Goodreads, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Testament of Youth. Goodreads. Goodreads, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Verses of a VAD. Like Success. Like Success, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Winifred Holtby. Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, 19 Feb. 2011. Web. 1 Apr.
    2015. <

Great War Poetry - 'Perhaps', by Vera Brittain. Youtube. Youtube, n.d. Web. 2
    Apr. 2015. <>.
Vera Brittain: Perhaps. Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The poem, Perhaps, written by Vera Brittain, was dedicated to her fiancé who was killed during World War I. I chose to analyze this poem because I believe it shows the effect war has on families. In this poem, Vera sadly portrays how her life has been changed because of the war and its casualties. Because her fiancé died in combat, her life became drastically different, and she wondered when it would become normal again. This most likely occurred to every family that had lost their loved ones while they were fighting in the war. The majority of deaths in the war led to grief in millions of families. Because of the war, families were most likely broken apart or mentally wounded. This poem shows what civilians go through during the war and how their life changes, even though they are not participating.
    The most prevalent literary device I noticed in this poem was visual imagery. The second and third stanza of the poem has the most vibrant descriptions of nature’s beauty. Vera describes in detail the wonders of nature, explaining how they are no longer the same to her now that her fiancée is dead. World War I had completely changed Vera’s outlook on life and her lifestyle because the war had taken her loved one away. This most definitely occurred in all of the households affected by the war, so I chose this poem because it shows the impact the civilians obtain. The rhyme scheme of Perhaps displays itself as, “ababcdcdefefghghijij,” which is a widely used structure for poetry. The tone and mood of the poem switches back and forth from a cheerful and happy view on life to the realization and grief of losing a loved one. This mood and tone switch occurs in the poem in the last line of each stanza, for example, on line 11 and 12, “And autumn harvest fields a rich delight, Although you are not there.” This mood switch is a good tactic to captivate the audience and lead them to feel the grief that the author has.
    This poem relates to All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Remarque, because, from what we have read, there are also chapters that show the effect war has on families and the loss of a loved one. For instance, on page 13, Kemmerich, a fellow soldier of the main character Paul, is dying and Kemmerich’s mother sees him and it outright devastated. “His mother, a good plump matron, brought him to the station. She wept continually, her face was bloated and swollen.” (All Quiet in the Western Front, 13) Another example of how deaths of relatives from war affect the family is on page 134, when Paul goes to visit Kemmerich’s mother to tell her of her son’s death. “I have felt how terribly he died. I have heard his voice at night, I have felt his anguish--tell me the truth, I want to know it, I must know it.” (All Quiet on the Western Front, 134) In both of these quotes, Paul experiences how much pain a family member has to go through when their loved one dies of war. The worst thing about losing someone in war is that they could have died in extreme pain, like Kemmerich did from sickness. Because the deaths could be horrific, that only makes the family members grieve and mourn even more. Losing someone already is a heartbreak, but losing someone who could have not died but did because of war is devastating. That is why, to me, Perhaps, by Vera Brittain, is a great example of the the war effecting others besides the soldiers, effecting their families and close-ones.

    1. Remarque, Erich Maria, Trans. A. W. Wheen. All Quiet on the Western Front.
      New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

  3. In this poem, Vera Brittain discusses the irony of religion during wartime. She imagines that the reason that God creates war and suffering in the first place is to punish people for not paying enough attention to Him. When the world’s people are suffering, however, they move even further away from religion because they feel that no just god would allow his disciples to experience such torment. The poem is titled August, 1914 because on August 1, 1914, World War I began which is fitting because the poem is about warfare. This poem relates to the novel All Quiet On the Western Front because it is about the cruelty of war and is titled to reference World War I, which is when the novel takes place.
    In Line 1, God is heard saying that He has been forgotten and His religion is being neglected by men. In Lines 2-3, He decides that He must send His lazy followers a message so that they may find their way back to their Lord. Two metaphors are used in these lines, as Brittain writes, “the souls that sleep shall wake again” and “blinded eyes must learn to see”. These two metaphors act as foreshadowing of the punishment that God is about to inflict upon the world’s people. In the second stanza, God carries out this punishment, justified in Line 4 (“So since redemption comes through pain”), meaning that God feels that the only way to truly get the people’s attention is by making them suffer. Thus, in the vivid and violent imagery of Line 5, God “smote the earth with chastening rod”, signaling the beginning of the war. The idea of God smiting the earth in an effort to punish humans is common in the Christian faith, for He is generally seen as a vengeful god, especially in the Old Testament. In the words of the Reverend William Huntington, for instance, “He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. The person that is to smite the earth is the King of saints… With this rod of his mouth the earth is to be smitten, reproved, rebuked, scourged, and chastened.” (The Works of the Reverend William Huntington, William Huntington, 85-86) In Line 6, unsurprisingly, war breaks out as God brings “destruction’s lurid reign” and the world breaks into chaos. The third stanza of the poem brings irony as the people of earth, traumatized by war, renounce their faiths, crying out “There is no God” in the argument that no just god would allow His people to suffer so much. In His attempt to bring the Christians closer to Him, God ended up pushing them further away from Him by causing them so much pain without directly telling them why He was doing it.
    The construction of the poem is symmetrical, with each stanza being three lines in length. The end of every other line rhymes, continuing throughout each of the three stanzas. This form of stanzas with three lines in iambic pentameter is known as “terza rima”.