My understanding of Vera Brittain's suffering in love, emerging pacifism and feminist pioneering came straight from the 1979 BBC television dramatisation of her book Testament of Youth in which the delightful Cheryl Campbell created her as the most disarming of heroines. While there was lots to like and admire about the real life Vera Brittain, Roiphe, as she does with all the personalities examined in this book, paints a thoughtful, psychologically credible and drily amusing portrait of a complex human being. It is by no means always flattering but we certainly glimpse the myth making, compromises and to some extent, the self obsession, that can go into becoming a literary and political icon.
I thoroughly recommend Roiphe's book to anyone fascinated by the Edwardian era and the emergence of modernism in British society. You will enjoy hobnobbing with DH Lawrence, Ottoline Morrell, Roger Fry, Virginia Woolf and Bertrand Russell, discovering their noble and nastier traits and maybe Roiphe's dry humour will make you ROFL or at least enjoy a wry inner chuckle.
Here is a bit of light verse I dashed off after reading Roiphe's portrayal of Vera Brittain:
In youth Vera Brittain was terribly smitten
With brooding, bright Roland who died in the war
From his death, her brother’s and (implied) many others
She created catharsis
In her Testaments - one, two, three and four
Passion less rattling she found with George Catlin
But privately thought him a great bloody bore
A new minted text she preferred much to sex
And domestication she came to abhor
Spared it thanks to Winifred Holtby
Vera’s fuelled tragic jollity
Gave her a persona the UK could adore
Freed from love’s dreary fetters, this left lady of letters
While a true self made woman, slightly chills at the core!