Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Vera Mary Brittain

British Writer, Pacifist and Feminist known for Memoir "Testament of Youth"

"I can think of few important movements for reform in which success was won by any; method other than that of an energetic minority presenting the indifferent majority with a fait accompli, which was then accepted."

"There is an abiding beauty which may be appreciated by those who will see things as they are and who will ask no reward except to see."

"Politics are usually the executive expression of human immaturity."

"All that a pacifist can undertake -- but it is a very great deal -- is to refuse to kill, injure or otherwise cause suffering to another human creature, and untiringly to order his life by the rule of love though others may be captured by hate."

"At college, more than anywhere else, one was likely to make the friendships that supported one through life."

"Could I write an autobiographical novel, I wonder? Can one make a book out of the very essence of one's self? Perhaps so, if one was left with one's gift stripped bare of all that made it worth having, and nothing else was left..."

"At no previous period has mankind been faced by a half-century which so paradoxically united violence and progress. Its greater and lesser wars and long series of major assassinations have been strangely combined with the liberation of more societies and individuals than ever before in history, and by the transformation of millions of second-class citizens -- women, workers and the members of subject races -- to a stage at which first-rate achievement is no longer inhibited even if opportunities are not yet complete."

"Edward was always a good listener, since his own form of self-expression then consisted in making unearthly and to me quite meaningless sounds on his small violin. I remember him, at the age of seven, as a rather solemn, brown-eyed little boy, with beautiful arched eyebrows which lately, to my infinite satisfaction, have begun to reproduce themselves, a pair of delicate question-marks, above the dark eyes of my five-year-old son. Even in childhood we seldom quarreled, and by the time that we both went away to boarding-school he had already become the dearest companion of those brief years of unshadowed adolescence permitted to our condemned generation."

"For a woman as for a man, marriage might enormously help or devastatingly hinder the growth of her power to contribute something impersonally valuable to the community in which she lived, but it was not that power, and could not be regarded as an end in itself. Nor, even, were children ends in themselves; it was useless to go on producing human beings merely in order that they, in their sequence, might produce others, and never turn from this business of continuous procreation to the accomplishment of some definite and lasting piece of work."

"Her mind was like a spring-tide in full flood; rich, shining, vigorous, and capable of infinite variety."

"How fortunate we were who still had hope I did not then realise; I could not know how soon the time would come when we should have no more hope, and yet be unable to die"

"I don't think victory over death... is anything so superficial as a person fulfilling their normal span of life. It can be twofold; a victory over death by the man who faces it for himself without fear, and a victory by those who, loving him, know that death is but a little thing compared with the fact that he lived and was the kind of person he was."

"I know of no place where the wind can be as icy and the damp so penetrating as in Oxford round about Easter time."

"I know one husband and wife who, whatever the official reasons given to the court for the breakup of their marriage, were really divorced because the husband believed that nobody ought to read while he was talking and the wife that nobody ought to talk while she was reading."

"I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy war and the orators who talk so much about going on, no matter how long the war lasts and what it may mean, could see a case of mustard gas - the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard colored suppurating blisters, with blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying their throats are closing and they know they will choke."

"I wondered if he was looking up at that same moon, far away, and thinking of me as I was thinking of him."

"It is probably true to say that the largest scope for change still lies in men’s attitude to women, and in women’s attitude to themselves."

"If this word should turn out to be a 'Te moriturum saluto,' perhaps it will brighten the dark moments a little to think how you have meant to someone more than anything ever has or ever will. What you have striven for will not end in nothing, all that you have done and been will not be wasted, for it will be a part of me as long as I live, and I shall remember, always."

"Meek wifehood is no part of my profession; / I am your friend, but never your possession."

"Like no one else,' I told him in a letter written at the end of July, 'you share that part of my mind that associates itself mostly with ideal things and places....The impression thinking about you gives me is very closely linked with that given me by a lonely hillside or a sunny afternoon or wind on the moorlands or rich music...or books that have meant more to me than I can explain, or the smell of the earth after a shower or the calmness of the sky at sunset...This is grand, but still it isn't enough for this world, whatever it may be like when we're beyond the sun. The earthly and obvious part of me longs to see and touch you and realize you as tangible."

"Long before she could read easily Winifred had begun to write, and before she could write she told stories"

"Mother says that people like me just become intellectual old maids,' I told him. 'I don't see why,' he protested. 'Oh, well, it's probably true!' I said, rather sharply, for misery had as usual made me irritable. 'After the War there'll be no one for me to marry.' 'Not even me?' he asked very softly. 'How do I know I shall want to marry you when that time comes?' 'You know you wouldn't be happy unless you married an odd sort of person.' 'That rather narrows the field of choice, doesn't it?' 'Well--do you need it to be so very wide?"

"Politics is the executive expression of human immaturity."

"There is an abiding beauty which may be appreciated by those who will see things as they are and who will ask for no reward except to see."

"She seemed to have waited so long to hear those words that for a moment the earth stood still, and the moon, the trees, the grotesque shadows across the heath, became in that instant transfixed in her memory. How shall I bear this exquisite happiness? It is too much: it will destroy me."

"There is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think--which is fundamentally a moral problem--must be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process."

"There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past."

"We should never be at the mercy of Providence if only we understood that we ourselves are Providence."

"To my amazement, taut and tearless as I was, I saw him hastily mop his eyes with his handkerchief, and in that moment, when it was too late to respond or to show that I understood, I realised how much more he cared for me than I had supposed or he had ever shown. I felt, too, so bitterly sorry for him because he had to fight against his tears while I had no wish to cry at all, and the intolerable longing to comfort him when there was no more time in which to do it made me furious with the frantic pain of impotent desire. And then, all at once, the whistle sounded again and the train started. As the noisy group moved away from the door he sprang on to the footboard, clung to my hand and, drawing my face down to his, kissed my lips in a sudden vehemence of despair. And I kissed his, and just managed to whisper 'Good-bye!' The next moment he was walking rapidly down the platform, with his head bent and his face very pale. Although I had said that I would not, I stood by the door as the train left the station and watched him moving through the crowd. But he never turned again."