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Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780349012292

Price: £25

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These fascinating letters between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby tell the story of an extraordinary friendship.

‘A beautiful collection’ Daisy Dunn, Sunday Times
‘Completely fascinating’ Rachel Cooke, Observer
‘Lively, perceptive and immaculately edited’ Miranda Seymour, Literary Review
‘A moving, unvarnished chronicle of intellectual comradeship’ Sarah Watling, Telegraph

A literary relationship that began when the women met at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1919, it lasted until Winifred’s early death at the age of thirty-seven. The letters, written from 1920 to 1935, kept them ‘continuously together’, and show us the life of two pioneers who wished to make their mark as writers and campaigners. Each encouraged and advised the other. However, there were periods when they were literary rivals. Winifred landed a book deal first; Vera produced an international bestseller with Testament of Youth; and the letters show them negotiating envy and self-doubt. It was at times an uneven relationship: Vera, more than four years older, was married and had two children during this period, while Winifred, a single woman with an adventurous spirit, travelled and made a wide range of friends. As the heroine of her novel South Riding says, ‘I was born to be a spinster and by God, I’m going to spin!’ Vera decisively influenced Winifred’s passion for feminism and peace; ‘You made me,’ Winifred told her. In turn, Winifred, who took care of Vera’s children and placated her husband, gave Vera crucial intellectual and emotional support, fiercely believing in her literary gifts.

A portrait of the inter-war years and a dramatic, touching and ultimately tragic story, the letters have the hallmarks of honest female friendship: not without friction and with its own delicate co-dependency, but life-changing for them both.


This volume offers a window on an intriguing relationship... [It] delivers Winifred Holtby back into Vera Brittain's ineluctable embrace
Claudia FitzHerbert, Spectator
Expertly and sensitively edited by Elaine and English Showalter... The authors' intense bond is wonderfully captured... what comes through is a true partnership of two women valiantly, imperfectly, trying to find new ways to live
Samantha Ellis, Guardian
I found these letters completely fascinating... the relationship at their centre is endlessly intriguing, and when these young women outline their burgeoning ideas about their careers, marriage, happiness and freedom, it's touching and inspiring
Rachel Cooke, Observer
The Showalters offer an astute and sympathetic reading of the two women's dynamic, and the result is a moving, unvarnished chronicle of intellectual comradeship
Sarah Watling, Telegraph
Fascinatingly, these letters also overturn the sentimental clichés about their relationship
The Oldie
A beautiful collection... The care with which the letters have been selected and introduced becomes increasingly clear as the pages roll on
Daisy Dunn, Sunday Times
[A] lively, perceptive and immaculately edited selection from the extensive correspondence between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby... There are many stand-out moments in this engrossing correspondence... The Showalters have triumphantly succeeded in reminding us how fortunate Vera Brittain was to forge a friendship with such a joyous, clear-sighted and selfless individual
Miranda Seymour, Literary Review