The political thought of Vera Brittain

Badsey, Phylomena H. (2005) The political thought of Vera Brittain. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis investigates the political thought of the well known British 20th Century political activist and writer Vera Brittain (1893-1970), who is acknowledged as one of the most important feminists and pacifists of her era. It was undertaken in response to the continuing success of her most widely known work, 'Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925, first published in 1933, and her increasing importance since her death to modem feminists, pacifists, and to the study of the First World War (1914-1918). It draws extensively on Vera Brittain's own writings, published, and unpublished, and includes material never before used in previous research. It provides a comprehensive review of the secondary literature on Vera Brittain, showing that the power of her arguments has been undermined by studying each area of her life and literary work in isolation. Although Vera Brittain's work and life have been frequently cited for specific purposes, this thesis is the first to identify her political thought in its totality. In particular, this thesis identifies for the first time the importance in Vera Brittain's political thought of her Christian beliefs, particularly after 1940; and the way in which this related to her two other major political beliefs, her feminism which she adopted very early in her life, and her pacifism, which she adopted in 1937. The emphasis placed in previous secondary literature on Testament of Youth and Vera Brittain's role in the First World War has also obscured the importance of her later political thought, particularly during the Second World War (1939-1945), and in her role in the early years of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The argument made in this thesis is that Vera Brittain's mature political thought was based on her faith in individuals, which acted like a 'thread' upon which the three 'pearls' or 'circles' of her political thought, those of Christianity, feminism and pacifism, were strung, each interacting with the other at various times, and finally joining to become the 'necklace' of her political thought. The thesis concludes that Vera Brittain's political thought did not constitute a coherent political theory of which she was herself aware; she developed a personal ideology or belief-system, but although she also held a world-view throughout most of her life, this was not original or unique to her. Her political writings and actions reflected the issues of her own time, including Equality Feminism, and the Christian Pacifist opposition to war. But she also drew on earlier political theories of the relationship between. the state and the individual, such as those of Mary Wollstonecraft and John Locke. In her political thought, she also acknowledged the importance of the issues of race, class, gender and sexuality, which would later become central to Second Wave Feminism. In sum, this thesis describes the political thought of Vera Brittain, its importance in the history of political thought, and its continuing relevance for today.

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