Olivia Manning

(1908 – 1980)

Olivia ManningBiographical Sketch

Olivia Mary Manning CBE (Portsmouth, UK, March 2, 1908 – Ryde, Isle of Wight, UK, July 23, 1980) was a British novelist, poet, writer, and reviewer. Her fiction and non-fiction, frequently detailing journeys and personal odysseys, were principally set in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East. She often wrote from her personal experience, though her books also demonstrate strengths in imaginative writing. Her books are widely admired for her artistic eye and vivid descriptions of place.

Manning’s youth was divided between Portsmouth and Ireland, giving her what she described as “the usual Anglo-Irish sense of belonging nowhere”. She attended art school and moved to London, where her first serious novel, The Wind Changes, was published in 1937. In August 1939 she married R.D. Smith (“Reggie”), a British Council lecturer posted in Bucharest, Romania, and subsequently lived in Greece, Egypt, and British Mandatory Palestine as the Nazis overran Eastern Europe. Her experiences formed the basis for her best-known work, the six novels making up The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy, known collectively as Fortunes of War. Critics judged her overall output to be of uneven quality, but this series, published between 1960 and 1980, was described by Anthony Burgess as “the finest fictional record of the war produced by a British writer.”

Manning returned to London after the war and lived there until her death in 1980; she wrote poetry, short stories, novels, non-fiction, reviews, and drama for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Both Manning and her husband had affairs, but they never contemplated divorce. Her relationships with writers such as Stevie Smith and Iris Murdoch were difficult, as an insecure Manning was envious of their greater success. Her constant grumbling about all manner of subjects is reflected in her nickname, “Olivia Moaning”, but Smith never wavered in his role as his wife’s principal supporter and encourager, confident that her talent would ultimately be recognised. As she had feared, real fame only came after her death in 1980, when an adaptation of Fortunes of War was televised in 1987.

Manning’s books have received limited critical attention; as during her life, opinions are divided, particularly about her characterisation and portrayal of other cultures. Her works tend to minimise issues of gender and are not easily classified as feminist literature. Nevertheless, recent scholarship has highlighted Manning’s importance as a woman writer of war fiction and of the British Empire in decline. Her works are critical of war and racism, and colonialism and imperialism; they examine themes of displacement and physical and emotional alienation.

Read more about Olivia Manning on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

Order of the British Empire
  • 1976: Commander



Fortunes of War
  • The Balkan Trilogy (1981)
    • The Great Fortune (1960)
    • The Spoilt City (1962)
    • Friends and Heroes (1965)
  • The Levant Trilogy (1982)
    • The Danger Tree (1977)
    • The Battle Lost and Won (1978)
    • The Sum of Things (1980)
Other Novels
  • The Wind Changes (1937)
  • Artist Among the Missing (1949)
  • The Dreaming Shore (1950)
  • School for Love (1951)
  • A Different Face (1953)
  • The Doves of Venus (1955)
  • The Play Room (1969)
    A/K/A The Camperlea Girls
  • The Rain Forest (1974)
Short Story Collections
  • Growing Up (1948)
  • My Husband Cartwright (UK: 1956)
    – With drawings by Len Deighton.
  • A Romantic Hero, and Other Stories (1967)
  • The Remarkable Expedition: The Story of Stanley’s Rescue of Emin Pasha from Equatorial Africa (1947)
    A/K/A The Reluctant Rescue
  • Extraordinary Cats (1967)
Juvenalia, published as by Jacob Morrow
  • Rose of Rubies (1929)
  • Here is Murder (1929)
  • The Black Scarab (1929)


A Selection of Quotes

The Great Fortune

“[T]he exclusiveness of the Jews was the exclusiveness of the excluded.”

“‘She’s just a typical bourgeois reactionary.’ ‘You mean, her prejudices are different from yours.'”

The Spoilt City

“Was there any more repellent sight, Harriet wondered, than a silly, self-centred, greedy woman clad in the skin of a beast so much more splendid than herself?”

Friends and Heroes

“This was a world in which only the ignorant could be happy.”

The Danger Tree

“Enjoy yourself while you’ve still got the chance.”

“Ignorance breeds fear. Tell people the truth. Trust them to keep their heads.”

Find more quotes by Olivia Manning on Goodreads.