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  Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manning’s Fictions of War
Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manningâ™s Fictions of War

Our Price: €39.00
Authors: Eve Patten
Affiliation: School of English, Trinty College Dublin
Publication Year: Hardback May 2012
Pages: 260
Size: 234 x 156mm

ISBN: 9781859184820


Olivia Manning (1908-1980) had a reputation as a difficult personality and this has threatened to obscure her reputation as a writer. The book aims to recover Manning’s place as a pre-eminent novelist of British wartime experience. Manning belonged to a British literary generation which held tenaciously to its diverse Irish connections in the wartime years, but, as with Cyril Connolly or Lawrence Durrell, her claims on Irishness were intermittent and often distinctly pragmatic.

The book deals in depth with a diverse range of biographical, historical and literary detail. It examines the troubled interface between public and domestic narratives” and the ways in which Manning developed, through her experiences of living in Romania, Athens, Egypt and Jerusalem, her creative methods of politicising the refugee experience. As well as looking at Manning’s novels within their diverse settings  the book also examines the varied literary modes Manning deploys and adapts – the gothic, autobiography and writing the self, the serial novel, the wartime and epic and more.

Although interest in World War II literature has been proliferating over the past twenty years a full length study of Manning will be of great interest to scholars of modern British literature and cultural history. In the fields of postcolonial and transnational studies, Manning should be a necessary presence as she crosses geographical, political, and cultural borders in her life and writing. Her experiments with ‘the serial form’ also provide critical gloss to studies of modernism and realism as well as being of great import to the now burgeoning study of the Middlebrow.

Average Rating: 5 of 5 | Total Reviews: 2 Write a review »

  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
IN THIS ELEGANT exceptionally thorough analysis o July 24, 2012
Reviewer: Patrick Skene Catling Irish Times from Republic of Ireland  
IN THIS ELEGANT  exceptionally thorough analysis of the novels of Olivia Manning  CBE  1908 1980   Eve Patten  an associate English professor at Trinity College Dublin  cuts deep into the neuroses of a talented  unhappy author and shows what made her tick. Manning was afraid of the insecurity of homelessness and blamed almost everyone  particularly the British government  the Nazis and the man she married before she really knew him.    She started off handicapped by uncertainty about her national identity  having been born in Portsmouth  Hampshire  the daughter of a Royal Navy officer and an Ulsterwoman. Olivia spent much of her youth in Bangor  Co Down  in what she called  the ghastly North . In Bangor  she said of her wealthy neighbours   It is simply golf  sport and canasta all day . Later she lamented that she always felt  the usual Anglo Irish sense of belonging nowhere .    She was personally unpopular with other writers and editors and even with her own publisher. When Anthony Powell was the literary editor of Punch he commissioned Manning to review books and then described her as the world s worst grumbler. She was nicknamed Olivia Moaning. Her acerbic  supercilious mien inhibited friendship. She  in turn  believed that her peers were insufficiently appreciative of her writing and conspired to exclude her from the inner circle of the London literary establishment. As Patten points out in admirably painstaking detail  however  Manning s novels are of the highest literary quality and may well be appraised in comparison with works by novelists such as Graham Greene.    The novels for which she deserves to be read most admiringly are The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy  autobiographical fictional accounts of her experiences in Romania  Greece and the Middle East during the second World War. In the opinion of Anthony Burgess  hers was  the finest fictional record of the war produced by a British writer . Burgess thus placed her works ahead of even Evelyn Waugh s Sword of Honour.    Ivy Compton Burnett complained that  a great many novels are just travel books disguised . . . Olivia has just published one about Bulgaria . Compton Burnett got the name of the country wrong  and her objection is silly. Many good travel books and good novels have a lot in common. Manning was a sensitive and astute observer of atmosphere and colours  landscapes  architecture  decor  food and drink  clothing  physique  physiognomy and the ways people speak. With all the realistic infrastructure  she was able to make her narratives vividly readable  with any additional amount of special emotional pleading. There was plenty of that  as she and her fictional alter ego had so much to worry about and so many reasons to feel sorry for themselves and to protest to the management. The customary legal disclaimer that all the characters are fictitious precedes each trilogy  but the familiar form of words has never seemed more bogus.    Olivia Manning met Reginald Donald Smith in July 1939 and married him in mid August  less than three weeks before Britain declared war on Germany. The couple appear unmistakably as the protagonists of the trilogies  Harriet and Guy Pringle. The British Council appointed Smith to promote British culture in Romania and beyond  so he was exempt from military service. As Anthony Blunt had recruited him as a communist  Smith s official protection in a  reserved occupation  was ironic  even though his lovable nature rendered his vague left wing connection of little subversive consequence.    The couple s real and fictional safety was dependent on a British government whose imperial influence was decreasingly effective as the war progressed. The enemy forced the Smith/Pringles successively to flee from Bucharest and Athens to Cairo  where Rommel s Afrika Korps and Arab nationalism threatened the status quo. In both trilogies the Pringles  fragile marriage gradually disintegrates as Britain s imperial authority weakens  though without finality.    For the precariously married couple  as for a multitude of other individuals in wartime  cynical distrust of leadership inspired the maxim  sauve qui peut . As the Pringles felt as vulnerable as the various other refugees  they were loyal to only a few friends  who came and went  but never gave even lip service to national loyalty. After the British victory at El Alamein  Churchill s  end of the beginning    Guy Pringle does not celebrate; his only concern is getting a safe job as director of Britain s Palestine Broadcasting Service in Jerusalem.    There are very few chalk squeaks on the blackboard of Patten s academic prose  but her vocabulary causes one to wince now and then  even while recognising the truth of her judgments. There is this  for example:  Manning s writing in general plays constantly on motifs of individual erraticism  peripheralisation and misaffiliation . . .  Manning indeed sometimes wandered about on the edges of things. Anyway  Patten has done a splendid job of rehabilitation. In some Soho pub in the sky  Manning must be all smiles. At last.

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  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
This critical study of the life and work of Mannin June 26, 2012
Reviewer: Books Ireland Summer 2012 No. 340 from Republic of Ireland  
This critical study of the life and work of Manning comes from an associate professor of English at TCD. Manning is not seen as an Irish writer but as Patten shows she had strong Irish connections and this had some influence on her and her novels. She travelled extensively in Romania  Greece  Egypt and Palestine. Her experiences there played a part in the writing of her Balkan and Levant trilogies which became better known under the title of  Fortunes of War . Manning s work on the second world war has been largely ignored  and her reputation has diminished in recent times. Patten provides a multi dimensional study of her life  her connections and her work in the context of mid twentieth century British literature.

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