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Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manning's Fictions of War
Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manning's Fictions of War

Our Price:39.00
Authors: Eve Patten
Affiliation: 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...ť 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.

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  1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 Imperial Refugee August 22, 2014
Reviewer: Kathryn Laing, The Irish Review from Ireland  
In Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manning's Fictions of War, which predates Deirdre David's study by a year, Eve Patten approaches Manning from a much more focused perspective. Describing her critical study of Manning as a literary biography shaped by war,she is largely concerned 'with recovering Manning's presence in the context of the Second World War and its novelistic legacies' (p. 46). She therefore concentrates on the two trilogies and the 'Palestine Fiction' (Artist Among the Missing and School for Love), concluding with a brief discussion of her final single novel, The Rain Forest (1974). The latter, published in between the trilogies, provides a fitting conclusion, Patten argues, because of its intersections with the trilogies, 'echoing and advancing their end-of-empire themes and building once again on the condition of a faltering marriage to survey the precarious state of the international climate' (p. 175).

Patten's especially direct and incisive approach to her subject right from the beginning - 'Manning's bitterness needs, like the author, careful handling as a starting-point to recover her place as a pre-eminent novelist of British wartime experience' (p. 2) - is indicative of her method overall, a stimulating and painstaking interrogation of her novels and the contexts in which they were written. Suggesting that it was Manning's 'embittered personality that sustained her skepticism towards what she regarded as the cultural bombast and vacuous political idealism carried by an inter-war generation of ideologues into the theatre of the Second World War' (p.2), Patten's study offers first a careful and rigorous teasing out of the multiple contexts in which Manning, her work and its composition is to be understood, as well as an unflinching confrontation of complex subjects such as 'Jewish dispossession' (p. 7), the question of Palestine, and the plight of the wartime refugee more broadly. In sum, Patten argues that Manning's fiction 'implicitly connects her own compromised sense of nationality, her transient life experience, the instability of her marriage and her frequent exclusion from events on the grounds of her sex to the desperate predicament of the war's itinerants and enforced exiles' (p. 7). There is special attention paid in this study to Manning's conflicted Irish identity, establishing connections in particular between the ways in which Manning's experience and knowledge of Ireland shaped her perspectives on Palestine, where she lived from 1942 to 1945: 'If Ireland provided the cradle for Manning's insights into a faltering Empire and national misalignments, wartime Palestine would subsequently offer her a complex revisiting of these themes' (p. 27). An Irish literary legacy is also identified in the gothic features of Manning's Balkan Trilogy, especially the Bucharest-set novels. In her analysis of Manning's deployment of the gothic, partially in the context of recent critical approaches that identify a 'Victorian gothic mode' within modernism, Patten suggests that an extension of this perspective to Second World War literature might be illuminating, where 'the marks of anxiety - particularly those connected by popular novels of the period to 'liminal threats' from infiltrators, fifth columnists and spies - are sustained and recurrent' (p. 63). Other critical lenses through which Manning's work have been and might be read are also explored: feminist, postcolonial, 'intermodernist', war literature, for example. Manning's work is also discussed in relation to her literary influences and affiliations, from Tolstoy and Dickens to contemporaries such as Storm Jameson, Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and Lawrence Durrell. By reading her war fiction across these various differing fields and writers, this study opens up new perspectives for scholars working in these areas as well as on Manning specifically.

In addition to the trope of the refugee which Patten traces through its various permutations in Manning's war oeuvre, one of the most striking analyses is that the 'ship of death' motif constitutes a 'trailing motif of failed responsibility' (p. 159) as she describes it. Characteristic of her methods throughout, Patten traces the literary as well as biographical and historical sources of this motif, especially central in the 1951 novel School for Love. Manning's own experience of fleeing Athens in a dangerously overloaded and unsafe ship was one source of this motif. Another lies in the shocking story of the Struma, the ship with its overloaded cargo of Romanian Jews fleeing persecution, which was denied sanctuary anywhere, and instead left to its fate in the open seas where it sank (probably torpedoed). Manning published an account of this episode in the Observer Sunday Magazine (March 1970) and this particular ship would 'be one of the many ships of death haunting her post-war fiction, an image not only of suffering and terror but also of a grievous failure of protective duty' (p. 162). Patten urges care in approaching Manning's 'prickly personality' (p. 13) and her claims to an Irish identity, and the same care is evident in her examination of the differing geographical and political contexts of the trilogies. Is she guilty of perpetuating stereotypical representations of the Balkans in her fiction, for example, and what were her responses to the Zionist and refugee question in Palestine? Ultimately Patten suggests that Manning sidesteps this latter issue in her fiction, developing instead a 'purposeful reticence' (p. 172). So, '[t]he use of the 'ship of death' motif ’ in her wartime writing expresses deep anguish, but is a means to consolidate the specific plight of European Jews with a universal register of human suffering, dislocation and guilt. In the same way, the trilogies later develop the figure of the wartime refugee from its local contexts into a broader conceptual study of 'a dislocated and abject presence in the reconstitution of Europe' (p. 170). These powerful evocations of dislocation also constitute a major aspect of Patten's powerful and persuasive analysis of Manning's 'aesthetic of deracination' (p. 6).

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5 of 5 Imperial Refugee August 22, 2014
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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5 of 5 Imperial Refugee August 22, 2014
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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