Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Balkan Trilogy derives its power from the skill with which Manning juxtaposes the personal stories of her characters with the historical situation in which they find themselves. While the situation with which Harriet and Guy struggle may be a projection of that facing Manning and her husband, Reginald Smith, when they lived in Rumania and Greece during the same period, the material has been transformed by the absolute objectivity with which it is rendered.

The shifts in point of view which occur from novel to novel in the trilogy serve to establish a fictional pattern of multiple perspectives from which the focal characters view their situation. The crucial shift to Guy’s mind toward the end of The Spoilt City, for example, provides information on Harriet that could not be presented objectively any other way. It also allows Manning to show events from Guy’s perspective; it enables the reader to see the limitations of Harriet’s view of her husband and to recognize that Guy’s attitude has validity. The trilogy is a portrait of a marriage that endures despite the political, military, and social conflicts in the world around it. Manning uses the Pringles to demonstrate the importance of life, the value of human affection, and the virtue of fidelity.

Absence of authorial commentary on the lives of Harriet and Guy Pringle or the events of World War II suggests the lack of an absolute system of values beyond personal commitment. This may be Manning’s personal conviction, but it gains validity from the three novels she constructed to embody it. The Balkan Trilogy shows Harriet’s growth toward a mature understanding of her husband and herself. It is a recognition of the fact that life does not conform to romantic dreams that gives Manning’s portrait of Harriet its poignancy.