Frederic Manning’s reputation rests securely on his novel The Middle Parts of Fortune: Somme and Ancre 1916, one of the best works about World War I. The work provides a compelling portrayal of the points of view both of the private soldier in the British army and of the quintessential outsider. Both roles were familiar ones for Manning. Born in Sydney, Australia, into a socially prominent family, Manning suffered from recurrent ill health as a child. His battles with asthma and other respiratory problems hampered his formal education and gave him instead a haphazardly directed private education in Italy, Sydney, and England, where his family moved after 1898.
As a result of his persistent illness, Manning became a voracious reader of the literature then popular in England, which included in particular the short fiction and poetry of such Georgian writers as Hector Hugh Monroe, who used the pseudonym Saki, Edward Thomas, and others. At the age of sixteen Manning began writing, and soon after he won local recognition for his lighter verse. In 1907 his first published poems appeared in The Vigil of Brunhild, which was followed two years later by a collection of short fiction entitled Scenes and Portraits and in 1910 by a second volume of poetry, Poems. In 1909 Manning also began writing reviews for the leading literary magazine The Spectator.
When World War I broke out in August, 1914, Manning enlisted in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Like many young, upper-class recruits—including his friend Richard Aldington—Manning had the social profile and the education to qualify for an officer’s commission. In 1914, however, he refused a commission, preferring the company of private soldiers. Although the sheer physical hardship of life in the trenches in 1915 and 1916 killed and crippled many healthier men, Manning managed to serve through the Somme and the Ancre battles despite his persistent ill health.
Following the battle of Ancre in 1916, Manning was invalided to England with severe respiratory problems. After convalescing Manning was declared fit for duty in 1917. He was again offered a commission in the Royal Irish Regiment, and this time he accepted. He served with...
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