The Novels

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In the Orient Express on the way to Rumania at the start of The Balkan Trilogy in 1939, Harriet and Guy Pringle encounter a German refugee on his way to Trieste. The man loses his ticket, passport, visa, and money, and so he is turned over to unidentified officials who remove him from the train, most certainly to return him to Nazi Germany and a terrible fate. Newly married and on their way to Bucharest, where Guy will take a teaching post at the national university, the Pringles are equally alone in a hostile environment. The Rumania to which they are headed is a corrupt monarchy slipping toward Fascism; the local Iron Guard will eventually take over, and German and Italian troops will cross the border. Harriet and Guy work out their relationship with each other against the slowly encroaching backdrop of World War II.

In The Great Fortune, Olivia Manning treats the Pringles as contrasting personalities. Harriet is rational, politically conservative, and somewhat aloof. Guy is extroverted, liberal in his politics, and intensely emotional. Each needs to recognize the inadequacy of his perspective. The events of contemporary history serve to counterpoint details in the domestic life of the Pringles. As Guy and Harriet settle in Bucharest, the pro-Western prime minister, Armand Calinescu, is assassinated and replaced by Take Ionescu, who suppresses the Iron Guard temporarily. The political situation disintegrates as Guy throws himself into his work at the university, his relationships with students, and preparations for a production of William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Harriet finds it more difficult to make friends; she feels most comfortable with Clarence Lawson, Guy’s colleague, who makes romantic advances at the same time that he voices hero-worship of her husband. Clarence calls Guy a saint and accuses Harriet of corrupting his integrity by expecting him...

(The entire section is 779 words.)