Fortunes of War (novel series)

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Fortunes of War
Cover of The Balkan Trilogy
Author Olivia Manning
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Balkan Trilogy (The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City and Friends And Heroes)
Levant Trilogy (The Danger Tree, The Battle Lost And Won and The Sum Of Things)
Publisher Arrow Books
Publication date

Fortunes of War is the collective name given to six novels by Olivia Manning, consisting of The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy. The Balkan Trilogy comprises the books The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City and Friends And Heroes. The Levant Trilogy comprises the books The Danger Tree, The Battle Lost And Won and The Sum Of Things.


The novels describe the experiences of a young married couple, Harriet and Guy Pringle, early in World War II. A lecturer and passionate Communist, Guy is attached to a British Council educational establishment in Bucharest (Romania) when war breaks out, and the couple are forced to leave the country, passing through Athens and Palestine and ending up in Cairo, Egypt. Harriet is persuaded to return home by ship, but changes her mind at the last minute and goes to Damascus with friends. Guy, hearing that the ship has been torpedoed, believes her to be dead, but they are reunited in the end.

The cycle also chronicles the pre-war and wartime experiences of the surrounding group of English expatriates who also find themselves on the move and the changes in Romanian society as the corrupt regime of King Carol II fails to keep Romania out of the war.


The leading characters, Harriet and Guy Pringle (the latter a lecturer and a passionate communist), are based on Manning herself and her husband R.D. Smith. Harriet loves Guy but has to share him with numerous hangers-on, as Guy loves everybody he meets.[1] His character is outgoing and generous, while hers is wistful.

Other major characters in the novels include:

  • Prince Yakimov, a Russian-descended nobleman who, though likeable, sponges off the rest of the expatriate community.[2] Manning has said that the scrounging Prince Yakimov is based in the Fitzrovian novelist Julian MacLaren-Ross. (Both are distinguished by an unusual overcoat in which they are always dressed).
  • "Dobbie" Dobson, a diplomat whom Guy and Harriet encounter in multiple places
  • Clarence Lawson, a colleague of Guy's in Bucharest
  • Charles Warden, a young officer who befriends Harriet in Athens
  • Sasha Drucker, a Jewish refugee
  • Professor Inchcape, an academic attached to the British Council
  • Professor Lord Pinkrose, a visiting lecturer[3]
  • Toby Lush, an English teacher looking for work
  • Mr Dubedat, an obsequious clerical worker[4]
  • Simon Boulderstone, a young officer
  • Edwina Little, a beautiful young woman who shares a Cairo flat with Dobson and the Pringles
  • Lady Angela Hooper, a wealthy woman initially married to a nobleman
  • Bill Castlebar, an occasional poet and lecturer


Based on Manning's personal experiences during the war, Anthony Burgess described Fortunes of War as ‘the finest fictional record of the war produced by a British writer’.



The novels were adapted for television by the BBC and available in the US on Masterpiece Theatre in 1987, starring Kenneth Branagh as Guy and Emma Thompson as Harriet. Other stars included Ronald Pickup, Robert Stephens, Alan Bennett and Rupert Graves.


From 27 January 2008, the novel was adapted by Lin Coghlan in six one-hour episodes as the Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4. This version featured Khalid Abdalla as Guy and Honeysuckle Weeks as the young Harriet, with Joanna Lumley as the older Harriet, who narrates. Other cast included James Fleet (Yakimov), John Rowe (Inchcape), Alex Wyndham (Clarence), Sam Dale (Dobson), John Dougall (Galpin), Carolyn Pickles (Bella), Peter Marinker (Drucker), Joseph Arkley (Sasha), Simon Treves (Toby Lush), Ben Crowe (Dubedat), and Laura Molyneux (Despina). The adaptation was directed by Colin Guthrie and Marc Beeby.