Manning married her husband R.D. "Reggie" Smith in 1939. He was a British Council teacher and later a BBC radio producer. In 1955, The Doves of Venus was published.
Olivia Manning is best known for Fortunes of War, a narrative consisting of two trilogies (The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy) chronicling the wartime experiences of a group of English expatriates who find themselves moving between Romania, Greece, Egypt and Palestine as World War II progresses.
Anthony Burgess described Fortunes of War as ‘the finest fictional record of the war produced by a British writer’. Certainly, the first two volumes (The Great Fortune, published in 1960 and The Spoilt City, published in 1962) make compelling reading. Set against the background of Bucharest in early wartime, they have a superb period feel, chronicling the changes in Romanian society (and the lives of the British expatriate community) as the corrupt regime of King Carol II tries unsuccessfully 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. The third volume, Friends and Heroes take place in Greece and Athens as the Greeks were gaining the first allied victories against the Italians. Meanwhile, the couple strive to save their marriage against a background of rumours, betrayals and political intrigues.