April 26th, 2012
At the beginning of the 20th century Wallis Simpson was just an ordinary girl from an affluent family in Baltimore. By the end of it she was a subject of infamy. The woman who stole the king. Was connected to Nazis. Caused the abdication of current monarch Elizabeth II’s uncle King Edward later known as Duke of York. Rarely in history is one woman vilified so thoroughly, and thus I thought she’d make a really interesting person to read about.
I missed the ‘novel’ part of the cover when choosing this book but decided to go ahead. Sometimes it’s easier to learn a person’s story through fiction then polish up facts with a biography. In the case of this book both a good and a bad thing. The good was that the author, Rebecca Dean covered her facts with surprising accuracy. I say this because now I’m reading the aforementioned biography and so far I knew everything already!
The bad was purely personal in that I didn’t like how Dean chose to portray Wallis. The character of Wallis was a born grabber. A social climber, someone who fully believed in the power of her own personality and pretty much every single man in the book had only to look into her eyes to fall instantly in love. An annoying part was when this happened with the Prince and he tells her, ‘you’re the only person who’s ever shown an interest in my work.’ I find this hard to believe, while Wallis was clearly a first-rate listener, the Prince blew through women like handkerchiefs and ‘listening’ or feigning interest is like catch-a-man 101.
The character of Willis for the sake of fiction had long imagined herself with the Prince and eventually reached her goals, discarding her husband along the way. The book ends immediately after Wallis and the Prince fall in love and before WWII so more on the Yorks (the name they took after abdication of the throne) and if they were or were not actually pro-Nazi will have to wait; although I will add that it’s probably also partial propaganda because many in high society at the time tripped back and forth to Germany. The two countries were very close, not to mention Prince Edward was pretty much 90% German himself. His brother is the one who later as King changed the Royal family name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor.
As much as I love reading about British history and culture, once in awhile I remember how incessantly and insufferably snobbish their class system was (is?). Being American myself, on both sides of my family for hundreds of years, maybe I’ve got a Yankee’s viewpoint on this. But: I believe Wallis Simpson, by virtue of breaking many of these silent traditions fell afoul of the Royal Family in a big way. So big that they’ve trashed her reputation from here until eternity. Except for the smoking and divorces, I believe next to none of it. The Royal Family are notorious for smear campaigns, rigidity, the insistence on behavior between royals and commoners almost sacred or holy in its fervor.
I’ve come across Mrs. Simpson numerous times in my other books and she’s always portrayed as a loud, brash American woman with no manners who smoked and was a twice over divorcee who had Edward Prince of Wales, under her peculiar spell. Some of that is bound to be true since so many people interacted with her, but we all know how outside perceptions can be if what they think about someone isn’t true. She was called a mannish looking woman with large hands, rumored to be a hermaphrodite or worse (whatever that might be).
The book portrayed Wallis as quite promiscuous and followed the always repeated maxim that she wasn’t beautiful. I actually found this kind of insulting on her behalf. I think Wallis was quite stunning and interesting looking. Just because the ideal at the time was different doesn’t mean we have to hold to this day that she was mannish looking or not beautiful. The truth is, she made Edward happy in an age when that was not acceptable.
An interesting take on the life of Wallis Simpson that touches on all the facts, but disappointingly does not match up to what her true character might have been like. I was hoping for more of an intensive read but it’s really more of a beach book. In the end I gave it 3/5 because I don’t want to discourage others from reading it, but not my favorite overall.