One of Britain's most distinguished biographers turns her focus on one of the most vilified woman of the last century. Historian Anne Sebba has written the first full biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, by a woman which attempts to understand this fascinating and enigmatic American divorcee who nearly became Queen of England. 'That woman', as she was referred to by the Queen Mother, became a hate figure for allegedly ensnaring a British king. Born in 1895 in Baltimore, Bessiewallis Warfield endured an impoverished and comparatively obscure childhood which inflamed a burning desire to rise above her circumstances.
©2011 Anne Sebba (P)2011 Orion Publishing Group Ltd
A compelling download, well read and very interesting. The author doesn't champion WS, nor attack her, so the general neutrality makes it even more enjoyable. I was ready to dislike WS, I suppose - and at the end of the book I did dislike her quite a lot, but I certainly felt I understood more about what drove this extraordinary woman. I also felt great pity for her and Edward who seems to have been weak, deluded and baffled. The international turmoil that served as the backdrop to this bizarre story is very well woven. Living history.
One weak point (not weak enough to lose a star though) was a persistent theory advanced by the author about the sexuality of WS. The author believes - but presents no actual evidence for this - that WS was born with both male and female sexual characteristics. There is no proof, so it's nothing more than an interesting but probably flawed theory.
Much of the story of the supposed love story is familiar not least because of the excellent TV series starring Edward Fox, though I did learn much about the couple’s war years spent largely in the Bahamas and their post-war life. I knew nothing about Mrs Simpson’s early life which give a clue to her need for financial security and perpetual health problems.
If the biography is to be believed the Windsor’s relationship was far from being a true love story as Wallis appears lukewarm in her feelings for Edward while he was obsessively dependent and worshipping of her, constantly trying to please her with lavish jewels and money. I come away with the impression that Mrs Simpson enjoyed the thrill of enrapturing men, particularly successful or powerful men, and was flattered by the attention of the heir to the British throne with his glamorous image, but that she had probably only wanted an exciting dalliance. I hadn’t known how she kept up an affectionate correspondence with her former second husband long into her marriage to Edward.
The author tells a compelling story and isn’t partisan but the facts speak for themselves and leave me feeling that the UK had a lucky escape from having Edward as King, though, not because he wanted to marry a divorced woman, but because he lacked judgement and despite his voiced sympathy for the poor lived a lavish life-style when people in the UK and Europe were suffering hardship. He seemed obsessed in wanting the trappings and titles of being a king without the responsibilities and perpetually complained about not being given enough money to fund the couple’s ostentatious life-style.
My only criticisms of the book are the excess of prurient speculations about Wallis’s true gender and the couples’ sex life for which no concrete evidence exists and salacious interpretations of her various hospitalisations where lack of information is more likely owed to a wish for privacy rather than a cover-up.
Overall an enjoyable listen about a pivotal time in history.
Samantha Bond has a lovely voice and I enjoyed her narration.
Beautiful read. Very interesting and fullif unknown historical facts . Still can't say I have any sympathy for Wallis or the fate that befell them.
Yes, there was so much information presented in a lovely gossipy way. The time period covered was quite long but each part was made interesting and flowed very well.
No, with this book you need time to absorb all the personalities and events. At times I found myself looking up various people on the internet to get straight who was who.
This book is a revelation and delight to listen to. It is narrated in a creative way bringing all the people to life. If you have an interest in British aristocracy and high society it is a must listen.
I couldn't put it down. This reads more like a novel than a biography, except it contains a wealth of detail about the young Wallis. There are no holds barred, Wallis Simpson is not whitewashed in this book, but I think it's almost impossible to finish it without a great deal of sympathy for her. To a large extent trapped in her own time,and subject to the mores and limitations of what was expected of a woman in the early part of the twentieth century, she navigates with ambition and style to the top of the tree, and then finds herself trapped.
The biographer has really done an excellent job and has written an objective account of the life of Wallis Simpson and indirectly she has revealed a great deal about Edward, the Duke of Windsor. Wallis seems to have spent her life shopping and having dinner parties and dieting. All this against a background of one of the most troubled periods of history in the twentieth century. Indeed it is the history in the background and incidentally other historical figures such as Wilson Churchill which make the story so interesting.
She seems to have imagined that having identified ancestors going back to William the Conqueror gave her some kind of superiority. The Duke comes across as a spoilt brat who never reached adult age. To think that he would have interrupted the recital of Arthur Rubenstein, (who for me is one of the greatest piano virtuosos of all time) making it clear he had had enough really disgusted me.
The most curious part of the book concerns Wallis' possible syndrome. Male or female? The discussion of her sexual hold over the Duke seems more like heresay and gossip rather than real facts. The author informs but does not make any claims.
I admire the biographer's art as I think I probably would have written a very one-sided and damning story! The narrator is excellent.
Whether you are an admirer or a detractor of 'Wally', I'm sure you will enjoy this read.
"Scandal of the Century"
You have to wonder if Wallis Simpson had been more conventionally pretty would she have attracted such scorn. I found this book fascinating account of the Edward and Wallis Simpson saga. Very detailed and not judgemental. This story still fascinates today, you wonder how a man could have turned his back on all he was trained to be, to be with this woman. That they were self involved is unquestionable, sad that they were forever manacled together throughout their life, for how ridiculous would they have looked if they divorced. An interesting book which I will follow up with Behind Closed Doors, the untold story of the Duchess.
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