Apologies for not being all festive and posting about a Halloween read. Being scared is just not my thing!
I’ve mentioned here more than once that I’ve been meaning to read That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba, for quite a while now.
I finally read it!
And. I’m not totally sure how I feel about it.
On the one hand, I kind of knew what was going to happen and apparently I’m really familiar with that segment of society in England in the 1930s. So a lot of it wasn’t new. And I still don’t think that I liked her very much. Or him really.
On the other, it did offer a better understanding of the motivations behind what ultimately transpired.
Wallis’ father died when she was just a few months old and for the rest of her childhood she and her mother were dependant on various family members for looking after them financially. The stress of it made her forever after constantly concerned about money. Predictably, soon after finishing school she married the first man to ask her in the hopes of some pecuniary stability. Well he hit her and she had enough backbone not to put up with that, so she got a divorce.
I didn’t know that she actually did care for her second husband, Ernest Simpson. They seemed to have a good thing going, even if he did prefer to sit quietly at home in the evenings while she needed to entertain or go to parties constantly.
When she ended up getting involved with the Prince of Wales, Mr. Simpson kind of went along with it. That is, he wasn’t totally unaware and he didn’t fight it. But Wallis herself always assumed that it would peter out and life would go back to normal between them.
We all know that this is not how things happened. I was surprised at the characterization of the Prince of Wales, ultimately King Edward VIII and then, of course, the Duke of Windsor. In other books that the abdication figures in, he’s always characterized as selfish, used to getting his own way, kind of a d*ck. But in That Woman, Sebba paints a picture of a man desperate for approval who allows Wallis to tell him what to do and how to behave. More pathetic than selfish. Reading this book you get the feeling that Wallis and the Duke of Windsor spent a lifetime together kind of regretting that they took things so far.
Sebba did make an excellent point in the end though. I was trying to decide if this book changed my opinion of Wallis when Sebba points out that had Wallis not stepped in and been so irresistible to the King, he would have been the King during the War and his loyalties probably shouldn’t have been tested so far. In the immediate aftermath of his abdication, Winston Churchill had to reprimand him several times for not representing the position of the English government accurately, given as he was to making seriously suspect friends.
Ultimately Wallis was left a pathetic old woman, basically completely alone, having no children or living relations and still frozen out by the Royal Family. She was blind, bedridden and confused most of the time. Probably more than enough penance for a woman that caused so much upheaval.