Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wallis in Love: The Untold Life of the Duchess of Windsor, the Woman Who Changed the Monarchy by Andrew Morton

"You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance." -Wallis Simpson

Everyone has heard of Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom Edward VIII so infamously abdicated his throne and birthright. But although her life has constantly been the subject of much fascination, gossip, and speculation, her whole story has yet to be told. Now historical biographer Andrew Morton uses diary entries, letters, and other never-before-seen records to offer a fresh portrait of Wallis Simpson in all her vibrancy and brazenness as she climbed the social ladder, transforming from a hard-nosed gold digger to charming chatelaine.

Morton takes us through the cacophonous Jazz Age, a period of casual sex, cocaine, and screeching trombones; Wallis's romantic adventures in Washington and friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt; her exploits in China and beyond; to her entrance into the strange wonderland that is London Society. During her journey, we meet an extraordinary array of characters, many of whom smoothed the way for her dalliance with the king of England, Edward VIII, and we gain insights into the personality and motivations of a complex, domineering woman striving to determine her own fate in a harsh, turbulent world.

Publisher: Grand Central|Genre: Non-Fiction/Biography | Source: Publisher| Rating: 4 Cups

She was the American divorcée who captured an English King and caused an unrepairable rift in the House of Windsor. But who was Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson?

According to the rumored ‘China dossier’ (a file supposedly composed by the British Secret Service for PM Baldwin and King George V) she was a sexual enchantress who learned her craft while working in an oriental brothel. Others claim that she was lesbian or even a man. Some say she was a Nazi spy.

While it’s hard to separate rumors from reality when it comes to Wallis—she herself was an unreliable narrator of her own story—what we know for certain is Wallis was selfish, brash, a social climber who eagerly used those around her to gain a better advantage. And perhaps the most telling truth we know about Wallis is, she was never happy or satisfied.

In Wallis in Love biographer Andrew Morton helps separate fact from fiction as he delves into Wallis’ life and loves. He paints a vivid portrait of the twice-divorced American who snagged a king but ended up in exile.

I’ve always found Wallis Simpson to be an interesting woman. Likable, no—even the one man she held dearest to her heart, Herman Livingston Rogers, who stood by her side when a whole nation seemed against her, ultimately found her to be insufferable but she’s fascinating. So when I was offered a chance to review this new biography, I jumped at it.

If you’re a Wallis newbie and you’ve gained interest in her from watching The Crown or if you’re following the upcoming Royal Wedding and are wondering who the other American divorcée to snag a royal was then Wallis in Love is the perfect book to introduce you to the woman who rocked the monarchy. Not only does it provide information about Wallis from the very start of her life, it also introduces the vast amount of people who came and went throughout her life. The background information is pertinent when it comes to understanding how Wallis ended up where she did.

Although if you’re looking for a great love story between Wallis and Edward, you’re not going to find it because it in this book because it doesn’t exist. Wallis wasn’t in love with Edward, she was in love/obsessed with becoming the Queen of England. When she learned of Edward’s plans to abdicate, she tried her best to flee from the situation, but, as they say, her bed was made—and more importantly, her dear Herman was married—and she was more or less forced to go along with it. And I honestly do not believe Edward was in love with Wallis. Fascinated? Yes. In love? No. I think he viewed Wallis as his way out from the oppression of the Crown. Basically, he was born into a job he didn’t want and Wallis was his out.

If you’re a Wallis enthusiast this book is still an interesting read yet I found it to be a bit of a run on. Having come into this book knowing the story of Wallis, her circle of friends, and the workings of the Crown, I found the extensive backstories regarding those in her circle to be a bit of a drag. I would be right in the middle of an interesting bit about Wallis and suddenly the book would veer off to something about Courtney Letts, Freda Dudley Ward, Thelma Furness or some other mover and shaker of the era and by the time we were back on topic, I had grown bored.

I feel like this book could have benefited by having those things as footnotes rather than ingrained into the text. An example of such would be the opening of chapter eleven. Rather than giving the history of Gunpowder Plot, it could have been addressed as a footnote.

While I was able to glean new snippets of information—excerpts regarding Wallis from the diary of Courtney Letts de Espil, a few tidbits of information regarding Wallis and Herman, and such—I feel like a few things could have been addressed in more detail. Such as her first marriage.

I do have one complaint; I wish they would print the color pictures in color, especially when referenced in the book. There’s a painting by Klots of the Duke and Duchess that’s addressed in the book, Morton even talks about the Duchess wearing a canary yellow dress, but, sadly, it’s in black and white rather than color so it’s a bit irksome that I have to consult another source to find this in color.

Overall, Wallis in Love provided an interesting picture of the woman who changed the monarchy. Newbies will gain a wealth of knowledge while enthusiasts will enjoy the introduction of the new information.

Tea Pairing

There’s only one tea that sprang to mind when this book arrived: Prince of Wales Tea from Twinings of London. Twinings originally created this tea for Edward, who at that time was still the Prince of Wales. In 1921, he gave Twinings permission to sell his personal blend under his royal title.

This one’s a bit mild in taste with a slightly woodsy aroma. This one falls in the middle of the tea spectrum right between a bold breakfast/morning blend and a mellow afternoon blend. It pairs nicely with shortbread cookies, scones, or a nice mild cheese. 

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