Popsugar Reading Challenge 2021 – Book 4

Prompt: A book set in multiple countries

I had absolutely loads of options for this book but in the end I chose The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull. This was definitely ancase of Bookstagram made me do it as I saw a review of an advanced copy last year and had this on preorder. I fully intended to read it as soon as it arrived but somehow hadn’t so now was the time.

What it’s about?

From Goodreads

For fans of The Paris Wife and The Crown, this stunning novel tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson.

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

Bryn Turnbull takes readers from the raucous glamour of the Paris Ritz and the French Riviera to the quiet, private corners of St. James’s Palace in this sweeping story of love, loyalty and betrayal.

What I think:

The story of Edward Vlll and Wallis Simpson has been told so many times and most people are familiar with it. I wrote a paper for A Level history on whether the abdication was inevitable so the name of Thelma, Lady Furness was familiar, but I didn’t know very much about her life.

And what a life.

This book covers the period from the 1920s and 30s. Young socialite Thelma elopes at 17 and has a disastrous marriage that ends in divorce.

She then meets and marries, Marmaduke, Viscount Furness. He older than her – she is not much older than his children – and fabulous rich.

Marriage to Duke takes Thelma into the highest levels of British society. She is presented to the King and Queen and one evening mets the Prince of Wales.

Her marriage to Duke falls apart quickly. He continues to have affairs and she struggles with post partum depression after the birth of her son, Tony. It’s soon clear that if Thelma is going to be happy she has to live life on her terms.

An invitation to dinner with the Prince of Wales, David to his friends, sees her embark on a longterm affair. She acts as his hostess, meets his siblings and is accepted by society as his mistress. For Thelma this is love. She is clearly at her happiest with him. But their relationship is never going to be accepted because she is a divorced American and he is the future King – sound familiar?!

Despite the Royal love story, the central story in this book is the relationship between Thelma and her twin sister Gloria. Their own upbringing has left both women ill-prepared for motherhood and desperate to be loved.

Thelma struggles to bond with her son and spends little time with him while he is cared for by nannies and boarding schools. Gloria loses custody of her own daughter, Little Gloria, in a scandalous trial. Their mother is a grotesque woman and makes the reader fully sympathise with her daughters.

Thelma remains loyal to Gloria throughout, even sacrificing her own position with the Prince of Wales to support her in New York. Over lunch she asks her friend Wales Simpson to look after him while she is away. And we know how that turns out.

Thelma is a resilient woman. She is intelligent and compassionate. She is supportive of David even when he is selfish and spoiled. She continues to care for her step-children after her second marriage ends in divorce. And she is incredibly loyal to the people she cares about.

I really enjoyed this glimpse in Thelma world which truly was a gilded cage. Despite the wealth and privilege there are a lot of deeply unhappy people in her world.

I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this book. If you like historical fiction and programmes like The Crown, you will love this.

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