By Wendy Holden
Published by Welbeck
What’s it about?
The Duchess, the second novel in Wendy Holden’s trilogy about royal outsiders, fictionalises the unknown London life of Wallis Simpson.
Arriving in 1928, Wallis was a divorced, penniless, middle-aged foreigner with average looks and no connections. Yet, just eight years later, a king renounced his throne for her. How did a woman from nowhere capture the heart of the world’s most glamorous bachelor? Wendy Holden tells the amazing story.
What I think:
The Duchess is one of my most anticipated books of the year,
I loved The Governess, Holden’s retelling if the life of Marion ‘Crawfie’ Crawford, governess to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and this is even better.
The story of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson has been told many times. Holden’s version is from Wallis’s point of view.
This Wallis is ambitious and desperate to climb the ladder and become a success society. But she is so insecure and vulnerable.
Divorced from her alcoholic and abusive first husband, she seeks solace and security with Ernest Simpson. Hardworking and kind he is also unimaginative and more interested on the buildings and libraries of London’s grandest homes than the glamorous parties. Wallis utilitises the connections she has to open the door to write society just a crack. But that’s all she needs.
Cecil Beaton introduces her to Thelma Furness, mistress of the Prince of Wales, who invites the Simlsons to Fort Belvedere, the Prince’s private retreat and Wallis’s fate is sealed.
Wallis is a complex character. She is both devoted to the Prince and determined to do all she can for him at the same time as valuing her marriage to Ernest. She sees through the superficial nature of aristocratic society as yet is thrilled by the wealth and opportunities it brings. The obsurdity of discussing poverty and unemployment while dining in palaces and wearing diamonds is not lost on the woman who experienced poverty herself as a child.
The narrative is divided between the present and Wallis’s uncomfortable return to England for the funeral of the Duke and their romance and the build up to the abdication.
Edward VIII, or David as he is known to family and friends, is privileged and entitled but also lonely and vulnerable. His feelings for Wallis are passionate and genuine and yet he still manipulates her, resorting to tears and threats when he doesn’t get his own way. Their relationship, while clearly a deep love, is complex and at times suffocating.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As soon as it arrived everything thing else was put aside. Wallis is sympathetic and likeable and I got the clear sense that Holden enjoyed writing about her life.
The next book in series is The Princess is about Diana and I already can’t wait.
Thank you so much to Wendy Holden and Welbeck for my gifted advanced copy of The Duchess.