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Old 03-14-2012, 11:06 AM
NoorMeansLight's Avatar
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Thank you for your review and welcome to the forums!! I was wondering a few months ago if I should buy this bio. The fact that Sebba used as a source Wallis' correspondence with her ex-husband Ernest has intrigued me quite a lot. The book is officially on my list now!

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Old 03-14-2012, 11:09 AM
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I am planning on buying it.

" An ugly baby is a very nasty object, and the prettiest is frightful when undressed."
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Old 03-14-2012, 12:50 PM
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"That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor"
Anne Sebba

"One of Britain's most distinguished biographers turns her focus on one of the most vilified women of the twentieth century. Historian Anne Sebba has written the first full biography by a woman of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. 'That woman', as she was referred to by the Queen Mother, became a hate figure for ensnaring a British king and destabilising the monarchy. Neither beautiful nor brilliant, she nevertheless became one of the most talked-about women of her generation, and she inspired such deep love and adoration in Edward VIII that he gave up a throne and an empire for her. Wallis lived by her wit and her wits, while both her apparent and alleged moral transgressions added to her aura and dazzle. Based on new archives and material only recently made available, this scrupulously researched biography sheds new light on the character and motivations of a powerful, charismatic and complex woman."

reviews (edited)
That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba - Telegraph
Should Wallis Simpson be awarded a posthumous George Cross? It becomes abundantly clear in Anne Sebba’s biography that the late Duchess of Windsor did Britain an enormous service when she allowed Edward VIII to abdicate so he could run off with her. The Prince of Wales was more than a liability – he was “a depressed adolescent… worryingly unsafe, he could be certified”, according to Lord Wigram, George V’s private secretary. “Certain cells in his brain have never grown,” murmured another courtier, Sir Alan Lascelles.

Madness was less of a problem, though, than the Prince’s chumminess with the Germans and pro-appeasement politicians. He and Wallis were feted by Mussolini in Venice, stayed at the Ritz in Madrid when Spain was run by Franco and visited Hitler in Berchtesgaden, where they were photographed among the swastikas...By August 1940, however, the government had exiled the Windsors to the Bahamas, “the Empire’s most backward-looking colony”. The remainder of their lives was to be spent in an aimless, boring round of luncheons with dressmakers and dinners with jewellers. Nobody of substance would venture near does seem that everyone took it out on Wallis. She was generally vilified as a “prostitute, a Yankee harlot”, “sadistic, cold, overbearing, vain”, “mean and grasping” and, in the words of the late Queen Elizabeth, “the lowest of the low”.

Well prior to the Prince of Wales commencing his open pursuit of her, Wallis was correct to surmise that the Royal family was “filled with an icy menace for such as me”. Part of Wallis’s appeal, clearly, was that she represented the very polar opposite of the stifling Victorian court protocol. She implied freedom. But as Anne Sebba shows, Wallis was cramped by her own “mounting nervous tensions”.

Born in Baltimore in 1896, Wallis’s father was “a charmingly sensitive but melancholy consumptive”, who died almost immediately after his daughter's birth, and her mother, suddenly in straitened circumstances, ran a residential hotel – which meant the family were “branded as boarding-house keepers”. Wallis, for the remainder of her life, was “paralysed by fear” at the thought of being reduced again to such shabby-genteel conditions.

...Wallis then went to live an independent life in Shanghai, where, if Sebba is to be believed, “she learnt from Chinese prostitutes some ancient oriental techniques for pleasuring men” and “appeared in naughty postcards”. Poor old Ernest Simpson probably didn’t know what hit him when he invited her “to make up a fourth at bridge”.

...It was parties that Wallis rather lived for – and she used up her docile husband’s resources on couture clothes and giving lavish dinners. The Prince of Wales was soon a grateful guest. As soon as he saw her, he was besotted. Wallis, too, was susceptible, as, with Simpson out at the office, her days, she admitted, “stretched vacantly before me”. The more Wallis dared to “taunt and berate” the Prince in public, the more he relished it. No one had dared treat him like that before. The Simpsons were soon bidden to Fort Belvedere on a weekly basis. “I think I do amuse him,” Wallis told her family in Baltimore. “I’m the comedy relief and we like to dance together but I always have Ernest hanging around my neck so all is safe.”

But not for long. The Prince decided he wanted Wallis as his bride, no matter the consequences. Wallis herself was terrified, as what would happen if Simpson divorced her and the capricious Prince dropped her? She’d have nothing. In any event, says Sebba, Wallis was never in love with the Prince, only with “the opulence, the lifestyle” that he was providing. Consternation ensued. The press, government, church, the dominions’ prime ministers, even probably the fire brigade, couldn’t conceive of “the idea of a woman with two living husbands consorting with the heir to the throne”. If Wallis felt “every inch the hunted animal”, and if “every day from now on was lived in the shadow of 1936”, then it was a rather pampered “hellish exile” – with a mansion in Paris, liveried servants, a tax-free allowance and offshore investments siphoned off from the Duchy of Cornwall estates. The Windsors were always buying each other trinkets from Cartier, which were auctioned after their deaths for $50,281,887. But better that desiccated and indulgent existence than the alternative – the prospect of a sieg heiling monarch on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. By staying with him, Wallis saved us all from a fascist Britain.
That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, By Anne Sebba - Reviews - Books - The Independent
There have been several attempts to demythologise the relationship between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. It is variously alleged that she never really loved him and he never really loved her, or that theirs was a great love affair that the establishment tried to destroy. And of course, there is that photograph of the pair shaking hands with Hitler, making them not only a couple who perhaps weren't in love but who were also fascist and treacherous, too.

Simpson in particular has always been demonised. A possible hermaphrodite who learned the ways of prostitutes while in Shanghai, her sexuality has been called into question, never mind what British biographers loyal to the Royal Family consider her "brash" American ways.

But in this commendably restrained biography, Anna Sebba creates some sympathy for a woman who endured a brutal and sordid first marriage before leaping into the comfort of a second, with Ernest Simpson, that, alas, could never save her. Sebba's real coup, though, is the discovery of letters between Wallis and Ernest, dated long after she had become involved with Edward. Indeed, Simpson's genuine sorrow at the loss of Ernest ("the grave of everything that was us") and her terror at the Abdication show an ordinary woman caught up in events she couldn't hope to control, and help to balance the damning indictments written even by some of her closest friends.
Was Wallis Simpson all woman? New evidence speculates about her sexual make-up | Mail Online
by the author, Anne Sebba
The first time the future King of England met Wallis Simpson, she left little impression. After all, she was neither young nor beautiful. Her face was square-jawed and masculine, with an unfortunate mole. Her voice had an unpleasant rasp, according to many aristocrats who knew her, and her idea of wit was raucous American wisecracks.

...For Ernest, an American businessman of Jewish extraction who’d taken British citizenship and revered the monarchy, meeting the king-in-waiting was close to the pinnacle of his dreams. For Wallis, the connection promised an important step up the social ladder, with the likelihood of more invitations to fashionable parties.

...But Wallis almost certainly had a far deeper and darker secret. Recent research suggests that she might well have been born with what’s currently called a Disorder of Sexual Development (DSD) or intersexuality... there’s strong circumstantial and psychosexual evidence that Wallis was not wholly female. The writer Michael Bloch, who lived and worked in Wallis’s house in Paris for years during the later years of her life, claimed that he’d discussed her sexuality with doctors.

...The biographer James Pope-Hennessy, who met her in 1958, commented in his journal that Wallis was ‘one of the very oddest women I have ever seen. She is, to look at, phenomenal,’ he added. ‘She is flat and angular and could have been designed for a medieval playing card. I should be tempted to classify her as an American woman par excellence were it not for the suspicion that she is not a woman at all.’

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Old 03-14-2012, 04:12 PM
Join Date: Feb 2012
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Thank you for all those reviews, Warren. I had assumed that i already knew enough about The Duchess of Windsor, certainly enough to form an opinion that she was a far more impressive figure than her husband. I may actually buy this new bio, particularly if it has new information on the role of the Windsors, during WWII.
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Old 03-15-2012, 11:23 AM
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I just picked it up from the library and starting to dig in!
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Old 03-15-2012, 11:31 AM
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On the trail of Wallis Simpson and her Shanghai surprises - Telegraph

Interesting that the author is still researching Wallis's time in Shanghai.
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Old 07-15-2013, 11:49 AM
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"The Woman Before Wallis" by Andrew Rose

My review of The Woman Before Wallis: Prince Edward, the Parisian Courtesan and the Perfect Murder by Andrew Rose

The Woman Before Wallis: Prince Edward, The Parisian Courtesan and The Perfect Murder by Andrew Rose (Review) | Carolyn Harris: Royal Historian

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