I read The King’s Speech at the beginning of the year (which was really not that great — see the movie) and my interest in Wallis Simpson was piqued. Wallis’s romance with Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor (who had previously ruled as King George VII) caused the Prince to abdicate his throne. As a result, his younger brother Bertie becomes king, forcing him to overcome his speech impediment and incredible shyness. I wanted to find out more about this woman, who inspired a king to give up his throne. The story was not what I expected. I thought I was going to read a whirlwind romance; instead, The Life of Wallis Simpson paints the picture of two stubborn, damaged people clinging to each other for dear life.
Wallis Simpson married twice before she met the Prince, and was still married to her second husband when they began their affair. She was a tough, intelligent woman — often described as “brash” (although as an American woman in London in the 1930s, some of that could be attributed to her upbringing) and very concerned with her personal style and security (she had been left in the lurch a few times financially, and it stuck with her). Prince Edward had already had a couple of love affairs with older women, who seemed to hold a place in his heart as maternal figures. When these two met, they seemed to have a toxic hold on each other. He worshiped her, while she viewed him as a means for security, but seemed suffocated by his love.
I thought That Woman (which is what many in Britain called Wallis) was interesting and easy to read. The differences between the American government I live under and the British government of the 1930s fascinated me, along with the differences in press coverage and public opinion. No one seemed to care that the Prince had an affair with a married American woman, but the thought of him marrying her? Scandalous! The Church also plays a huge part in the decisions of the monarchy. Parts of the book dragged, but that’s primarily due to the actions of the subjects, not necessarily the writing. For instance, the Prince spends most of his life with Wallis fighting for an official decree so she may be called Her Royal Highness. After a while, I wanted to bop him on the head and tell him to give it up already. Overall, though, it was a great read.