'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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March 21, 2012

That Woman



Part of me {the Anglophile and  history-and-biography-loving part} is glad I decided to finish reading That Woman:  the life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, by Anne Sebba, and the other part {the there's-nothing-better-than-sinking-into-a-good-book, especially-if-it's-a-biography part} wishes I had listened to my instincts and stopped when I was ahead.  The story was fascinating, the writing was better {not great, but not as celebrity-bio} than I thought it would be, but the lives of its two central characters -- King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936, and Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved -- are just so very, very, very sad.

I should admit that I only knew their story in a very Masterpiece-Theatre-y way, as the romance of the century, and the real story strips all of that away.  Wallis becomes a lively young woman from Baltimore who grows up in straitened circumstances and marries (twice, before she marries the Duke of Windsor) for social position, money and security.  There's an absolutely amazing revelation (if this part was common knowledge before this book was written, I had never heard it) about the reasons for her sexual prowess and attractiveness to men, but I really think you should read about that for yourself, just so you can be as stunned about the implications of it as I was.  And the Duke becomes an immature, needy, unfocused, unaccomplished man, possibly mad, even possibly suffering from Asperger's.  I knew, even from my limited exposure to it, that their life together after their marriage was tainted with resentment, bitterness, rejection and hurt, but I think the hardest part was learning that the great romance was one-sided.

It's a little hard to know whether the story told here is sensationalized, or just horribly true, but in the end I'm glad that I got this alternate view.  I just need something very, very cheerful to read now.


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