Liesl Schillinger: Review of Anne Sebba's "That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor" (St. Martin's, 2012)

Roundup: Books

Liesl Schillinger is a regular contributor to the NYT Book Review.

The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
By Anne Sebba
Illustrated. 344 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $27.99.

Seventy-five years ago, Edward VIII swapped his kingdom for a divorcée, the American-born Wallis Warfield Simpson. At this advanced date, could there possibly be anything new to add to the mountain of autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, novels and films that have accreted on this subject? The answer, surprisingly, is yes. In “That Woman,” Anne Sebba boldly recasts the relationship that was once considered the “most romantic love story of the last century” as “a tale of gothic darkness with a Faustian pact at its core.” The king, in Sebba’s telling, emerges as a man who today might be looked on as something of a stalker.

On Dec. 11, 1936, the day after Edward VIII signed away his rights to the British crown, he announced on a BBC broadcast that he had abdicated for love of a woman whom he wished to marry, but could not marry as king. The object of his ardor was herself married at the time, to her second husband, Ernest Simpson.

In Britain, the public had not been aware of the seriousness of the king’s attachment. His protectors in the news media, notably Bernard Rickatson-Hatt, the editor in chief of Reuters and a close friend of Ernest Simpson’s (a connection Sebba explores in depth in the book), struggled to keep the mud from spattering. But across the Atlantic, American newspapers covered the courtship zestfully, portraying Wallis Simpson as a shrewd adventuress....

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