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The American Duchess: The Real Wallis Simpson by Anna Pasternak: A Book Review

The American Duchess: The Real Wallis Simpson
Author: Anna Pasternak
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 2019
Pages: 357
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: Wallis Simpson is known as the woman at the center of the most scandalous love affair of the 20th century, but in this “unputdownable…lively and detailed” (The Times, London) biography, discover a woman wronged by history with new information revealed by the latest research and those who were close to the couple.

The story that has been told repeatedly is this: The handsome, charismatic, and popular Prince Edward was expected to marry a well-bred virgin who would one day become Queen of England when he ascended the throne. But when the prince was nearly forty, he fell in love with a divorced American woman—Wallis Simpson. No one thought the relationship would last, and when the prince did become king, everyone assumed that was the end of the affair.

But to the shock of the British establishment, the new king announced his intention to marry the American divorcée. Overnight, Wallis was accused of entrapping the prince in a seductive web in order to achieve her audacious ambition to be queen. After declaring that he could not rule without the woman he loved, the king abdicated, and his family banished him and his new wife from the country. The couple spent the rest of their days in exile, but happy in their devoted love for each other.

Now, Anna Pasternak’s The American Dutchess tells a different story: that Wallis was the victim of the abdication, not the villain. Warm, well-mannered, and witty, Wallis was flattered by Prince Edward’s attention, but like everyone else, she never expected his infatuation to last. She never anticipated his jealous, possessive nature—and his absolute refusal to let her go.

Edward’s true dark nature, however, was no secret to the royal family, the church, or the Parliament; everyone close to Edward knew that beyond his charming façade, he was utterly unfit to rule. Caught in Edward’s fierce obsession, she became the perfect scapegoat for those who wished to dethrone the troubled king.

With profound insight and evenhanded research, Pasternak pulls back the curtain on one of the darkest fairy tales in recent memory and effortlessly reveals “a host of intriguing insights into a misunderstood woman” (Kirkus Reviews).

My Review: Wallis Simpson was one of the most notorious women of the 20th century. She is best known for convincing Edward VIII to give up his crown in order to marry her. However, in the latest biography of Wallis Simpson, Anna Pasternak sheds a different light on this enigmatic duchess. The Duchess of Windsor is largely portrayed as a victim and pawn of Edward VIII. The American Duchess tells the story of a woman locked in an unhappy marriage that was not of her own making and one that she could not escape from.

I have read a few biographies of Wallis Simpson, the most recent by Andrew Morton and Anne Sebba, and have found Wallis to be very unlikable. This latest biography proves to me to be the most sympathetic biography of her, and it is clear that the biography dearly loves her and tries to justify her actions. The American Duchess does not portray the Duchess of Windsor as an ambitious woman that wanted to be Queen of England. Instead, the biography depicts Wallis as a reluctant woman who did not want to receive Edward VIII’s advances. She loved her second husband, Ernest Simpson and did not want to divorce him until Edward VIII’s pursuit of her forced her to have no choice. The American Duchess also tells us that Edward VIII’s abdication was a manipulative way to get Wallis to marry him because after he let go of his crown, Wallis had no choice but to marry Edward. Throughout the biography, Edward VIII is shown as a cunning, manipulative, and obsessive prince who is used to getting everything he wants. Wallis Simpson is unfortunately nothing more than his unwilling pawn.

Overall, I thought this biography did not really do justice to Wallis Simpson. I thought the real Duchess of Windsor was more complex than what was shown in this biography. I think Wallis was more in control of her own life than what this biographer would have us to believe. By trying to defend Wallis’s every action, I felt that it diminished her character because Wallis Simpson was a larger than life figure. I believe that she was ambitious and craved for wealth and power. The American Duchess may bring curiosity to fans of royalty that would want a different perspective of the Duchess of Windsor, but for those that want a detailed and balanced biography, I suggest that they skip this and look elsewhere.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars

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