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Brooke's Pick: The Duchess by Wendy Holden

Becoming the lover of David, Prince of Wales, in 1928, a lively American woman is plunged into a world of unimaginable luxury and privilege until David becomes King and she becomes the face of the most dramatic and extraordinary royal scandal of the 20th century.

If your only impression of Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England, is that of a gold-digging schemer, prepare to have your world turned upside down after reading Wendy Holden's The Duchess. Holden, who researched the life of Wallis during COVID lockdown, glimpsed hints of a different woman during her studies ... one who, perhaps, actually did NOT want to sit upon the throne.

In The Duchess, Holden takes us through Wallis' second marriage to Ernest Simpson as she grapples with the stilted life she is leading in England as his wife, and demonstrates how Wallis clambered her way into London's society circles, climbing higher and higher in the social echelon until she was being invited to weekend getaways at the Prince of Wales' beloved Fort Belvedere as a guest of his mistress Thelma Furness. Before long, Wallis has caught the eye of the Prince himself, and from there, Wallis' life becomes a whirlwind of secrets and scandal. At the start, Wallis bore love and passion for the future King of England, but as his demands to marry her (she knows full well she is entirely unsuitable) press on, she finds herself suffocated by his adoration and desire to utterly consume her. We all know how this ends, but do we REALLY know Wallis Simpson?

I fully appreciate Holden prompting us to examine the woman who was Wallis Simpson through a completely new lens. Holden's portrayal of Wallis is entirely sympathetic, painting Wallis as more of a victim of chance and circumstance than a woman who actively pursued queendom. Considering primary source documents written by and about Wallis at the time, who is to say that she wasn't swept up in the tide, forced to bend to the will of one of the most powerful men in the world? Holden casts doubt in The Duchess, and it is a wholly enthralling ride. I loved every minute of this book, and so enjoyed seeing a different side of the notorious Wallis Simpson.

- Brooke, Public Relations Librarian


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