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The Last of the Duchess [Paperback]

Caroline Blackwood , James Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Oct 2012

In 1980, Lady Caroline Blackwood was commissioned by The Sunday Times to write an article on the aging Duchess of Windsor, who was said to be convalescing in her French mansion in the Bois de Boulogne. Yet what began as a curiosity was to become for Blackwood one of the most challenging experiences of her writing career, launching her into a battle of wits with the Duchess's formidable lawyer, Maître Suzanne Blum.
Maître Blum refused to let Blackwood near the Duchess, spinning elaborate excuses as to why she was unavailable and threatening anyone who dared suggest that she was in anything other than the best of health. Still, while Blum's machinations restricted Blackwood's ability to publish a frank interview, it only served to pique her interest in the bizarre relationship between the infamous Duchess—a woman who once inspired a king to abdicate his crown—and her eccentric, domineering gatekeeper. Sixteen years later, Blackwood turned her experiences into this riveting and excoriating modern classic about the frailties of old age, the foibles of society, and the dual-edged nature of celebrity.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (2 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345802632
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345802637
  • Product Dimensions: 19.1 x 12.4 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 644,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant 5 April 2014
Hard to put down. Eccentric, gossipy, macabre, borderline-subversive and often hilarious, this book's publication was delayed for years because some of the content could have been libellous.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were the most glamorous and talked-about social figures in the world. Now, the widowed Wallis, Duchess of Windsor was a silent shell, solitary and sick in a Paris mansion. No one was permitted to see her.

Lady Caroline Blackwood gives a vivid account of her attempt to interview the frightening female lawyer who had gained control of the hapless Wallis and fiercely guarded her. Blackwood has a beady eye for what's real, and wanted to find out the truth about the hidden duchess's tragic condition and what was going on.

The author, who knows her way around these circles, talks to friends such as Diana, Lady Mosley, who knew the Duchess of Windsor in her prime. All these friends were now prevented from seeing the Duchess by Suzanne Blum, the autocratic French lawyer now in charge.

Caroline Blackwood's character sketches and quirky asides about the Duke of Windsor and royalty, about Wallis and her social milieu, are sharp and amusing. They could only have been written by an insider with some level of detachment.

You laugh and shudder at the same time. This is an eye-opener, sinister, funny, off-beat and very entertaining.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 15 Aug 2014
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very good
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last of the Duchess 7 Jan 2013
By Luci M. - Published on Amazon.com
This was an amusing and interesting read. After watching W.E. I felt the need to read more about the infamous Wallis. What a great book this is. It is not a biography but more of a story about the author's attempt to write a biographical article and the obstacles she faced and the secrets she uncovered about her subject. Granted most of this has been documented in other books about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor but this author did a great job of keeping me wanting to read more and see where her search would lead her next.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great addition to your Windsor stable! 12 Sep 2013
By P. B. Sharp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One would expect the brash Duchess to go out with a bang not a whimper, but that was not to be. The anti-climax of the Duchess' last years is really appalling. However, this sprightly reminiscence of author Blackwood's attempts to visit the Duchess but kept at the door by Wallis' rottweiler-lawyer, Suzanne Blum, is often hilarious. But there is pathos involved, too. The Duchess is actually up-staged by Madam Blum but Wallis does not go away- she's hovering like the spirit of Rebecca in "Rebecca" but she's not calling the shots.

Blum had absolute control not only over the Duchess' estate and power of attorney but over her nursing care. To author Blackwood who interviews her for the substance of this book ,she spins a series of ridiculous lies, such as that both the Windsors were highly cultured and read many books and NEVER set foot in nightclubs. Blum crooningly rhapsodizes about Wallis' beautiful skin "so soft." and that the bed-ridden old lady is still beautiful. Blum seems to be in love with her client and gives you the creeps. Wallis was never beautiful, with a flat figure and big "utilitarian"hands and feet which have fascinated people for decades and we all come back to the old mantra -what did Wallis have to inspire David to give up his throne? Delightful as "The Last of the Duchess" is you will still be left wondering.

You laugh at Diane Moseley's description of Wallis as "the poor little creature." Trying to morph Wallis into a poor little creature even if she is flat on a bed with a feeding tube stuck up her nose is virtually impossible for the average reader. Lady Mosely was, of course a well-known Fascist, her husband being head of the Fascist community in England. She offers up some disturbing information that Hitler played buddy-buddy with the Duke when the Windsors foolishly visited him, threw his arm around David's shoulder and disappeared with him after having the doors firmly shut in the Duchess' face. But the fact that the ex king of England was a Nazi aficianado boggles the mind.

Maitre Blum had not only tried like Pygmalion to mold the Duchess in her own image, she had taken over the Duchess' life and persona. Since it was impossible for author Blackwood to see Wallis, she attempted to interview the few friends of Wallis who were not dead.

Freda Dudley Ward, one of the Prince's early and most lasting lovers, after half a century and a marriage to a Marquis, was still bitter that Wallis had replaced her. She was filled with sneering laughter that "one horrible old lady was imprisoned by another horrible old lady."

Other old friends of the Windsors were more charitable. Lady Diana Cooper talks about the love affair between Wallis and the sadistic, homosexual heir to the Woolworth fortune, Jimmy Donahue, who was some twenty years younger than the Duchess. She supposes Wallis was trying to escape from the besotted, smothering attentions of the Duke. David was frequently in anguished tears over some episode concerning his wife, he was abject, and if there was anything Wallis would despise, it was abjectness.

When asked by author Blackwood if the Duchess was ever in love with the Duke, Lady Monckton replied "you can always tell when people are in love" implying that Wallis was not in love with her husband."Did the Duchess simply want to be Queen?" queries the author. "Yes, I suppose she did" answered Lady Monckton.

There will never really be a "last of the Duchess." Deceased, she has not gone away. Blackwood's observations and reviews are often surprisingly touching. Wallis had been pushed and trained since birth to believe that an aristocratic girl's purpose and destiny in life were to snare a rich husband. It took her two tries and then she hit the jackpot. The horror of her story is that she ended up alone, wired up to a bunch of tubes and under the control of her lawyer, a spider controlling the fragile web of her remaining life.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange and Sinister Indeed 27 Feb 2013
By Author - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been waiting for a book detailing the Duchess' last years for a long time. The author, now deceased, has a fun yet formal style that made the material a literary gossipfest. I loved how she went around to all the old friends of the Duchess with questions. Her descriptions of these friends and their (then) current situations were delightful and, yet, brought us no closer to the present situation of the Duchess. It was all guesswork as Maitre Blum, the cranky old lawyer with the Duchess' power of attorney, refused anyone entry to the Duchess' Paris home.

The author is strong enough not to be intimidated by this lawyer, and meets with her several times, yet the book ultimately suffers as the author never does gain access to the Duchess. Instead we are treated to a series of reminiscences which provide a framework for what I'd hoped would precede an actual meeting. This was not forthcoming, and so we are left with a very good book but not a great one.

Caroline Blackwood was a remarkable person and a talented writer so we aren't entirely dismayed by the unrequited journey she sets out upon in the beginning - to see the Duchess for herself and find out if she "has turned black" or is being kept alive by machines in her lonely mansion. The closest she gets is a single encounter with the Duchess' butler at the doorway to her mansion. She is, of course, not permitted inside.

A description of the Duchess in her bedroom would have capped off this tome, but the journey leading up to her doorstep is so much fun I really didn't care. Four Stars. Great read.
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Last of the Duchess - No Duchess to be found 7 Jun 2013
By Trace - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really sorry I bought this in my research about The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The author never managed to meet or even see the Duchess and wrote this book about it.

She's too quick to add a bit of sarcasm to any tidbit, gets most tiring to read.

If you want to really read about them, this is not the book for you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A subtle and unsettling memento mori disguised as a piece of puff journalism 7 April 2014
By bigbeard61 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The frequently underestimated Caroline Blackwood has created an unsentimental investigation of the horrors and indignities of old age, as the minds and bodies of some of the most glamourous women of the twentieth century slowly decay.
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