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104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars That Woman
I enjoyed this account of the life of Wallis Simpson. As other reviewers have commented, it is an immensely readable book and is certainly not a weighty, academic tome. The book appears to present a more balanced view of the Duchess of Windsor than has been evident previously, though I would not describe it as revisionist. While going some way to explaining her...
Published on 21 Aug 2011 by pilatesforlife

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have said more.
I purchased this book after hearing the author talk about her research at a literature festival. At the time I was impressed by the story of how she had unearthed Mrs Simpson's letters to her second husband and the author's conclusion that he and not the ex-King was the love of her life. For me the parts of the book that focused on this relationship were the most...
Published on 4 April 2012 by KAW


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104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars That Woman, 21 Aug 2011
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I enjoyed this account of the life of Wallis Simpson. As other reviewers have commented, it is an immensely readable book and is certainly not a weighty, academic tome. The book appears to present a more balanced view of the Duchess of Windsor than has been evident previously, though I would not describe it as revisionist. While going some way to explaining her ambition through what are perceived as childhood privations, I don't think Ms Sebba has done a whitewash job. For the most part, the book does not shy away from portraying Wallis Simpson as a shallow and self-absorbed woman, obsessed with material wealth and status. In one of her letters to her former husband, Ernest, she implies that she wished she could have had the life the Prince of Wales gave her with him. This is clearly not an endearing woman. The price she paid for her ambition and love of the `good life' was a friendless, aimless existence propping up a seemingly weak and ineffectual husband. I felt little sympathy for either of the Windsor's after reading this book.
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117 of 128 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A riveting biography that sheds new light on a much-misunderstood woman., 10 Nov 2011
When I first embarked on this inspired and impressive book, I knew little about Wallis Simpson beyond the fact she was, from all accounts, an unpleasant and almost universally hated woman. 283 revelatory pages later, I was made aware, through Anne Sebba's biographical skills and psychological perception, of all the early influences, including sexual and physiological abnormalities, that went to shape her character, and also of her complicated life-history, with its frequent changes of locale, friends, lovers and position. Sebba steers us through all the twists and turns with admirable expertise, bringing each place and person vividly to life, and never forgetting the wider national and international situation, which played so important a part in Wallis's life, if only by default.

Her depiction of the Prince of Wales, Wallis's lover and, later, husband is equally assured. Sebba goes beyond the outwardly insecure and self-willed man to reveal the reasons for his basic weakness and vulnerability, including childhood neglect and bullying by his father, King George V. And, as his love for Wallis grows into an all-consuming obsession, and his urgent need to marry her becomes more crucial than anything else, including kingship itself, Sebba draws us into the web of intrigue, gossip, scandal and political crisis that accompanied the legal and personal manoeuvering on each side. This was no mere personal drama. Not only did the fate of the nation hang in the balance, but the looming shadow of World War II made the heir to the throne's ultimate decision a matter of still greater import. One of the most fascinating of Sebba's conclusions is that his marriage to Wallis actually did the world a favour by removing from the throne a highly unstable man, and one with strong German sympathies. Indeed, had Hitler invaded and occupied Britain, there was a real possibility that the Duke would have agreed to become a puppet-king for the new regime, since he and Wallis had been favourably received on their trip to Nazi Germany in 1937, where he and Wallis were feted by the most prominent German leaders, including Goebbels, Himmler, Hess and Ribbentrop.

One of the great ironies of the book is that Wallis did not actually want marriage to the King, but longed to return to her `calm, congenial' life with her husband, Ernest Simpson. Right up to the last minute, she was hoping to escape and even wrote to Ernest on her honeymoon with Edward! She continued to keep in touch with Ernest for many years, and even asked him to co-operate when she came to write her Memoir in the 1950s. Ernest was very different from her first husband, Win Spencer, a jealous and angry man whose fondness for alcohol made the marriage extremely unhappy for Wallis. In contrast, her genuine bond with Ernest might have made her future far less traumatic, had she followed her heart and stayed with him. The Duke, however, refused to renounce her and even threatened to cut his throat should he lose the woman to whom he was enslaved. It was said that he saw through Wallis's eyes, heard through her ears, spoke through her mouth, and deferred to her in everything. Sebba makes the fascinating point that he made acceptable the `modern' craving for personal happiness and individual freedom, as against ideas of duty and responsibility, the latter championed so deeply by Queen Mary and, indeed, by the new King, George VI.

She also shows that, although outwardly very different, Wallis and Edward shared many characteristics; both were insecure and both sexually voracious in their youth (possibly to compensate for sexual inadequacies); both avaricious and intent on accumulating possessions, and both obsessed with dieting. At one point their typical breakfast consisted of grapefruit juice and black tea, while lunch would comprise a single egg or piece of fruit. And yet both shared a perilous penchant for booze, despite its calories! Both abandoned once trusted advisers and collided brutally with once loved friends; both were essentially lonely, and both had little interest in culture. The Duke could barely spell and rarely read. Indeed, there wasn't a single book in their otherwise sumptuously furnished mansion in France. After their marriage, they lived largely aimless lives; their main pursuits being entertaining, travel and extravagant shopping for Wallis's clothes and jewels.

It struck me that this biography could be read in one of two ways - although Sebba herself is too skilled a biographer to come down on either side, or to reduce a complex story to any black-or-white formulation. But throughout my reading, I was torn between seeing the story in psychological terms or, alternatively, as a morality tale. If the former, then it's the story of two inadequate, insecure and damaged people, driven by their desperate need of each other - a need prompted by very different but equally compelling reasons - to flout society and betray their nearest and dearest. If the latter, it shows two selfish, egocentric self-seekers reaping their own punishment by choosing personal happiness and self-advancement over any claims of duty and responsibility. Before the term was invented, Wallis could be accused of wanting to `have it all'. Not content with the love and security offered by her second husband, Ernest, she also craved the power, prestige and opulent lifestyle that a dalliance with the future King would bring. She assumed she could keep Ernest, whilst enjoying the rich rewards of her affair with Edward, which, in fact, she never expected to last more than a few years. But, trapped by Edward's all-consuming need of her, the inexorable process continued, with, first, the Abdication in December 1938 and, six months later, her third marriage to a man who had been King for a mere 325 days.

The wedding was a pitiful affair, with no official British presence and only a small gathering, and conducted by the one-and-only C of E clergyman who would agree to marry the couple. He was subsequently repudiated by his Church and went to live permanently in America, more or less banished from the UK. The couple themselves also paid heavily for this marriage, since they were forced to live as exiles ever afterwards; Wallis later describing her state as `rootless and homeless on the face of the earth.' She also became the target of deep loathing from the Church, the Empire, the Royal Family and most of the British public, and actually lived in fear of violence. Little wonder, perhaps, when she was seen, variously, as a witch, a whore, a Nazi spy, a bigamist and an amoral sexual schemer, who relied on exotic techniques in bed to entrap the King.

The book is packed with fascinating nuggets of information: Wallis chose her own `male' name; she was terrified of flying and once threatened to jump out of the plane; she weighed only seven stone by the 1950s, yet never relaxed her stringent dieting; the couple travelled with huge amounts of luggage - 80 separate pieces, according to some accounts; their sheets were ironed each night; their dogs were hand-fed from silver bowls and became the indulged and pampered children the couple were never able to have. Sebba points out that Wallis never mentioned the subject of procreation in either her diaries or her Memoir, and speculates that she may have been a pseudo-hermaphrodite; while Edward may have been sterile

It is hard to warm to so self-absorbed and shallow a couple, although there were many times in the course of the book that I did feelt genuine pity for `that woman', not least in her final years, when, bed-ridden, paralyzed, near-blind, senile and skeletally thin, living became as terrifying as dying. And it struck me as unutterably sad that, at her funeral, most of the flowers were sent not by friends but by the jewelers and couturiers she had patronized all her life. I was also touched by the fact that, both times she engaged in war-work, she seems to have found a rare and satisfying sense of purpose, especially when she personally served bacon and eggs in the RAF canteen in Nassau. In August 1940, the Duke had been sent as Governor of the Bahamas, and Wallis was appalled by her `banishment' to an island with an unbearable climate and to a house she saw as a dump. I found myself wishing that she had found a more permanent job to engage her there - and indeed in France - because, with an absorbing occupation, she might have achieved far more in life than her aimless round of shopping and entertaining. She certainly had energy, ambition and great organizational ability, surely wasted on merely furnishing her houses or titivating her person.

I finished Sebba's book with many conflicting emotions: sadness at the tragic mismatch between Wallis's public glamour and private anguish; fascination with her astounding collection of jewels, which fetched the phenomenal sum of $50, 281,887 when sold by Sotheby's within a year of her death; shock at the way she bossed, hurt and even humiliated the Duke; sympathy towards her overriding need for control, as the only way to keep her many fears and phobias at bay, and horror at her tragic end. Yet, ultimately, she remains an elusive figure, and indeed, Sebba ends her biography with a question rather than a conclusion: `How did a middle-aged, married woman, with large hands and a mole on her chin convince a troubled, boyish Prince that his life could have no meaning without her?'

Every individual reader may have his or her own answer to a question that has intrigued novelists, playwrights and biographers since her death, and will surely continue to exert a fascination over anyone interested in the human condition. Thus I strongly recommend this truly absorbing biography, which is both eminently readable and extremely well-researched. Sebba travelled far and went to great lengths, in all senses, to track down new sources of material. These shed new light and provide a new perspective on the many conflicting characteristics of `That Woman' - `the most wonderful woman in the world', according to the besotted Duke, her consort of thirty-five years.
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57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Did Wallis fly too close to the sun?, 18 Aug 2011
I'm not sure I like Wallis Simpson any more after reading this book but I certainly feel I have a better insight into what propelled her into reaching for the stars, though like Icarus, maybe she flew too close to the sun. Apart from exploring her childhood and the impact which early poverty and reliance on rich, capricious relations had on her adult ambitions, the book explores with the help of psychiatric and medical experts possible causes for her personality and behaviour. The author's style flows easily and the juxtaposition of Wallis's personal life with the affairs of state and the massive political crisis which hit Great Britain and the Empire in the 1930's while Europe was in such turmoil is fascinating. The new material which the author uncovered adds valuable insight into understanding more about the personalities who were at the centre of the storm. I found this book a really readable account of the life and times of Wallis Simpson.That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have said more., 4 April 2012
I purchased this book after hearing the author talk about her research at a literature festival. At the time I was impressed by the story of how she had unearthed Mrs Simpson's letters to her second husband and the author's conclusion that he and not the ex-King was the love of her life. For me the parts of the book that focused on this relationship were the most interesting and I wanted to read more of the letters and hear more of the story about these letters, although I understand that Sebba may be trying to protect the privacy of the owner. I agree with other reviewers that too much time is spent on the red herring of the Duchesses possible DSD (disorder of sexual development)this has been raised in other books, there is no real evidence, why bother to include it at length it distracts from looking at her childhood for real psychological clues to her development. As for the suggestion that the Duke was autistic, again nothing to back it up, he could have had any number of learning difficulties or disorders, but unless there is evidence or a good case what is the point of raising it at all, it is offensive to those who are autistic to use it as a label for anybody who has relationship difficulties.
Aside from this I thought the book flowed well and I enjoyed the writing and would have given it 4 stars apart from the implications, again without evidence, that the Wallis somehow colluded in her first husband's abuse of her "perhaps there was a part of her that had, wittingly or not, encouraged him, even enjoyed it?" I found this offensive. It belittled the experience of domestic abuse and as the author herself says Spencer was accused of abuse by subsequent partners. The Duchess does not appear to fulfill the pattern of a women who is attracted to abusive men, her next two husbands treated her with respect and even deference. I believe that biographer's should be wary about how much they speculate and the above quote appears to be pure speculation with no basis in fact and damaging to the subject of the biography, as well as to women in general.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Conjecture, 28 Feb 2012
This review is from: That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (Kindle Edition)
Whilst the book is diverting, the early parts are filled with conjecture and here-say. The possibility that she could have had a Disorder of Sexual Development is thrown in several times at the beginning of the book, but at the end it is mentioned that the Duchess was hospitalised with either a perforated ulcer or Crohn's disease. Even someone with a cursory knowledge of Crohn's Disease would know that it generally starts at some point during puberty and is a life-long disease. The possibility that every instance where she "could" have been suffering from complications from her Disorder of Sexual Development could also be flare-ups of Crohn's, or even ulcerative collitis, is never mentioned. Probably because it's just not as interesting as the other theory (also, eating can cause those with Crohn's significant pain, giving them a somewhat love/hate relationship with food, which is in line with what the author states regarding the Duchess' eating habits). This is just one example of the conjecture, and there several more.

I read the Kindle edition which was lacking some of the final touches of a printed edition. The references were not linked (but the notes were) and the images were all at the end of the manuscript, rather than throughout the book where they would have been more useful. There were also multiple typesetting errors with words running into each other and ellipses separated over two lines. However, these technical errors were mere distractions compared to the writing style, which was at times quite unclear and relied too heavily on commas.

All in all, the subject matter is interesting but the way it is presented in this book is not. It is proba bly best read as one of several books on the subject matter, to fill in the areas glossed over in this book.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening!, 18 Aug 2011
I found this book to be a real eye-opener. Generally Wallis is portrayed as a fairly one-dimensional, selfish and shallow character and I've always found it hard to understand why Edward went through so much (and put his family and the country through so much) to be with her. Here, we see her as a real person, with flaws and good points like anyone else and this makes her much more likeable and human. It's a pretty gripping read too!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprised by my enjoyment of this book!, 12 Sep 2011
I was recommended to read this biography by a friend. It's neither a genre nor a subject matter that would normally appeal to me, but I was amazed at how quickly I became hooked on this fascinating account of Wallis and Edward's relationship and the real love story that lay beneath. Sebba's style is captivating, she has unearthed some completely new material and tells a refreshingly alternative version of the 'story' most people think they know about the circumstances surrounding Edward's abdication. In spite of myself, I felt feelings of sympathy for Wallis, not the hardened, irresponsible personality I had her for, but a lonely, vulnerable woman full of regret for what could have been. I would recommend anyone - whether you're interested in the historical and political background to this account or not - to pick up a copy and immerse yourself in it immediately!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and interesting read, 7 Mar 2013
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This review is from: That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (Kindle Edition)
A great read for anyone interested in 20th century history and the intrigue associated with Wallis Simpson and her life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top of the class, 25 Feb 2013
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Mary N. Rasmussen "mnr" (Danmark) - See all my reviews
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Having read several books on this topic this was definitely the best by far and as I understand, the only one written by a woman.

This well written book left me with no questions about the Duchess of Windsor unanswered, as other books have. I think it gave a very fair look at the complicated woman who lived in complicated times.

My private conclusion was after reading the book was that she did the country a big favour by being the reason for Edward Vlll abdicating and giving us George Vl instead.

I can't recommend this book enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Insight into a crisis of the monarchy., 22 Feb 2013
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This is a story which has fascinated me for years - this book goes a long way towards bringing reality to so many of the rumours surrounding this chapter of UK & world history.
The overriding feeling is that Wallace Simpson did the UK a great service as Edward would have made a terrible monarch.
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