82 of 88 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The lady from Baltimore
Anne Sebba hits many of the moods and ideas of the era of `That Woman', such as the belief that tuberculosis was an embarrassing disease, especially for an upper social strata family like Wallis' family. We begin at her birth and some of the unknowns about that and her father's frail health. Sebba has completed much research, including papers and letters just now open to...
Published on January 26, 2012 by wogan
300 of 320 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wallis still remains a mystery
Many years ago, in December 1936, my mother had me by the hand as we went Christmas shopping in Robinson's department store in Los Angeles. Carols were loudly playing from speakers all over the store. Suddenly the music stopped abruptly and all the shoppers stopped what they were doing as though they were playing "statues." Everybody gazed at the silent speakers...
Published on January 28, 2012 by P. B. Sharp
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300 of 320 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wallis still remains a mystery,
Many years ago, in December 1936, my mother had me by the hand as we went Christmas shopping in Robinson's department store in Los Angeles. Carols were loudly playing from speakers all over the store. Suddenly the music stopped abruptly and all the shoppers stopped what they were doing as though they were playing "statues." Everybody gazed at the silent speakers. Presently a man's melodious voice broke the silence. It was Edward VIII renouncing the throne for the woman he loved. My six year old heart was thrilled and I became an Anglophile on the spot. I had to grow up to be disillusioned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor but I am still an Anglophile.
"That Woman" is the first biography of Wallis written by a woman but author Anne Sebba does not get closer to the real Wallis than the men. At the beginning of the biography the author plunges right in by defining what Wallis was all about. What made her tick. She also describes in detail the outfits and jewelry the Duchess wore which will appeal to women readers more than to men, I think. But the dress instincts of Wallis defined her. For her appearances were everything.
Her father died just five months after her birth and although her mother remarried the family was often living in near poverty in Baltimore. Wallis, however, had a sugar-daddy, her Uncle Sol who sent Wallis to an exclusive girls' boarding school called Oldfields. Wallis thirsted after the trappings of wealth, of society and the company of men. She was boy-crazy at a very young age. She wanted to pull herself up by her bootstraps if necessary and enter a higher social plane. Ambition to be somebody was a driving force in her character.
Author Sebba suggests but in no way proves that Wallis might have had some form of DSD, a Disorder of Sexual Development. There are many variations of the syndrome and in the future Duchess' case, she may have been lacking a uterus although perfectly normal-looking on the outside. Wallis did what many girls of this disorder do- tried to be as alluring to men as possible, to be as ultra-feminine as possible to compensate. And part of that compensation would be to give sexual partners world class orgasms. At the same time they would have a manipulative hold on their lovers. However fitting the character of Wallis into this syndrome is not justified by the facts.
Many observers have commented on Wallis' appearance- flat and angular, with large hands and feet and a strong male-like jaw. Persons with DSD have to fit themselves into a world where social order clearly defines the two sexes . A person not clearly male or female had a "dangerously disruptive presence." Wallis would compensate by being ultra-enticing to men, and marrying very young. If Wallis did, indeed, have some form of DSD, she was driven by her genes to behave exactly as she did. But again creating the character of Wallis to fit a mold is not justified. That Wallis was abnormal in any way is very unlikely.
The character of Edward is revealed throughout in the book. The author speculates that the Prince may have been autistic or have the lesser malady, Asperser's Syndrome but this seems far- fetched, as autistic individuals have trouble with verbal communication, and Edward spoke well. There is no substantiation whatever for Edward's being autistic. The Prince, however, seemed to have stayed as emotionally immature as an adolescent when he was well into his thirties. He appeared to require his girlfriends to be mother-figures or to dominate him. Many samples are given of Wallis' humiliating him before guests, bossing him around like a lackey. At a party he would follow her around like a dog. Edward was very likely sadomasochistic according to the author.
Edward's refusal to give up Wallis created a constitutional crisis and the atmosphere in England at the time is well described in the book with members of parliament in a dither. Wallis was frequently threatened but finally, after the abdication, the couple was married in the Chateau de Cande near Paris. The rooms of the chateau were filled lavishly to the brim with peonies and other spring flowers but precisely seven English people attended the marriage ceremony. Seven, for the ex- king of England. Although the title Her Royal Highness was refused to be awarded to Wallis, in their future homes the Duchess was addressed by the royal title and visitors were obliged to curtsey.
Most of the book, however, takes place before the couple is married and the result is an unbalanced picture of the Windsor's lives. After the wedding the pace is fast-forward.
On returning from Nassau where Edward was sent as governor to get him out of the way of World War II, the Windsors spent the rest of their lives attending parties and entertaining. Wallis was fully aware of her celebrity and once complained that Marilyn Monroe had pushed her off the front page and who was Marilyn's publicity agent? They could have done so much for the world but chose a vacuity that is staggering.
Author Sebba had access to many unpublished letters and private conversations that peg the Windsors and their world but there is very little new in this biography. What people thought of the royal pair is revealed in many quotes throughout the book such as: [Wallis] was "an evil force... full of animal cunning" and [the Windsors] were" tiny twins with large bottles of drink." It is an irony that the highly sociable Duchess became a bedridden recluse the fourteen years left to her life after the Duke died. But she will not be plowed under by the bulldozer of history. People will speculate forever just what Wallis did in the bedroom to capture her Prince. It's hard to like her but the whole world should be grateful to her for removing Edward from the throne."That Woman" is interesting enough but there are better biographies of the Windsors out there.
82 of 88 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The lady from Baltimore,
Anne Sebba hits many of the moods and ideas of the era of `That Woman', such as the belief that tuberculosis was an embarrassing disease, especially for an upper social strata family like Wallis' family. We begin at her birth and some of the unknowns about that and her father's frail health. Sebba has completed much research, including papers and letters just now open to view; however the results do not uncover much new information. This reads a great deal like other works published about the Duchess of Windsor, including `The Heart has its Reasons', which is quoted frequently.
What is contained in this book though is the extensive speculation regarding the Duchess' supposed chromosomal abnormalities- her masculine traits and the rumors of her activities during her time in the Far East where she is rumored to have learned many of the methods used in the local dens of iniquity. Very little good is said about the Duchess in these pages. She is described by most as crass and vulgar, naughty when she was young, hateful and poking fun at the Duke of Windsor after they were married.
At one point the author steps into the narrative to tell how she was able to read some just released papers, but again, there is not anything stunningly different from the other books written about this `love affair'. What are done well are the descriptions of the attitude of the British people toward the monarchy and the complete obliviousness of both the Prince of Wales and Wallis on the ramifications of their affair.
Even though the subtitle line states that this is the life of Wallis Simpson, most of the book (210 pages out of 283, an additional 60 pages has notes and an index) is devoted to the time before her marriage to the Prince of Wales-Edward VIII and the negotiations concerning her divorce from Mr. Simpson and the turmoil surrounding the abdication. The rest tells of their `exile' to the Bahamas in WWII and then their residence in Paris during the post war years. For more information on this later part of her life, one would have to look elsewhere.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not much new--same old questions go unanswered...,
I really wanted to like That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba. About 20 years ago, I was on a big Edward and Wallis-kick and read every book that I could find on the Windsors. When I read that Sebba used new source materials, I expected something exciting. Instead, That Woman proved to be a big disappointment, and all the old (big) questions remain unanswered.
The story of Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson is very well known. King Edward VIII gave up his throne in 1936 to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. Edward (called David by his family) was handsome, charming, self-absorbed, vain and immature. He also had no sense of duty. His father, King George V, predicted that after his death, his son would ruin himself in 12 months. Edward's refusal to give up Wallis created a constitutional crisis that led to his abdication. His brother, Bertie, ascended to the throne as King George VI. Afterward, Wallis and Edward lived a frivolous, unproductive and unfulfilling life in exile. They were never accepted by the Royal Family, they never moved back to England, and Wallis was never awarded the title Her Royal Highness. Their life was a "mismatch between public glamour and private anguish."
Sebba touches on many key questions about Wallis and Edward, but unfortunately, never provides real answers. Was Edward homosexual or bisexual? Did he have some sexual-physical limitations? Did Wallis suffer from a chromosomal abnormality? Was she really attracted to homosexual men? Did she learn sexual tricks to please a man while living in Shanghai? What truly happened to Queen Alexandra's jewels--especially her emeralds? And how far did Wallis and Edward go to help the Nazi cause? The author focuses most of her attention on the time leading up to the marriage of Wallis and Edward. She zips through their married life in a superficial manner. The controversy with the Windsors and homosexual heir Jimmy Donahue gets merely two paragraphs. An entire book has been written about that situation. Sebba also claims that "Wallis was utterly genuine in her desire to disappear from the King's life, if only to preserve her own sanity rather than from motives of altruism or to protect the King let alone the institution of the monarchy." If she was really "genuine," she could have stopped her divorce proceedings. The author also claims that Wallis never wanted to be queen. Again, I don't believe that for one minute as Wallis certainly liked living like one. She especially loved the jewels, the clothes, and the other perks of royalty. In fact, I believe that she loved all those trappings more than she ever loved Edward.
Sebba quotes quite frequently from other biographers of Wallis and/or Edward. My advice is to skip That Woman and read the books by Michael Bloch, Philip Ziegler, Greg King, Charles Higham, or Ralph Martin.
70 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scandal that stunned the world,
She was born Wallis Warfield. Shortly after graduating from high school, she became Mrs. Spencer. After several years of unfulfilling marriage, Wallis became Mrs. Ernest Simpson and moved to London, England where her new husband's family and business resided. Born in Baltimore, Wallis experienced very early in her life what is it like to be dependant on other people for money. Her mother was widowed early and had to fend for Wallis and herself for suvival. Financially they always depended on other (wealthy) family members and Wallis was determined that never happens to her. Her entire goal in life was to marry well and live comfortable life. To climb social ladder she had no boundaries. She was prepared to do whatever it takes to secure her financial well being.
It was during her years of living in UK and socializing with American women married to well-off British man that she got to know Edward, future King of England. Over period of time, Wallis and her husband Ernest became regular guests at various parties where she had access to Edward. Wanting to secure her husband's social standing and prosperity in his shipping business, when opportunity presented itself she offered her companionship to Edward. No one really understood the attraction. Wallis was not the most beautiful woman, she was not exceedingly intelligent, she was married to a man considered honorable but "a bore" and her manners were anything but refined. Author of this book makes her own hypothesis on what was the nature of this relationship. I will not disclose it because it is the essence of the book.
In any case, after reading this book, I was even more inclined to believe that the entire affair between Edward and Wallis was anything but a love story. She was a social climber, uncrupulous and cunning. Her end goal was to collect money and connections, regardless of people's moral standing and convictions. She readily accepted money from the future king before they were married and started her impressive jewelry collection. Edward on the other hand was caught up in being in a company of a woman whose behavior, manners, appearance and outlook on life was a complete opposite of the world he was born into. Personally, I believe that was the source of his obsession. Trying to please a person that was emotionally detached from him and indifferent to anything and everything but money. I do like author's conclusion that if for no other reason, world should be thankful that Wallis happened to be Edward's obsession, because with his pro-Nazi tendencies and general inability to follow through with his duties he would have made an ineffectual king whose loyalty to his nation would always be questioned. In some way these two deserved each other. Their lives revolved around parties and vacations and that what their life turned out to be. Meaningless drifting in a world where they were permanent exiles no matter where they lived. Generally ignored by the royalty and politicians of consequence (other than Hitler), their years as a married couple were marked by being surrounded by shady characters with their own pretentions that used this couple for their own purposes.
It is also interesting to mention that Madonna has recently made a movie about the pair called "WE". I have not seen it yet, but it may be interesting to see the film that will feature beautiful couture, jewelry and fashions of the time long gone.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So not worth the time,
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This review is from: That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (Kindle Edition)
I pre ordered this book that's how excited I was to read it -- what a waste of time. Shallow and speculative, with no new information even after all that access to private letters et al. Uneven in its pacing, I feel that the author really never got inside her subjects nor did she try to -- after the wedding she just begins a rushed account of where the couple movedto after the war and how their life was lacking due to continued isolation from the other royals -- Edward was a narcissistic ninny and Wallis a self absorbed nightmare
They clearly enabled each other and what is so fascinating to me is the lack of commentary around how they were a victim of their times yet still so very deeply flawed -- there should have been reams of interesting discussion around the how and why and what the hell! And that includes much documented commentary on the Duke's bi sexuality and the Duchess's sexual mores
At the end of the day ...
This book is not worth buying -- save your money for something else
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor,
When I saw the movie "The King's Speech" last year, I was intrigued by Wallis Simpson and her role in the abdication of Edward VIII. I immediately wanted to learn more about her, and I hoped this book would be an interesting and informative read.
The author, Anne Sebba, covers Wallis's childhood and first two marriages in detail, establishing a good picture of who Wallis really was. Born Bessiewallis Warfield, she soon eschewed the "Bessie" from her name, insisting that others call her Wallis. She grew up dependent on the charity of her father's family; he died when she was five months old from tuberculosis. This made her conscious her entire life of wealth, and she often said she wanted a wealthy husband. While not classically pretty, Wallis was an accomplished flirt and usually the center of attention.
Sebba presents the idea that Wallis may have suffered from a Disorder of Sexual Development (DSD) or intersexuality. The author admits there is no medical proof that Wallis had this, but believes "strong circumstantial and psychosexual evidence" fit her into the category. I personally found it extremely difficult to believe, and thought it was a far fetched idea to include without concrete evidence.
I wasn't a fan of Sebba's writing style either. I often had to reread clunky paragraphs and passages to figure out what she was trying to say. The biography is dry; I find someone like Alison Weir to have a more engaging and readable style.
Much of the focus of "That Woman" is on Wallis's relationship with the Prince of Wales. She was married at the time to Ernest Simpson who, incredibly enough, supported her relationship with him. When the Prince decided he must marry Wallis, her husband aided her in getting a divorce. Ernest allowed himself to be found in bed with another woman so that Wallis could claim he had committed adultery. It was a complicated relationship, and I never quite understood why the Prince was attracted to Wallis. He became obsessed with her, even though she was often short and disrespectful to him.
After the abdication and the marriage, the book moves along quickly. Now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Edward and Wallis drifted aimlessly through the rest of their years. It's sort of sad, but despite that, I would have preferred more information on their lives after World War II. Mere pages after they make a permanent home in Paris in 1952, the Duke dies in 1972. Wallis's last days are also covered at a fast pace.
By reading "That Woman," I did learn a lot about Wallis and Edward. The author clearly did her research, and often quoted from letters written by the two. But the book's ending didn't feel complete to me, and as I said, I would have liked more on their lives after WWII.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating portrait of a woman who is many ways was unknowable,
I don't think much of anyone could have done a better job of writing about the life of Wallis Simpson than Anne Sebba did in this biography, and part of that is how she showed, that even with huge amounts of research, in some ways, Wallis was unknowable. Even those who seemed to know her best found her to be an enigma. How did a woman without extraordinary looks, huge wealth or great intelligence managed to marry a man who gave up the English throne for her? Her childhood in and out of poverty is explored, as is her early marriage to a cruel man, both of which lead her to crave money, devotion and security. Her saint-like second husband couldn't give her all she wanted, and when she met the future king, she found someone she hoped could. Her life is portrayed in many ways as a tragedy, one she got herself into. The uncrowned king, her 3rd husband, comes across as truly, truly crazy. She probably did the throne a favor in getting him to abdicate. Although the royal family was certainly not good to them, like so much that happened to Wallis in her life, she brought much of that on herself---we see a portrait of a woman obsessed with money, clothes, jewels and houses. Her last days are one of the most gothically horrible tales you could read.
The author kept me interested all the way through, with a balanced and interesting view of the many sides of "That Woman", and information on many theories of just why she had such a hold on such an important man. In many ways, the most compelling story is not the abdication, but the sadness of the life it led to for her and for her despised husband.
I'd highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in what I used to think was the love story of the 20th century. It's not really a love story, but it's an amazing story non-the-less.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "That Woman," That Good,
There are some less than complementary reviews here of "That Woman," Anne Sebba's new biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, that complain that the book contains no "new" information; the implication being, of course, that without something different to say, there's no reason to retell this oft told, sorry tale. Sebba, apparently, had access to previously unpublished material, but even that does not seem of interest to those who have read all the previous books on the subject and consider themselves diehard Wallis-philes. Well, I haven't and I don't. I've certainly seen the story of Wallis & Edward VIII played out numerous times on film, but had never read a book on the subject; for me, a great deal of the information here is brand spanking new, and I had a great time discovering it. Sebba writes beautifully (despite what some other reviewers have stated), and she seems to have done her research. She brings up some rather salacious theories about her protagonists (Was Wallis a hermaphrodite? Did Edward VIII have a form of Asperger's Syndrome?), but presents them in an even-handed, objective manner. Sebba writes with great authority, in a professional, entertaining voice that never condescends to nor judges her subject. And she did what I never thought possible: she made me understand, if not wholly sympathize with, the Duchess' point of view. Rather than the crass, ambitious bitch most often portrayed, Sebba shows us a woman whose insecurities and fear of poverty led her to make some unwise choices; a somewhat pathetic woman swept up in a situation too unwieldy to control, even had she the capacity or temperament to do so.
Those who know the Simpson story well may find "That Woman" to be a tepid rehash of old information; as someone new to its specifics, I found it a fascinating picture, subtly and intelligently presented.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother,
I had high hopes for this book, especially due to the claims of "never-before seen" information. I've read just about everything extant about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, pro and con, and I have to say that the author must have though her book would be a first: an apologia for Wallis Simpson! It was her fear of poverty that got her in so much trouble, because she NEVER believed the Duke (as King) was SERIOUS about marrying her! That she NEVER intended to marry him, let alone push him toward abdication! That it was Ernest Simpson she really held out for, trying to keep him on a string, while getting as much money, clothes, and jewels out of Edward VII as she could before he dumped her! And on and on. I have read in other books that Wallis vastly underestimated the British (and the Dominions), and that she had absolutely no understanding of the British political system, and that the British Royal Family had it in for her, and those charges I can believe. But if you read diaries of people who were alive and in society at the time, especially those on board the Nahlin, I don't think there is any doubt whatsoever that Wallis meant to be Queen. It was she, after all, who gunned the whole morganatic idea full speed ahead, making Edward VIII look ridiculous and weakening his position, whereby she would be married to the King but not technically consort, and berated Edward for years afterward for bungling the proposal (the reasoning of the Big Bad Politicians being, whatever woman is married to the King is unquestionably Queen). There is so much blame to go around, and I guess I can't blame the politicians, who did everything possible to get Edward to understand what could happen, not just to the Monarchy, but to the Dominions, to the Church of England, to the working classes who believed that their King should not be married to a woman with two living husbands. Or, to paraphrase Noel Coward, "England doesn't want a Queen Cutie." I can't even really blame the Royal Family, for seeing that Edward VIII had huge character flaws and for not understanding how to get him to realize his duty; it certainly isn't as though Bertie and Elizabeth WANTED the positions they were thrust into...and Ms Sebba even glosses over the fact that Bertie had had NO training to be King, he had no inside knowledge, no grooming, no idea how he was to carry out this monumental task. He did it, and it killed him, but all the Windsors did is blame him for a laundry list of vanities. For Ms. Sebba to be an apologist for Wallis is not even new; Lady Diana Mosely did it first, in a book that almost amounts to hagiography, but this book isn't even original. While there are some interesting bits in her book, you have to be a student of the subject to pick them out. I'd give this book a pass...not worth reading with so many other, better researched, and better reasoned books out there, with a much better analysis of the differing interests at play, and a much wider scope of people actually involved in trying to pull Edward VIII back from the precipice. There may have been a few who wanted to see him go over, but his own psychosis and Wallis' overweening ego and huge shoves from behind are most to blame, imho.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Old stuff,
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Don't bother wasting your time on this book, it is all stuff you've read before. It was so boring and repetitive I didn't even finish it.
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