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Last of the Duchess, The Hardcover – March 14, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Novelist and journalist Blackwood has pulled off quite a coup here: she has written a biographical portrait of the late Wallis Simpson, duchess of Windsor, without ever having seen more of her than the outside of her magnificent house near Paris and a murky photograph taken through the window by an Italian paparazzo. In 1980, the Sunday Times of London sent Blackwood to interview the 84-year-old duchess for a piece to run with photographs by Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret's husband. The assignment was dynamite, but the pair are stopped dead by Suzanne Blum, an 83-year-old eccentric and vitriolic French lawyer known as Maitre Bloom, who identifies so closely with the duchess that her life is a round of suing newspapers, perpetrating both lies and legends of her charge's beauty and good health. Maitre Bloom firmly takes over this book. A few derivative chapters cover the well-known details of Wallis Simpson's early life, but Maitre Bloom shapes every page with her tantrums and vanities. The portrait is interesting psychologically and one admires this poised effort to salvage an aborted assignment. However, the absence of denouement-neither Blackwood nor Lord Snowden make it past the ferocious protector-makes the reader wonder why she is paying this much attention to a little-known, if complex, eccentric. In the end, one can only feel sorry for both the obsessed and the object of her obsession.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In 1980 when the London Sunday Times commissioned Lord Snowden to photograph the 84-year-old Duchess of Windsor, then living outside of Paris, Blackwood was asked to accompany him as a reporter. Alas, this journalistic scoop was not to be, for blocking all access to the duchess was her lawyer, the fierce and formidable Suzanne Blum. Interviewing such contemporaries of Wallis Simpson as Lady Mosley and Lady Diana Cooper, Blackwood discovered that the octogenarian Maitre Blum, one of France's most powerful attorneys, had complete control over the duchess and her estate. Since Blum kept the ailing duchess isolated in her shuttered mansion, Blackwood could not verify whether Wallis had fallen into a coma, as rumored by her friends, or whether she was still as beautiful and witty as ever, as Blum maintained. And that is this book's problem; offering inconclusive speculations, it reads like the extended Vanity Fair article it should have been. For larger collections.
-?Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The author spends far more time talking about her reactions to the difficulties in dealing with the "protection" offered the Duchess than the biography of the Duchess herself.
I realize the focus was on the last years of the Duchess' life but still, there was little of that, and maybe because the author was restricted from actually meeting the Duchess.
I was NOT interested in the author's reactions on being refused an interview nor in her personal feelings about the doctor who did the restricting.
In summary - there are better and more informative books out there about the Duchess of Windsor. If that's what you want, I'd suggest exploring them rather than this one.
There were some revelations revealed about the Duchess that were never reported in any other book but the book that has the Duchess's affair with rich Jimmy Donahue, who was the cousin of the richest lady at the time, Barbara Hutton, and his mother, Jessie Donahue who were both Woolworth heirs and sinfully rich. That part was interesting and an introduction tot he book, "Dancing with the Devil" which was much better.
I am sure that the author, Caroline Blackwood was very disappointed that she was never able to penetrate the real story of Maitre Blum, but the book is boring as a result.
I like her witty remarks about the lawyer very funny. Caroline looks at the house from the
outside and remarks" maybe they are turning the duchess, in her bed now!" Makes you feel as if you are
actually there watching the house trying to see or get a glimpse of the poor old, tiny, sick lonely duchess of Windsor.
My heart broke when Caroline explained the photo (Hugo owns) she saw of duchess being carried by her nurse.It amazes me
how the lawyer is lying about the state the duchess is in" she talks a lot !"
She was paralyzed, hands crippled, her eye sight disappearing tube fed from her nose. I guess the lawyer wanted the duchess to be known perfect as always.I admire the duchess of Windsor and the duke always. I believe she did have great friends around her but they have not done something about her isolation and loneliness and the poor state of her room and house.They were scared from the lawyer like all of them in case she sued them! It is incredible how elegantly the Duchess was dressed in every single picture and how the duke always cared for her and cherished her till the end.
I enjoyed this book very much and please read it. I heard that it was published after the lawyer died.Even though it was completed before.She must have been some strong scary lady!
This very sad episode is told by Blackwood (who herself led quite a life!) in such a way with words, as if she intended to rival with her several examples of the Duchess «bons mots» she enumerates. What could have been a very depressing book startles with a continuous array's of humorous situations that are, in plain reality, simply atrocious. Irony made this book palatable. But situation was no joke.
There is a good number of books out there about Wallis Simpson and Edward. I didn't read them all and I don't intend to, unless somebody tells me wich biography is truly the best one. But if you are already well informed about the saga of one of the most talked about Lady of the 20th Century, this book will certainly add a different twist to your knowledge...
(Gladly, anew Pb edition is coming soon. I can't believe I see 100$ for my Pantheon edition I paid 5$ for...)