DUCHESS: The Story of Wallis Warfield Windsor by Stephen Birmingham

DUCHESS: The Story of Wallis Warfield Windsor

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Bryan and Murphy's The Windsor Story would have seemed to have exhausted the subject--and it's true that neither Stephen Birmingham's recap of Wallis' career nor Michael Pye's reappraisal of Edward's role in the Bahamas is a repository of startling revelations or penetrating insights. What will commend Birmingham's book to some readers, though--for whom Bryan and Murphy may have been too clinical, too thorough--is his fix on the mysterious sources of her appeal. . . from her shaky Baltimore coming-out onward. And he's better able than most to put across her social success--those ""long, languorous months in China,"" separated from husband #1 Win Spencer, living in other people's houses, paying for her board ""with her charm, which had become her principal profession""; that first crucial invitation, now as Mrs. Simpson, to the Sackvilles' Knole--because she'd talked to Lady Sackville engagingly, without first catching her name (""The successful social aerialist affects indifference, and this piques society curiosity""). He inclines toward the view, moreover, that sex had little or nothing to do with Edward's infatuation for her, or with his blundering course toward abdication. Instead, he offers an amalgam of the flight-from-kingship and need-for-domination theories: she was his complement; in her ""fiber,"" her self-control, she was ""the half that he had always sensed was missing."" For the rest, Birmingham mostly scavenges--quite on the up-and-up--from Bryan and Murphy, Frances Donaldson, et al.; elicits comments from participants on the printed versions of events; and misses not a trick--to the point of following up on the protests by Maftre Blum, the sequestered Duchess' guardian, against the Donaldson-based TV series and David Pryce-Jones' New York Times article. If he trivializes serious matters (the Windsors couldn't have been plotting treason during their disputed passage to the Bahamas because they spent their time ""bickering over servants""), he manages to give a certain gloss to the trivia in turn, and even a bit of sparkle.

Pub Date: July 16th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown