The Duchess: A Novel of Wallis Simpson

Written by Wendy Holden
Review by Janice Derr

At first, relocating to London sounds like a fresh start for Wallis. Finally, she can leave behind her old life in the United States, along with the memories of her doomed first marriage. But things aren’t turning out exactly as she hoped. She cares for her second husband, Ernest, but feels no great passion for him, and theirs is a chaste relationship. She finds life dull without friends or family nearby and spends most of her time alone and daydreaming of being invited to fancy parties and glamorous nights out for drinks and dancing. Then she receives a rare invitation to a dinner party and, taking advantage of the opportunity, uses her wit and charm to endear herself to members of high society. Through her new friends, she meets the Prince of Wales, a brooding and complicated man she feels an instant attraction to.

Wallis Simpson is typically portrayed as scheming and power-hungry, but Wendy Holden provides an alternate, more sympathetic view. Here Wallis is trying to overcome a traumatizing past and is plucky in her attempt to make the best of a less than desirable situation. She provides the prince with warmth and sympathy and encourages him to use his position to effect social change. She has no desire to be queen or for the prince to abdicate the throne. Her only desire from him is love and friendship.

Whether or not this version of Simpson is historically accurate is debatable, but she is a likable character in this engrossing novel. The book offers a refreshing new take on the abdication. It is full of sumptuous descriptions of the lavish parties Wallis attends and unforgettable characters like the prince’s self-centered and fabulous former lover, Thelma Morgan.