The Last of the Duchess Summary
by Caroline Blackwood

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The Last of the Duchess

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Originally written in 1980, this compelling literary mystery was withheld from publication by its author until the death, in 1994, of Maitre Suzanne Blum, the supporting player who rapidly seizes center stage. The title character of the book, the fabled Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986), is rumored to be near death in her house outside Paris, a virtual prisoner of her attorney, Maitre Blum. As the book develops into a portrait of this frightening old woman—herself a world-renowned attorney to the rich and famous—the reader begins to understand Lady Caroline Blackwood’s decision to withhold publication until this vengeful guardian of the Duchess’ reputation is safely out of the way.

As the blurred photograph on the dust jacket suggests, Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor belongs to the past. Blackwood consults books, articles, old newspaper clippings, and anecdotes told by other elderly ladies in trying to bring to life the woman for whom, decades earlier, a king (Edward VIII of Great Britain, later the Duke of Windsor) had given up his throne. Yet each time Blackwood tries to get to the Duchess of Windsor herself, Maitre Blum interposes herself.

Blum herself is very much a figure of the present. Although more than eighty years old, she continues to practice law, devoting most of her attention to her star client. Yet this is no ordinary attorney-client relationship. Blum idolizes the Duchess, even lives through her: Blackwood’s attempts to learn of Blum’s illustrious past are blocked by Blum’s preoccupation with the Duchess.

Readers looking for a standard biography of Wallis Windsor should look elsewhere. THE LAST OF THE DUCHESS is a post-modern rendering of the impossibility of biography.