She was for several generations of the human community the infamous Duchess of Windsor. The woman who caused Edward VIII to abdicate the throne of England when he was forbidden to formalize their relationship with marriage. The ethereal creature of legend whose oft-repeated statement that “a woman can never be too rich or too thin” sent multitudes of her sisters into deleterious dietary tailspins.
The American femme fatale who stood the British Empire on its ear was the product of a Baltimore upbringing shaped by marital infidelity, social hypocrisy, and desperate pretensions to respectability. Her first marriage was marred by physical abuse, which compelled her to obtain a divorce despite the disapproval of her peers lest she not survive the next assault. She thought she found happiness in her second marriage, only to discover an unexpected and dangerous attraction for the heir to the English throne.
As the author of biographies of Edward VIII’s sister-in-law Mary and his nieces Elizabeth and Margaret, Anne Edwards is well placed to deal with this subject. Unfortunately, Edwards, whose credits include eight other biographies, has produced a strange hybrid with WALLIS—less a novel than an adequate biography which lacks scholarly attribution in support of its assertions. The reader is afforded little more than a glimpse of the inner core of the late Duchess inasmuch as Edwards is incapable of escaping the biographer’s straitjacket. In short, WALLIS does little to explain why a man might abandon an empire to seek her company.