Stephen Bates

The Woman Who Wouldn’t be Queen

Untitled: The Real Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor


William Collins 342pp £20 order from our bookshop

I suppose there are still two opinions of Wallis Simpson, the woman whose relationship with Edward VIII precipitated the king’s abdication in December 1936. Was she the woman who ‘pinched our king’, as a popular parody of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ had it? Or was she merely an unfortunate femme fatale who unwittingly launched the greatest British royal crisis (or greatest royal love story) of the 20th century?

Anna Pasternak is definitely in the second camp. Her publisher’s blurb goes so far as to claim that this book is the first positive biography of Wallis, and it certainly reads a bit hearts and flowers in places. There’s an occasional touch of Private Eye’s Dame Sylvie Krin too, such as in the description of Wallis’s return from her divorce hearing in Ipswich: ‘On the long journey back to London … Wallis sank back, exhausted. She was thankful the ordeal was over, but as always, anxious. Few around her realised, let alone were sensitive to, her fragility.’ This is certainly the first book I have ever read where the author thanks a florist (Bluebells of Henley) for ensuring a regular supply of her subject’s favourite flowers to inspire her writing.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,