Wallis – Rebecca Dean

22 May 2012

As regular readers of this blog will perhaps recall I absolutely loved Rebecca Dean’s book The Golden Prince but was rather less keen on Palace Circle, despite really wanting to love it. I’m pleased to say though that her latest novel Wallis, which is a sort of follow up to The Golden Prince is a smasher and I pretty much gobbled it up.

Rebecca Dean was onto a winner though from the outset as Wallis, unsurprisingly as the clue is in the title, tells the story of the early life of Bessie Wallis Warfield and follows her through her really quite painfully unstable upbringing with her ‘flighty’ and impecunious mother; her subsequent abusive and really horrible first marriage to the handsome but really dreadful Win Spencer and then rather un-thrilling second one to nice but slightly dull Ernest Simpson. Now whatever people think about Wallis Simpson, and let’s face it she does tend to polarise opinion somewhat, one thing is for sure – she remains perennially fascinating and this novel brings her to life superbly.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m never sure what I think of Wallis but became much more sympathetic to her after reading Anne Sebba’s book That Woman, although I didn’t agree with some of the medical and psychological assessments that were made within its pages. I am very pleased therefore that Rebecca Dean’s novel also portrays a very sympathetic and likeable Wallis that I think is fairly true to life. She’s not perfect by any means but definitely not the ruthless, hard hearted socialite of popular imagining. What comes across is a courageous, fun loving, warm hearted, vibrant but also desperately insecure and rather snobbish young woman who hides her battered heart beneath a brittle veneer of chatter and bold faced bravado. I rather loved her.

The main crux of the book is an imagined friendship between Wallis and a fictional Duke’s daughter, Pamela who for some unknown reason is living in Baltimore. The girls remain best friends through childhood and adolescence before going their separate ways and it is their friendship and the betrayal that temporarily brings it to an end that is the main catalyst of everything that happens within the novel. I found this a bit disconcerting as the fascinating Pamela is a fictional character but it works really well and I’m guessing she is based on a composite of real people. If you like your historical fiction to strictly adhere to the facts then you may find Pamela and her husband highly annoying distractions. I liked them though and hope they get their own novel or that they feature in a follow up to Wallis, which I hope is forthcoming as it ended all too soon for me.

I also really liked that the fabulous Houghton sisters who were the stars of The Golden Prince featured in this book so I could catch up with them all again. I do love it when writers do this – it’s always a thrill when Heyer’s characters pop up in her other books, although I lament that her allegedly planned Lord Wrotham novel never happened.

Anyway, yes, if you are fascinated even slightly by Wallis Simpson or have a thing for the glitz and glamour of the early 19th century then I’d definitely recommend Wallis. I’ve now moved on to Kate Williams’ new biography Young Elizabeth: The Making of our Queen, which will no doubt talk about Wallis from an entirely different perspective and probably make me cross with her all over again…

Further reading:

Wallis

The Golden Prince

Palace Circle

That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Young Elizabeth: The Making of our Queen

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