Sad tale of royal debacle in 'horrible' decade
Sympathetic portrayal of Wallis Simpson and her lonely, undignified decline
Published in the Witness (13/01/2020)
At best, I would describe myself as a lukewarm royalist, so what interested me about this book was its look at what W.H. Auden described as a “low dishonest decade”, the horrible 1930s.
However, Anna Pasternak’s stated aim is to rehabilitate Wallis Simpson, the twice divorced American for whom Edward VIII gave up the British throne in 1936. Ever since, the British establishment has portrayed her as an evil, scheming gold digger, the villain of the piece.
Pasternak shows that Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor after the abdication, was as much victim as villain, trapped in a position she didn’t want once the Duke had decided that he couldn’t live without her. So he gave up the throne while she was condemned to spend the rest of her life looking after him. He comes across as pathologically stupid and completely without the mental and emotional resources to make a life for himself once the job, for which he had been very inadequately trained, was taken away.
The real villains were the courtiers, the politicians and the Queen Mother. It seems deeply ironic that the politicians, who had dreaded the idea of the gormless Prince of Wales becoming a loose cannon of a king, then connived at turning the Duchess into a hate figure when she was the one who ensured that they got what they wanted. Interestingly, the one member of the royal family who comes out of it well as a compassionate and caring figure is the present Queen.
The book concentrates on the affair between the then Mrs Simpson and the prince, and the abdication itself. The little space afforded to the years after serves to point to what an empty, peripatetic life the Windsors had to lead. They were indubitably treated very badly, but they didn’t help their own cause. The Duchess, most of the time, remained dignified, and one can admire her for that, but the pair were politically inept and possibly fascists, though more through lack of awareness than conviction.
Untitled is something of a page turner, and at the end, you can’t help feeling very sorry for the Duchess in her slow and lonely decline as she was bullied and robbed by her crooked lawyer, but it is all a pretty unedifying tale.
- Untitled is locally published by Jonathan Ball