The story of Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor is more often than not presented as a great love story: she is the woman for whom the King gave up the throne. It’s precisely this oversimplification of the facts that Anne Sebba seeks to correct in her excellent new biography That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (St. Martin’s Press, 2012).
The first woman to write a full biography of the Duchess, Sebba provides a much-needed rehabilitation of this polarizing figure. The bite of the title succinctly captures the bitterness and antipathy directed towards Wallis Simpson- during her life and after- but Sebba’s impeccable research illuminates a woman far more complex than the popular imagination has allowed. This is myth-busting to the nth degree.
With access to previously undiscovered letters, Sebba creates an account of the Duchess’s life that is, at times, downright revelatory. For instance, Wallis Simpson didn’t intend to marry the Prince of Wales. Who knew?! As Sebba writes: “She was not in love with Edward himself but in love with the opulence, the lifestyle, the way doors opened for her, the way he made all her childish dreams come true. She was sure it was a fairytale that would end, but while it lasted she could not bring herself to end it herself.”
Ultimately, this was the stuff of tragedy rather than fairytale, but the story is riveting nonetheless. “That Woman,” an American woman who captivated a Prince to the point of obsession. As Sebba writes: “Few who knew them well would describe what they shared as love.”