Wallis by Rebecca Dean is a novelisation of the life of Wallis Simpson, from her childhood to the beginning of her affair with Prince Edward, later Edward VIII. Born Bessiewallis Warfield in Baltimore, Wallis had been divorced once already and was married for the second time when she met Edward. His later decision to abdicate in order to marry her cut him off from his family.
Wallis’s early life was not an easy one. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother struggled to make ends meet, as his family was not keen to help her out, although they did pay for Wallis’s education. Her first husband, Win Spencer, was in the navy, but it was not a happy marriage and ended in separation followed by divorce. She then spent some time in China, where it was alleged she learnt tricks for seduction in brothels, before meeting her second husband, Ernest Simpson. They lived in London, and it was through their social connections that she met Prince Edward.
In life and death, Wallis was a controversial figure, thanks to the abdication. There are still various rumours about her which cannot be completely proven or refuted, one being the allegations of Chinese sex tricks that I mentioned above, and another being that she was physically sexually dysfunctional, without fully formed female sexual organs, hence the need to learn how to keep men happy. Some sources take this as read, while others state it is unlikely – Dean has chosen to accept this, and in fact Wallis’s physical dysfunction forms a central part of the novel, and is the catalyst for the collapse of her first marriage. Being a novelisation, Dean is of course at liberty to make whatever choices she wishes to based on the available theories, but given that it is something so uncertain, I felt it had too much of a central role in the story.
Interestingly, there is no mention or hint that Wallis may have visited brothels in China, although little is included about her time there. As the two rumours tend to go hand in hand together, I expected both or neither to be present in the novel, not just one. However perhaps Dean is choosing to portray Wallis as more of a victim – the physical dysfunction ruins her first marriage – without also painting her as a woman of loose morals, as she has at times been portrayed.
Despite this possibility however, I felt little sympathy for Wallis, even as a character in a novel. Her life was not easy, and she had her share of sadness, but even so she just didn’t come across as very likeable. She wasn’t written as a nasty person, or manipulative, so she wasn’t an unpleasant character, or a villain – she just wasn’t a woman I could have much sympathy. Which is much as she supposedly was in life – she made women uneasy, as she had such natural charm with men. If it was Dean’s intention to arouse this feeling in her readers to evoke the feelings Wallis inspired in life, then I am impressed.
I’ve read Dean’s four novels in fairly quick succession, after discovering her only recently. One detail I liked about Wallis was that it referenced characters from her earlier novels – the Conisboroughs from The Palace Circle make an appearance, which makes sense as in that novel Delia befriends Wallis and defends her even as everyone else vilifies her. The Houghtons of The Golden Prince also appear, it having been about Prince Edward’s younger years.
As I finished Wallis, I read through the note on the author which I hadn’t seen in the previous three novels – wishing there were more novels by Dean for me to read, I was delighted to discover that Rebecca Dean is in fact a pseudonym, and under her real name of Margaret Pemberton she has written over thirty novels. Amazon here I come.
Wallis was an interesting read, but probably my least favourite of Dean’s novels. I viewed it more as a potential telling of Wallis’s history than a novel, which made it quite an interesting read for me. It is different to Dean’s other novels, which I would say are more comparable to Penny Vincenzi, while Wallis is more like Philippa Gregory, although obviously set in more modern times.
|Buy book online