As most of you readers know, I love my historical fiction. The process of making a historic figure have real characteristics and relatability to people today is an art, and really makes for an enjoyable reading experience. It also makes learning about history exciting and realistic and not just about textbooks.
I recently deviated from my “usual” historical fiction of Elizabethan era-style novels, and rented a novel online from my local public library entitled The Shadow Queen by Rebecca Dean. The novel told the story of Wallis Simpson from her childhood as a young Baltimore, MD socialite to the woman a king would abdicate his throne for.
Wallis, whose real name is Bessie grew up with her mother, aunt (mother’s sister), her uncle (father’s brother), and grandmother. These were her only relatives, and her father’s side of the family was extremely wealthy. Wallis’ uncle supported her throughout her childhood until he made her choose between riches and ever seeing her mother again. Feeling disdain for her uncle, Wallis chose to leave a more challenging life and not live off of her family’s inherited wealth, but rather marry. Funny, because she first married a Navy pilot, Win Spencer, who turned out to be a drunk and beat her mercifully. She got a divorce from Win, only to marry a diplomat-type, Ernst Simpson. Simpson is the man she left for Edward. Above is a very, very brief description of the life of Simpson as told by Dean, but there is A LOT more to the novel.
Dean weaves a great novel of intrigue, and making it exceptionally clear the kind of person Wallis was. She was head strong, knew what she wanted in life, and was quick-witted. Dean composes a compelling story and focuses the novel primarily on Wallis’ childhood and her first marriage to Win (approximately 70% of the novel). She also focuses on Wallis’ friendships, with fellow socialites and family members, and how these relationships formed Wallis’ opinion and outlook on life. Dean wrote in a fictional friend to Wallis, Pamela, who was an amazing character. Almost like Wallis’ sassy side if you will. Wallis also had a very interesting relationship with her mother and uncle. Her mother was married three different times, two of which ending in her husbands’ untimely deaths. Wallis’ father’s family always disliked Wallis’ mother and tried to break the two apart, but Wallis never budged. I really enjoyed learning about the intricacies of Wallis’ family and that this formed her opinion of a marriage and following her heart. Lastly, Dean was great at socialite intrigue, and how the individuals of high status conversed with each other in all areas around the world: DC, China, England, Florida. All the different character and their interactions really paved the way for an interesting plot line.
Now, for what I was not especially fond of. Probably the only thing that exceptionally bugged me was the inconsistant pace of the overall novel. As I said the first ~70% was focused on Wallis’ life from about 10 through her first marriage. This got a bit tedious and old hat, especially the portions of when Win beat Wallis (sickened me, and was a little overkill to use that much detail). After divorcing Win, Wallis met her second husband, lived a happy life for a bit, then met Edward and fell in love. The novel ends right as she meets Edward. There is no mention of their lives together, how Edward’s family reacted to Wallis, how Edward abdicated the throne. The novel is Shadow Queen which alludes to the inclusion of information concerning Wallis’ bid for the throne, but Dean never mentions this. That’s the whole premise, and what I really wanted to learn about. The other more annoying thing, but not as much as a negative, was the conclusion that Dean came to that stated that Wallis was a hermaphrodite and was a virgin throughout her marriages (perhaps one of the reasons her first marriage ended so terribly). In researching this topic, there is very little evidence for this (granted, I didn’t do much investigating). But, a question I pose to you: Why would one of the most eligible bachelors in the world leave his throne to be with a woman he could not be intimate with? Hate to be a bit crass, but it’s true. I don’t think the world will ever know the real answer to that question unfortunately.
Overall, the novel was really interesting and well-written, but written in a simplistic manner to make it easy for common readers to pick up and learn a bit of history. I knew Wallis Simpson was divorced, but not twice divorced, nor did I know she was beaten for so long. She led a terrible life in the beginning, but lucked out big time in finding her true love. That’s the big take-away from this story; just wait for that special someone. Once you find them, they will give up their kingdom for you.