Friday, August 28, 2020

The Many Faces of Love

The trials and tribulations of the English royal family never fail to fill tabloids and news broadcasts. But while today’s Windsors are guaranteed media bait, few of the current flaps can match that of 1938, when Edward VIII abdicated the throne not long after his succession so that he could marry a divorced American, Wallis Simpson. In doing so, he capped a spectacular romantic career filled with many affairs, mostly with married women, to the utter embarrassment and despair of his family.  

In my latest New Books in Historical Fiction interview, Bryn Turnbull—whose debut novel, The Woman before Wallis, came out with MIRA Books just this past Tuesday—talks about the events leading up to King Edward falling for Simpson, in the days when he was still the Prince of Wales, known to his friends and family as David. The outline of the story appears below, but as Turnbull notes toward the end of our interview, the book is actually less about David and Thelma, the woman that Wallis replaced, than about the bond between two sisters, each caught up in her own international scandal of massive proportions. It also explores the complex relationships between husbands and wives, mothers and children, and even stepmothers and stepchildren. In that sense, this is a novel about far more than one almost-forgotten royal mistress.

The rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Most modern Americans can identify the names Wallis Simpson and Gloria Vanderbilt. But Simpson was not the first divorced American to win the heart of Great Britain’s future if short-reigned King Edward VIII, known to his family as David. This debut novel explores the life and loves of Thelma Morgan, whose twin sister Gloria married Reggie Vanderbilt and became the mother of the well-known fashion designer.

After the ending of what these days we would call a “starter marriage,” Thelma accepts a  proposal from Viscount Duke Furness, who takes her to his country estate and introduces her to his children. He also, in due course, introduces her to David and, when she and the prince fall for each other, steps aside and chooses not to contest their affair. The reality that Lord Furness has not himself practiced fidelity is one of the factors driving Thelma away from him.

Meanwhile, Gloria and Reggie have taken refuge from the twins’ mother in France, where they are raising their daughter, Little Gloria. Reggie dies prematurely, and Gloria becomes involved in the kind of knock-down, drag-out contest over his inheritance that only dysfunctional families can produce. Desperate to support her sister, Thelma abandons the UK for New York City, David’s assurances of love ringing in her ears. Unfortunately, not long before she leaves England, she introduces David to her friend Wallis Simpson …

Bryn Turnbull does a wonderful job of portraying this history, which is in some ways more dramatic than any made-up story could be.

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