Bryn Turnbull

Aug 26, 2020

The Woman before Wallis

A Novel of Windsors, Vanderbilts, and Royal Scandal

Mira Books 2020

purchase at bookshop.org

Most modern Americans can identify the names Wallace 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 of 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 Wallace Simpson …

In The Woman before Wallis (Mira Books, 2020), Bryn Turnbull, does a wonderful job of portraying this history, which is in some ways more dramatic than any made-up story could be.

C. P. Lesley is the author of ten novels, including Legends of the Five Directions, a historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Her latest book, Song of the Shaman, appeared in 2020. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.

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