Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Henley Literary Festival: Anna Pasternak, Phyllis Court

Anna Pasternak
Phyllis Court Club

A BUSTLING room greeted Anna Pasternak at Phyllis Court last Saturday for what was one of the most intriguing Henley Literary Festival sessions, presenting her book Untitled: The Real Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.

She was accompanied by the Spooks actor Geoffrey Streatfeild, who expertly read well-chosen excerpts from the book that brought the story powerfully to life.

Pasternak launched effortlessly into her search to give the American divorcée Wallis Simpson, whose love affair with the “rock star” prince Edward the Prince of Wales made her notorious and reviled, a voice.

This is the untold story of Wallis Simpson, who is often cast as the villain of the piece, whereas Pasternak discovers that she was rather more the victim.

Shunned and derided by royal courtiers, the royal family and the government of the time, it was only Edward’s unbounding love for Simpson that kept the union viable.

Many times we heard how Wallis pleaded to finish it and also sadly expected the relationship to end, because of its seemingly hopeless possibility,

“What a bump I will get when he finds another,” she wrote in her diary.

In one extract from the book, Edward writes to her, saying: “My sweetheart, I love you more and more and more” — and ultimately it was his unfaltering love for her that lead to the prince reaching his decision to abdicate the throne and the life of privilege and supremacy that it bought him, for her, “my Wallis”.

The story ends like any true love story, in sadness and despair, the two escaping England to the South of France “like fugitives” when news of his abdication broke, followed by weeks of enforced separation.

Further pain was heaped on the couple with the death of their dear dog, Slipper, whom Edward sent to Wallis to comfort her whilst they were apart.

Wallis took him for walk in the woods on his arrival that evening and a viper bit him and he died instantly.

Edward and Wallis were eventually married and lived out their lives in France. The prince always awaited a call from the Royal family to return to England, but the call never came.

They travelled vacuously and spiralled into anorexia and drunkenness until he eventually died in 1972. Wallis was left empty and desperate and alone in Paris until her own death in 1986.

The author’s compassion for Wallis Simpson is in every word of this book and she ended her Henley Literary Festival appearance by telling us how she had been granted permission by the Duke of York to lay flowers at Edward and Wallis’s graveside at the royal burial ground at Frogmore.

White Peonies and blue delphiniums and grasses — the same bouquet that Wallis had carried at her wedding to her love, the Prince Edward.

In her book, Anna Pasternak has shone a beautiful light on a moment in history that has previously been left in the dark and I’d recommend you seek out a copy.

Paul Carey

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