That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, Anne Sebba

George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2011

ISBN 0297858963 (ISBN13: 9780297858966)

0 stars (if I could give negative stars, I would)

cover SebbaI can’t remember when a book made me angrier than this one. Compared to this poor excuse for a biography, even the horrid editing in Before and After seems worthy of the Pulitzer. I read this gem at the gym and I almost fell out off the treadmill. Several times. How an author can make such wild speculations and unfounded suppositions is unbelievable. What is even more unbelievable was that someone actually published this.

Anne Sebba’s author biography on Kindle reads, “Anne Sebba is a British biographer, writer, lecturer and journalist. She is the author of eight non-fiction books for adults, two biographies for children and several introductions to reprinted classics.”

After this book, calling this woman a “biographer and journalist” is a complete joke—and I would never let my children near her biographies. I thought the first rule of being a journalist or biographer was to write about facts. This book however, dealt more with the author’s obvious distaste for her subject and her efforts to completely besmirch the reputation of both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Sebba begins by making the statement that Wallis “probably” suffered from DSD (formerly known as hermaphroditism), even though she admits that there is absolutely no proof of this. However, Sebba says that IF Wallis’ diagnosis was indeed DSD, then it would explain why Edward VIII was attracted to her, because, according to Sebba, he was “probably” not well-endowed, or maybe gay. Again, there is absolutely no proof of this. The author’s reasoning here eludes me- what does one have to do with the other?

“Wallis herself, if she were born with some degree of DSD—and there is no medical proof that this is an accurate assessment of her case—would not have known that anything was wrong,” Sebba writes. (emphasis added)

There are so many things that are wrong with this statement, and there are hundreds of similar ones throughout the book. First of all, how can a “biographer” write a book based on something that she herself admits there is no evidence of? Second, it is extremely offensive that she characterizes DSD as something “wrong.”

However, Sebba goes on for pages and pages, explaining that if her speculations were true, it would explain Wallis’ character, perceived insecurity, “manly” hands, thin body, Edward’s infatuation with her, etc. When describing Ernest Simpson, Wallis’ second husband, Sebba goes as far as calling his relationship with Wallis “deviant.”

But Sebba doesn’t stop there. She goes on to speculate, again with no factual basis, that Wallis’ sexual prowess came from what she had learned by visiting prostitutes in China!

If she admitted to frequenting such places, which usually offered opium and gambling as well and were only slightly more respectable than ordinary brothels, as a threesome, perhaps she also visited brothels without Win and perhaps she learned from Chinese prostitutes some ancient oriental techniques for pleasing men—it is an impossible scenario to verify or disprove.”

So is alien abduction, but that doesn’t go into most biographies, does it?

Sebba also takes issue with Wallis’ intellect, “Wallis liked that in a man, perhaps aware of her own intellectual shortcomings.” Later, “When Wallis and Edward were exposed to the world of culture it was often a disaster.”

She also criticizes Wallis’ taste in clothes and décor. I don’t think I really need to go further on this topic—Google “Anne Sebba” images and take a look at Ms. Sebba’s fashion sense and my point is clear.

She goes on to conjecture that Wallis was anorexic and maybe even suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome. Again, there is no proof of this.

Sebba does not spare the Duke of Windsor from her wild speculations, suggesting he was insane, gay, anorexic (as well), shallow, weak of character and had a small penis. She questions his morals, intellect and masculinity.

In the style of a fiction author, Sebba pretends to get into her subjects’ minds. About Wallis she says, “She was not in love with Edward himself but with the opulence, the lifestyle.”

Here’s a gem:

“But, drawing the conclusion that Wallis, with her obvious dominating personality, was therefore able to satisfy both his [Edward’s] repressed homosexuality and his yearning for a mother figure is, again, speculation, however likely it may seem.”

Sebba does not rely on factual evidence as much as she does on second-, third-, and even fourth-hand accounts of events instead of relying on the wealth of verifiable information that is available about the couple including personal journals and letters, not just belonging to the couple, but to people who were actually there to witness the events Sebba pretends to describe. But of course, there would be no sensationalism in telling the truth.

I could go on forever. This book made me angry and sad. The saddest part, however, is how Sebba clearly relishes in the Duchess’ slow painful death, making it seem like she somehow deserved it.

The entire book is grating and in no way should be considered a true biography.

Here is what others had to say about this book:

Simon wrote:

“Completely meretricious, and I mean completely. She does nothing at all with the new material, Wallis’ continuing correspondence with Ernest Simpson until his death, and the reader is forced to endure what can only be described as the cesspool of the author’s mind. The Duchess of Windsor wasn’t the nicest woman in the world, but I have read biographies of Hitler that displayed more empathy for their subject.” read more

Judith wrote:

“OMG! Was the editor drugged or just sleeping on the job. This has got to be the most boring biography I have ever read. It reminds me of getting stuck in a corner with a person at a party who keeps digressing from one boring story to the next and never making any point but just rambling on.” read more