The Duchess of Windsor was a footnote in history. Despite that fact, publishers keep on inundating the market with books about her. This one looked interesting from the outside but proved one very, very long disappointment inside. Author Hugo Vickers produced the ultimate guide on how not to invent a conspiracy theory.
Behind Closed Doors: The Tragic, Untold Story Of The Duchess Of Windsor by Hugo Vickers was published by Hutchinson. It is one of those books which had to wait for publication until everybody mentioned was safely dead and gone. Surviving witnesses to the true story might have disturbed the inventiveness of the author. And no, this is not a novel. It is sold as a biography.
The life history of Wallis Simpson the serial divorcee might be mildly interesting in view of the fact that she finally married abdicated King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. That story, though, has been told so many times it is hard to come up with anything new to say. It is even hard to find a new turn of phrase. In this biography, the life story takes up only the last third of the book. That is also the more interesting part of the book.
The other two thirds of the book are taken up by the dying Duchess. The biography takes up after the death of the Duke of Windsor. After the excitement of Edward VIII’s abdication, the Windsors became marginalized in society and degraded themselves to footnotes in history and lived a life of idle boredom. Only the most desperate of social climbers would be seen having contact with them. While the story line was boring enough during their marriage, there is actually no story to tell about the time Wallis Simpson spent on her own.
To rectify this minor impediment to writing a book about nothing, the author introduces a villain in form of the Duchess’ French lawyer Suzanne Blum. When he runs out of ideas on how to heap slander on Maitre Blum, he descends to insulting members of the wider Royal Family who had kept contact with the ostracized couple in the face of the Queen Mother’s disapproval. Vickers' nitpicking and often insulting approach leaves a bad taste in the mouth after reading.
The book instilled a sort of pity in me. Not for the Duchess, she got what she wanted, but for author Hugo Vickers. Seemingly, he spent weeks trying to slime up to the Royal couple. Their staff, though, were trained to the highest standards and rigorously kept professional bootlickers out of the way. It must be galling to have spent so much time on two nobodies. It must be devastating to have failed. It also sheds a revealing light on Vickers’ assumptions on what the Duchess wanted or didn't want. Because the whole meager plot is based on exactly those assumptions.
For authors, the book holds several lessons to be learned. Chose your subject with care: ‘She married an abdicated king and then was bored for the rest of her life’ is not the story you want to tell over several hundred pages. And heaping abuse on random people around your subject does not get you out of that fix, either, it just reveals yours instead of the subjects' character. If you have nothing to tell and want to invent a conspiracy theory, do it about a subject that is of interest, not about a nobody or a non-event. Having found a worthy cause for your theory, make the conspiracy go somewhere. In this book, it just peters out into nothing, revealing all that had been said previously as so much hot air.
If you don’t have to do it professionally, don’t bother with this book. It’s a total waste of money; even the Wikipedia entries on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor read like a sex and crime thriller in comparison.
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