The Last of the Duchess

The Last of the Duchess - Caroline Blackwood Looking at that title, it strikes me that Blackwood was slyly invoking the menacing association from Browning's "That's my last Duchess..." Whether or not the reference was intended, Blackwood certainly makes it clear that she found the circumstances of Wallis Windsor's last years, and particularly her secretive guardian lawyer, "maitre" Suzanne Blum, very sinister indeed.

Blackwood narrates her unsuccessful attempts to see the Duchess, her three interviews with Blum, and her various researches into both women, largely from interviews with surviving friends and associates. This was in the early 80s, and Blackwood's book didn't come out until after the death not only of the Duchess but of Blum as well. It very quickly becomes apparent why, when one reads the colourful and scathing characterization of Blum, not to mention Blum's notoriously litigious habits. I suspect that the eventual appearance of this volume was by way of amends for Blackwood's article about Blum following the interviews, which she characterizes, with obvious distaste, as particularly fawning and complimentary.

I haven't read much about Edward and Wallis, so the cast of characters was all new and interesting to me: that includes Blackwood herself (who is definitely a character in her narrative). She passed away a year after the first edition in 1995, and there is some discussion of her in the introduction to the recent edition (2011) by her friend James Fox. I wonder whether the new edition was in direct reaction to one of the biographical works by Blum's protege, Michael Bloch.

So was Wallis actually dead, or kept cruelly alive during those long final years in Blum's custody? Were Blum and her sidekick selling off royal property Edward and Wallis had kept? The answers are not definitive, but we are left with a definite, and shamefully rather gleeful, shiver.