Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778388197
Hardcover, $28.99, 416 pages
Brynn Turnbull's debut novel, The Woman Before Wallis, gives us a fictional take on a fascinating real woman- Thelma Morgan, who became embroiled in not one, but two tabloid-worthy scandals. in the 1930s.
Thelma's first marriage was to an abusive man, and she divorced at a young age. She moved from New York to England where she caught the eye of Lord Marmaduke (Duke) Furness, and they soon married. While they had a loving relationship, Duke had a wandering eye, which Thelma was told she must just accept.
This bothered Thelma, but soon she gave birth to their son Tony and hoped that Duke would change his ways. His adult children from his first marriage came to respect Thelma, and Averill, the daughter, would seek out Thelma's advice.
When Thelma was introduced to David, the Prince of Wales and future King of Great Britain, David was captivated by her. She soon began spending time with him, and after awhile they began an affair. She believed if Duke could have affairs, she could as well.
Her relationship with David grew to love. She spent much of her free time with him, and when David showed up announced at Duke's home on Christmas Day, Duke became angered, and it was clear that Thelma and Duke's marriage was over.
David said that he wanted to marry Thelma, even though she was once divorced and now remarried, and an American citizen. Although Thelma knew marriage was impossible, she still loved David and wanted to believe in a future together.
Wallis and Ernest Simpson enter the picture at this point. They are Americans living in London, and Wallis befriends Thelma and her sister Gloria. The Simpsons are frequent guests of Thelma and David's, and when Thelma must go travel to America to help her sister in a custody battle for her young daughter, Thelma turns to Wallis to keep an eye on David while she is gone.
(We all know what happened next- David becomes enamored of Wallis, and gives up his throne as King of England to marry her, a twice divorced American. He and Wallis live out their years in exile.)
Thelma goes to America to help her twin sister Gloria in a nasty custody battle over her young daughter, Gloria Vanderbilt (future fashion jean designer and mother of Anderson Cooper). Gloria's former sister-in-law, Grace Vanderbilt Whitney, an uber-wealthy heiress, has petitioned for full custody of her niece, and Gloria and Thelma's mother has turned against her own daughter to side with Whitney (and the money).
They turned the young girl against her mother, and the custody trial became a grandstand event, with onlookers flocking to the courthouse to see the spectacle of rich people fighting over a young girl. (Many of us are familiar with the book Little Gloria, Happy At Last by Barbara Goldsmith about the court battle.)
I confess to not having known anything about Thelma Morgan, and I found her story and her proximity to two scandals fascinating. Rich people sure are different from the rest of us, and and their relationships to their young children differ greatly from today's helicopter parents.
If you are missing Netflix's The Crown like me, you will definitely want to read The Woman Before Wallis, and I would pair it with Beatriz Williams' novel, The Golden Hour, which takes place in Bermuda just before WWII where David and Wallis were sent to live. They'd make a great fictional double-feature about British royalty.
Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer Reads Blog Tour- Historical Fiction.