The Last of the Duchess

The Last of the Duchess

by Caroline Blackwood
     
 

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This is the fascinating and startling story of journalist and novelist Caroline Blackwood's search for the Duchess of Windsor. In 1980, the London Sunday Times commissioned Lord Snowdon to photograph the Duchess, who was then living outside of Paris, and Blackwood was asked to go along to report. But it is Maitre Suzanne Blum, one of the most powerful lawyers in… See more details below

Overview

This is the fascinating and startling story of journalist and novelist Caroline Blackwood's search for the Duchess of Windsor. In 1980, the London Sunday Times commissioned Lord Snowdon to photograph the Duchess, who was then living outside of Paris, and Blackwood was asked to go along to report. But it is Maitre Suzanne Blum, one of the most powerful lawyers in France, who becomes the central figure of Blackwood's story. Fierce and controlling, Blum holds the Duchess a virtual prisoner in her grand but now shuttered house in the Bois de Boulogne, keeping away all visitors. In Blum, Blackwood brings to life a wily old Gorgon—alternately vulnerable and ruthless, paranoid and perverse—who has begun interweaving her life with that of the Duchess. It is from Blackwood's talks with such colorful contemporaries of the Duchess as Lady Monckton, Lady Diana Cooper, and Lady Mosley and from her own encounter with Maitre Blum that Blackwood is able to evoke brilliantly the life and exploits of Wallace Warfield Simpson Windsor as well as her bizarre and sinister relationship with Suzanne Blum.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist and journalist Blackwood has pulled off quite a coup here: she has written a biographical portrait of the late Wallis Simpson, duchess of Windsor, without ever having seen more of her than the outside of her magnificent house near Paris and a murky photograph taken through the window by an Italian paparazzo. In 1980, the Sunday Times of London sent Blackwood to interview the 84-year-old duchess for a piece to run with photographs by Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret's husband. The assignment was dynamite, but the pair are stopped dead by Suzanne Blum, an 83-year-old eccentric and vitriolic French lawyer known as Matre Bloom, who identifies so closely with the duchess that her life is a round of suing newspapers, perpetrating both lies and legends of her charge's beauty and good health. Matre Bloom firmly takes over this book. A few derivative chapters cover the well-known details of Wallis Simpson's early life, but Matre Bloom shapes every page with her tantrums and vanities. The portrait is interesting psychologically and one admires this poised effort to salvage an aborted assignment. However, the absence of denouement-neither Blackwood nor Lord Snowden make it past the ferocious protector-makes the reader wonder why she is paying this much attention to a little-known, if complex, eccentric. In the end, one can only feel sorry for both the obsessed and the object of her obsession. (Mar.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
In 1980 when the London Sunday Times commissioned Lord Snowden to photograph the 84-year-old Duchess of Windsor, then living outside of Paris, Blackwood was asked to accompany him as a reporter. Alas, this journalistic scoop was not to be, for blocking all access to the duchess was her lawyer, the fierce and formidable Suzanne Blum. Interviewing such contemporaries of Wallis Simpson as Lady Mosley and Lady Diana Cooper, Blackwood discovered that the octogenarian Maitre Blum, one of France's most powerful attorneys, had complete control over the duchess and her estate. Since Blum kept the ailing duchess isolated in her shuttered mansion, Blackwood could not verify whether Wallis had fallen into a coma, as rumored by her friends, or whether she was still as beautiful and witty as ever, as Blum maintained. And that is this book's problem; offering inconclusive speculations, it reads like the extended Vanity Fair article it should have been. For larger collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/94.]-Wilda Williams, ``Library Journal''
Brad Hooper
A strange book--no, a "fascinating" one--about a strange situation. Most everyone knows something of the story of the duke and duchess of Windsor. As King Edward VIII, he gave up the British throne in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and they subsequently lived in France as little more than social butterflies. In 1980, novelist Blackwood was asked by the London "Sunday Times" to write an article about the widowed and elderly duchess of Windsor. Little did Blackwood know that a "total "cordon sanitaire" of silence" had been thrown up around the duchess by her forbidding lawyer, the infamous Maitre Blum. On more than one occasion, Blackwood talked with Blum, but never once was she allowed to visit the duchess herself. Indeed, Blackwood's book about the entire episode is less about the duchess of Windsor than about the cantankerous Blum, who is most definitely an interesting figure in her own right. Blackwood's amazing account of attempting to verify the duchess' state of health in the face of Blum's deterrents--a story that reads almost like a gothic novel--can finally be published now that not only the duchess but also her guard-dog lawyer are both deceased. (The latter actually threatened Blackwood with death if she published a negative word about her famous client!)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679439707
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/14/1995
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
295
Product dimensions:
5.41(w) x 8.53(h) x 1.03(d)

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