Gone With the Windsors

I finished Laurie Graham’s Gone With the Windsors the other night and I’m surprised by how it haunts me.

It’s a novel about the “romance” between the Duke of Duchess of Windsor, aka King Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson, told through the journal of a woman who knew Wallis as a schoolgirl in Baltimore. The narrator, Maybell Brumby, is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but Graham manages to tell the Windsor story clearly enough that at the end, I was left feeling that the story is more tragic than romantic. He gave up everything for the “woman he loved”, only the woman he loved didn’t love the man he was. She loved his title and the thought of what it might bring her . . . and when he gave it up for her, she had no choice but to marry him.

I’ve been aware of the story for a long time, and have generally thought, “Ewww,” when considering both of them. This is not my idea of a great love story. . . mainly because I don’t think either of them was a particularly great or even interesting human being. At best, for me they’re sort of perversely fascinating for their narrowness and superficiality. But that’s all.

What this tells me–and it’s something I’m just realizing as I’m writing this–is that for me, a great love story involves people who would be interesting without the great love. One of the reasons I love Anya Seton’s Katherine is that Katherine and John both grow as human beings; she grows spiritually, and he develops from a prince ambitious for any throne he can claim to a statesman, long-sighted and wise. They become people I would want to know in real life, and–as presented in the novel–there isn’t anything shoddy or self-serving in their love for one another. That’sa great love.

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