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The Last of the Duchess

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  647 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Intriguing, suspenseful, and witty, this is the story of journalist and novelist Caroline Blackwood's search for the late Duchess of Windsor. It is also a provocative exploration of the often bizarre connection between heightened celebrity and approaching death--in Blackwood's words, "the fatal effects of myth." First serial to New York Times Magazine. ...more
Hardcover, 295 pages
Published March 14th 1995 by Pantheon Books (first published 1980)
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Average rating 3.28  · 
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B the BookAddict
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fact
Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. The following story is factual. In 1976, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, appointed Maitre Suzanne Blum as her Power of Attorney. For ten long years, her life would be solely under the supervision of this formidable French lawyer.

In 1980, Caroline Blackwood is commissioned by the Sunday Times to interview Wallis, Duchess of Windsor; an interview which would accompany the photograph which Royal photographer, Lord Snowden, wanted to take. The Duchess had alw
...more
Ammar
This book is more of a memoir of how Caroline was trying to get information about the Wallis the Duchess of Windsor, and she found a huge obstacle in the way by the name of Maitre Blum: the Duchess lawyer and spokesperson.

This book was not published till the death of the lawyer, as she was famous for suing any journalist or newspaper for writing anything she deemed not nice about the duchess.

When the quest begins to know how the duchess is doing.. the readers understand from the gossip that she
...more
Jill Hutchinson
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I made the assumption that this book actually included an interview with the Duchess of Windsor when she was at the end of her life. Wrong! The author, on a newspaper assignment, to write an article about Wallis Windsor, decided to turn her experience into a book. Wrong again!

Instead, this is a book about the attorney, Mâitre Suzanne Blum, who totally controlled the Duchess, from her wealth to any public pronouncements about her physical condition. She was an angry, nasty woman who insulted any
...more
Surreysmum
Jun 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: passed-on, biography, 2014
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 i
...more
Eric
Mar 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Caroline Blackwood casts a very cold eye on the duchess in her old age. Forbidden to see her or interview her by her dragonlike lawyer, Blackwood interviews her friends and speculates on the gossip. Is the duchess a dried up fossil held prisoner by her butler? Is she swollen to twice her former size? Has she turned black, as another friend tells her? Are her jewels being secretly sold around Paris? All the funniest old and later rumors are trotted out and detailed. Blackwood's satiric voice is s ...more
Kate Loveton
Jul 10, 2021 rated it did not like it
Gossipy, salacious, and purely speculative. Perhaps all that might have been forgiven if THE LAST DUCHESS wasn’t so tedious and boring a book. How do you make a book about Wallis Warfield Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, boring? Put it in the hands of a journalist with no real feel for her subject and whose writing is drenched in condescension toward the person she is writing about. A terrible book. Worst of all, it wasn’t really about Wallis as much as it was about the attorney who handled her care ...more
Pascale
This book, like so many, could have done with more stringent editing, but in spite of some repetitions it reads very well. My interest in the British Monarchy is minimal, and it's the fact that Caroline Blackwood was the author that attracted me to this book. Sure enough, her lucid style proved just the thing to bring to life the dismal story, or rather non-story, of the last years of the Duchess of Windsor, bereft of most of her faculties and at the mercy of a vindictive and possibly slightly c ...more
Damona
If you're looking for a biography of the Duchess of Windsor, this isn't it. It's more of a biography of her Parisian lawyer, Suzanne Blum, but much of the book is just speculation and gossip about both women. It's interesting, don't get me wrong, but there's not a lot of hard facts in here.

It's also quite depressing. If someone who was as well known and well off as Wallis, Duchess of Windsor could end up being essentially locked away from the world for her last 10 years, and no one was doing any
...more
Diane Hales
Tedious

I struggled through the majority of this book. Far too much time was spent making assumptions regarding the relationship between The Duchess and Maitre Blum. I didn't enjoy this book until the last three or four chapters when more definitive information was revealed about the actual fate of Wallis Simpson. I cannot recommend reading this book.
...more
Stacey
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was not about Wallis Simpson as I had hoped but more about the author and her inability to meet with the Duchess in the last years of her life. Much of the book was focused on a scathing description of the duchess' lawyer. I actually found the book incredible boring and disappointing. ...more
Kerry
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: royalty
What an incredibly sad book. It's supposed to be funny, but while the author describes in gross detail how unstable and formidable the Duchess of Windsor's lawyer is, she seems unconcerned that clearly an act of elder abuse is happening under hers and other people's noses and apparently nobody can do anything about it--but the truth is that nobody really tries because they are too "scared" (don't care enough--it's too interesting to wonder what's happening than really find out the probably horri ...more
Jess
May 15, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some synopses have indicated that this is not really about the Duchess, but more about Maitre Blum, her lawyer & caretaker. This is true. The title is misleading. A fascinating book about a complex woman, who is perhaps sinister & a little nuts. The brief allusions to the Duchess herself portray her as a shallow, vain & insecure woman, but we don't know if this is true, because the author never meets or even sees her. A book worth reading, but don't expect to learn much about the Duchess of Wind ...more
Kristie Helms
Dec 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Just such an absolutely bizarrely fascinating book. Nothing at all really about Wallis Simpson... just more of a monologue really of the author's attempt to interview the Duchess in her final decade. The writing was so different from anything else I've read that I was completely engrossed, but I honestly don't know that I would have finished it if a) I hadn't been trying to get my "books read in 2012" count up and b) I wasn't on a bit of a holiday. ...more
Sparrow .
a great trove of gossip about the Fascist-loving nobility of latter-day Britain. Why was the Duchess carting her Faberge eggs to every fucking English manor house to which she was invited for the weekend? That is the current question I'm contemplating. ...more
Lauren
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book struck me as two things - being about the people around Wallis Simpson & the hunt for information relating to Wallis. In this instance, I wasn't so much interested in the research process & the hunt, as much as I wanted to read about Wallis Simpson. Definitely a bit unfortunate. ...more
Amy
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did not know what to expect when I picked up this book. It was not a typical biography about Wallis Simpson. I was pleasantly surprised by its unique perspective.
Hari Brandl
This is an odd book. From the title one would think it's about the Duchess of Windsor, but in fact it is more about her tyrannical lawyer and custodian, in the Duchess' later years, Maitre Blum. It is also more about the Duke of Windsor, and Blum's associate and underling, Michael Bloch.
And none of the information presented is verifiable. It appears Ms Blackwood used only about 7 sources, and there are about 15 footnotes, in total.
Most of the book, in fact, is rhetorical questions, and conjectur
...more
Kristine Rushton
Reviews by others are mixed and that is mostly my reaction. Anything royal always intrigues me and I enjoyed the read into the tale of this rottweiler of a lawyer that is "protecting" Wallis Simpson. Unfortunately for the author, I feel she has not done us true justice in waiting to unveil the story after the lawyer has died. Wallis' last days are sad and you are left wondering how the heck this happened to her and why.

I think I left with more questions than when I began reading. I don't regret
...more
Malglam
Jan 16, 2022 rated it did not like it
This book is pure gossip. The writer is assigned to find what is really happening to Wallis Simpson. She's been ill for a long time and nobody seems to know if she is alive or dead. She managed to speak to her lawyer and she didn't get a lot of information from her. So instead, she wrote this book explaining how awful the lawyer was. She also spoke with a lot of old ladies, most of them seniles, who knew the Duchess of Windsor to a greater or lesser extent. The results of these conversations and ...more
Deb Spencer
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Martha Rath
Apr 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
i wanted to learn about the life of one of the most hated women in British history. Who she was and what captivated the Duke of Windsor to abdicate his throne.

Wellll... the author NEVER met/saw/glanced at her - this WHOLE book is about the manipulation of a feisty old lawyer!

Yes, I learned about her past, her previous marriages and what lead up to this point of meeting the Duke, yet came away with ashes for knowing anything of their lives together.
Renée Mee
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Was disappointed in this book. It seemed very much about authors failure to get an interview with the duchess and more about her lawyer.also, the author speculates a lot about scenarios she imagines about the duchess but not based on any fact..I feel she felt she had to write something but sold us a false plot as this is not about the duchess but her wicked lawyer. She should have changed the title and tried to maintain some kind of integrity.
Joanna
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and depressing story of the final years of the Duchess, trapped inside an old house by herself with only her butler and attorney caring for her. It definitely reminded me of the stories of Brooke Astor losing her mind while her son sold her possessions and wouldn't let anyone visit her. The tone is somehow catty and empathetic at the same time, although the cattiness comes out most when she discusses the woman who cut Wallis off from her friends after the Duke's death. ...more
Robin Best
Mar 21, 2021 rated it liked it
There were a few interesting anecdotes, but this book was primarily about the Duchess' attorney Maistre Blum, who was a ghastly person & the Duchess' incarceration in her house, during the last years of her life. The Duchess herself was a consummate fashion maven, hostess and party-thrower but not a very nice person. From the little I learned about her, I am not in the least curious to know more.
...more
Amanda
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
So, this is not a biography of Mrs. Wallis Simpson. This is a story of a reporter revealing the mystery of the final days of the Duchess. She paints a picture of the Duchess’s mercurial french lawyer, as well as that of her social set. I enjoyed this ranging book, though it seems mysterious still, in terms of who can be trusted and what actually happened to the Duchess.
Lorri Steinbacher
Dec 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Not all that much about the duchess at all, but an examination of the psychology of one of her hangers-on, the lawyer that kept visitors from her and a tight rein on her finances at the end of Wallis' life. Chilling to think that despite the Duchess' fame that she had no one willing to advocate for her. A sad story. ...more
Mary Steidler
Mar 13, 2021 rated it did not like it
This might be the dumbest book I've ever read. I stuck with it because I kept thinking the author would eventually decide to do some research and provide some facts, but it turned out to be just a flimsy gossip rag, poorly written and with NO INFORMATION about the Duchess of Windsor. I don't understand how it got published. ...more
Anna
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well researched

The author had unique access to the Duchess. This account of the life and times of Wallace Simpson with the prospective of years feels authentic. After all the hullabaloo dies down, truth emerges.
Holley Peterson
Sep 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Dark and bizarrely engaging piece of expanded journalism about the ancient and unpleasant Frenchwoman who acted as temple guard to the dying Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson), ensuring that no one was allowed to visit the Duchess in her final days. Odd but interesting.
Jane
Sep 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: royal-history
I found the life of the Duchess of Windsor really interesting and after watching a film about her and her relationship to the King I wanted to read more about her. This book wasn't a good as I had hoped. ...more
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was a writer, and the eldest child of The 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and the brewery heiress Maureen Guinness.

A well-known figure in the literary world through her journalism and her novels, Lady Caroline Blackwood was equally well known for her high-profile marriages, first to the artist Lucian Freud, then to the composer Israel Citkowitz and finally to the poet Robert Lowell, who described
...more

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