The Other Wo­man

A de­but novel delves into the back story of the wo­man who en­trusted her lover, Ed­ward, to Wal­lis Simp­son

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Kim Honey

The story of a mar­ried wo­man who trusted her prince to Wal­lis Simp­son

It started with Madonna. First­time nov­el­ist Bryn Turn­bull was work­ing in com­mu­ni­ca­tions with a Toronto po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm when she sat down to watch the su­per­star’s di­rec­to­rial de­but in the 2011 biopic W.E. The film, which took its name from the way Prince Ed­ward and his mar­ried Amer­i­can lover Wal­lis Simp­son signed their names to a gift card, delved into the epic royal scan­dal that prompted Ed­ward to ab­di­cate the Bri­tish throne in 1936 so he could marry twice-di­vorced Wal­lis. The crown, of course, went to his brother, Ber­tie, Queen El­iz­a­beth II’s fa­ther.

Turn­bull, 32, watched the scene where Thelma Fur­ness, also a mar­ried wo­man and Glo­ria Van­der­bilt’s twin sis­ter, asks Wal­lis to look af­ter Ed­ward – then the Prince of Wales and Thelma’s lover – while she steams off to New York to sup­port her sis­ter in the head­line-grab­bing cus­tody bat­tle over Lit­tle Glo­ria Van­der­bilt. Known as the “poor lit­tle rich girl,” Glo­ria Jr. grew up to be a renowned fash­ion de­signer and U.S. jour­nal­ist An­der­son Cooper’s mother.

“It just re­ally stuck with me,” Turn­bull says in a re­cent in­ter­view from her Toronto home, where she is at work on her sec­ond his­tor­i­cal novel about another fa­mous royal fam­ily, Rus­sia’s Ro­manov dy­nasty. “Even if it’s some­one who’s a good friend of yours, it’s still a very strange re­quest to make of some­body, to look af­ter your lover while you’re away.”

Af­ter fall­ing down “a Wikipedia rab­bit hole,” she dis­cov­ered that Thelma, the daugh­ter of Amer­i­can diplo­mat Harry Mor­gan and his wife, Laura, not only lost Ed­ward to Wal­lis with that doomed re­quest, she ended up sup­port­ing her pen­ni­less sis­ter af­ter “the trial of the cen­tury” saw cus­tody of Lit­tle Glo­ria – and the man­age­ment of a $2.5 mil­lion trust fund – go to Glo­ria’s late hus­band’s sis­ter, Gertrude Van­der­bilt Whit­ney.

“Thelma was just such an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter to be at the nexus of these two re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant sem­i­nal mo­ments in his­tory in the early 20th cen­tury,” says Turn­bull.

The Wo­man Be­fore Wal­lis: A Novel of Wind­sors, Van­der­bilts, and Royal Scan­dal opens with Thelma re­call­ing her lunch at The Ritz tea room in Lon­don with Wal­lis, where she wor­ries about Ed­ward’s wan­der­ing eye. “I’ll be gone such a long time – what if some­one turns his head?” she asks. “I can’t pre­tend it’s not a pos­si­bil­ity,” Wal­lis replies. “He will be aw­fully lonely with­out you.”

Even though readers know how the story ends, Turn­bull says she be­gan there be­cause it was her

in­tro­duc­tion to Thelma.

“That was al­ways where the book was go­ing to start, with this mo­ment be­tween them and then look­ing back on ev­ery­thing that leads up to that mo­ment.”

The his­tor­i­cal novel leans on pre­vi­ously pub­lished ac­counts, but Turn­bull has an eye for telling de­tails that make the char­ac­ters come alive, not to men­tion a mas­tery of im­put­ing mo­tives to ex­plain their ac­tions. In Dou­ble Ex­po­sure, Glo­ria and Thelma’s joint 1958 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, she learned that Thelma taught Ed­ward needle­point, while Bar­bara Gold­smith’s Lit­tle Glo­ria … Happy at Last gave her in­sight into the court­room bat­tle. Ed­ward, Wal­lis and Glo­ria Van­der­bilt Jr. all wrote mem­oirs, which helped to “get into the voices in their heads and their head spa­ces.”

The book is a rol­lick­ing tale of the Bri­tish aris­toc­racy in the ’20s and ’30s, a world where women marry for money and sta­tus and men marry for arm candy and heirs. Chil­dren are raised by nan­nies and come down from the nurs­ery, freshly scrubbed, to see their par­ents at tea time. There are cou­ture gowns and di­a­mond-en­crusted tiaras, rivers of champagne, shoot­ing par­ties at coun­try es­tates and va­ca­tions on the French Riviera.

Al­though the ti­tle might lead some readers to be­lieve the book is a love story about Thelma and Ed­ward – and it does delve deeply into her four-year af­fair with the prince and sub­se­quent di­vorce from wealthy U.K. ship­ping mag­nate Vis­count Duke Fur­ness – Turn­bull knew early on it wasn’t about a royal ro­mance.

“As I went through the re­search and as I started to get to know Thelma more, I re­al­ized that her sis­ter was the great love of her life, and I would say that she was the great love of her sis­ter’s life, too,” the au­thor ex­plains. “It is a story about this un­break­able bond be­tween sis­ters and what they’ll do for each other and how, when one needs strength, the other will pro­vide it.”

Al­though she is not a twin – even though they do run in the fam­ily – Turn­bull ded­i­cated her first novel to her sis­ter. “I’m lucky to have that kind of re­la­tion­ship with my sis­ter, as well. So I knew from the get-go that this book was meant for Hay­ley.”

In her au­thor’s note, Turn­bull re­counts how, when Thelma dropped dead of a heart at­tack on a Man­hat­tan street in 1970, she was car­ry­ing a lit­tle stuffed bear from Ed­ward in her purse. It was one of a set the lovers used to ex­change at the height of their ro­mance, a re­mem­brance for the times they had to be apart.

It didn’t take long for Thelma to re­al­ize upon her re­turn to Eng­land, as she wrote in her mem­oir, that Wal­lis had looked af­ter Ed­ward “ex­ceed­ingly well.”

Thelma Fur­ness and Glo­ria Mor­gan Van­der­bilt in New York, 1935

The wed­ding of the Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor, France, 1937

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