The Lady Vanishes

Zoë Heller

  • The Last of the Duchess by Caroline Blackwood
    Macmillan, 236 pp, £16.99, April 1995, ISBN 0 333 63062 9

‘As a siren Wallis Windsor had been a figure who had changed historical events more drastically than any other woman in human history.’ If one could only believe that the Duchess of Windsor had changed historical events more drastically than Mary Queen of Scots, or Joan of Arc, or even Margaret Thatcher, then perhaps Caroline Blackwood’s recycled revelations about the Duchess – her expertise at fellatio, her 22 carat gold bath-tub at Cap d’Antibes, the amusing tricks that her homosexual lover, the Woolworth heir Jimmy Donahue, liked to perform with his penis at dinner parties – might seem quite, you know, important. The disappointing alternative is that The Last of the Duchess is just what it appears: a book of snobby royal tittle-tattle on which Blackwood is attempting, rather late in the day, to confer some gravitas. British newspapers do much the same thing, when they affect concern about the ‘constitutional implications’ of the Prince of Wales’s desire to be a tampon.

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