Friday, December 11, 2009

Gone with the Windsors

On this day in 1936 Edward VIII became the Duke of Windsor. The abdication came as an enormous shock to an empire that was already in a precarious condition. Royal doings had no real importance here in America, but the reports were very interesting, especially on some phone exchanges in Upper East Side New York and Palm Beach. The idea that a king would give up his throne and his important job of opening grocery stores and accepting keys to cities to marry an American divorcee, actually a double divorcee. It makes you wonder what marital skills the duchess possessed. It's rumored she was a hermaphrodite (unproven) and a bit of a gymnast (not hard to visualize with that hairdo).

The Duke and Duchess were and remain interesting for being trivial, and A Book of Ages includes many of those small, telling details. For instance, the last thing Edward VIII did as king was have his toenails done. I also chronicle the Duke's flirtation with the Nazis, the number of pieces of luggage he took with him on his sudden escape from France in 1940, his card playing habits, his wife's complaints, the couple's various haunts down the years. He defined the role of "has been", which makes him a useful marker in a book about career arcs.

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