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The Woman Before Wallis: Book summary and reviews of The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull

The Woman Before Wallis

A Novel of Windsors, Vanderbilts, and Royal Scandal

by Bryn Turnbull

The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull X
The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull
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About this book

Book Summary

For fans of The Paris Wife and The Crown, this stunning novel tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward's heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson.

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she's immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma's sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

Bryn Turnbull takes readers from the raucous glamour of the Paris Ritz and the French Riviera to the quiet, private corners of St. James's Palace in this sweeping story of love, loyalty and betrayal.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does Thelma's relationship with her mother fundamentally shape her attitude towards men and money ?
  2. Thelma's abusive first marriage occurs in the years before the book begins. How does that experience impact her relationships, not only with David and Duke but with all of the people in her life?
  3. Thelma's relationship with Gloria has room for criticism, but never disloyalty. How does her attitude towards homosexuality differ from other characters in the novel? How does class distinction play into rules of gender in the 1930s?
  4. When Thelma first meets Gertrude Whitney, Gertrude blames Reggie's choices for leaving Gloria in such a dire financial state. Do you think her own choices are justified in seeking custody of Little Gloria?
  5. Thelma...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Brimming with scandal and an equal amount of heart ... a sweeping yet intimate look at the lives of some of history's most notorious figures from Vanderbilts to the Prince of Wales ... A must-read for historical fiction lovers." - Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of When We Left Cuba and Next Year in Havana

"What an exciting look into the scandalous, fabulous lives of the Morgan sisters. And Wallis Simpson up close and personal—what could be more wonderful or more wicked?  I loved this book." - Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The Queen's Secret

"Bryn Turnbull takes a story we think we know and turns it on its head, with captivating results. At its heart is Thelma Furness, the woman supplanted in Edward VIII's affections by Wallis Simpson, but here she's more than a footnote to history—she is the story. This is a beautifully written, meticulously researched and altogether memorable debut work of historical fiction."—Jennifer Robson, USA TODAY bestselling author of The Gown

"Juicier than trading gossip at the Ritz, The Woman Before Wallis spills the secrets of the woman who captivated King Edward before he was the king who gave up his crown. This is a glamorous story of just how far we're willing to go for love. Fabulous!" - Stephanie Thornton, author of American Princess

"This stunning debut is certain to makes Bryn Turnbull a rising star in historical fiction. The Woman Before Wallis is an illuminating novel about Thelma Morgan Furness's love affair with Prince Edward, her bond with her twin sister, and the sensationalized custody battle over her niece, Gloria Vanderbilt. Filled with saucy scandals, rich historical detail and lyrical prose, you will not be able to put this one down." - Renee Rosen, author of Park Avenue Summer

"Thelma Furness is brought to glorious life ... Readers will delight in Turnbull's masterful weaving of high society, royal shenanigans, and family scandal as they rediscover one of the twentieth century's most fascinating women. I look forward to reading more from this dazzling new author." - Alix Rickloff, author of The Way to London

"A captivating, intimate story about the joys and heartaches of the woman who stole a prince's heart ... and then lost him to Wallis Simpson. Full of exquisite detail and atmosphere, it takes readers deep into the heart of glamorous New York and European society in the early 20th century. The story is breathtakingly rich and full of complex characters. Settle into a comfortable chair and get ready for a great read!" - Jeanne Mackin, author of The Beautiful American

"An immersive story of love, loyalty, glamour and scandal. Readers will be fascinated by this tale of American socialites and British royalty, and the intrigue behind their glittering façade."—Kristin Beck, author of Resistance

"Bryn Turnbull gifts us with a juicy debut filled with forbidden affairs, intense custody battles, and opportunistic, social climbing friendships. The Woman Before Wallis oozes with page-turning drama that makes Downton Abbey look tame in comparison. I look forward to reading more from this new talent."—Kaia Alderson, author of Soldier Girls (February 2021)

The information about The Woman Before Wallis shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Joan B. (Ellicott City, MD)

Woman before Wallis
Wallis and Prince Edward were married on my actual birth day. I remember that my mom was always impressed with a love story that prevented the prince from remaining on the throne. As a little girl, I knew the name Wallis Simpsom was connected to a romantic love story. Also, I knew very little British history. I just thought ex-kings would lead a charmed life of riches and pleasure. Those dreams called me to this book and I loved it!

Surprisingly, it was the before Wallis story that was fascinating. The Gloria Vanderbilt name was embroidered on my first jeans. Little did I know that Gloria had a beautiful twin sister who was the woman before Wallis. Their lives were the juice of society columns as well as the meat of this book. Prince Edward was quite a dashing play boy. His adventures made quite a story that was suppressed by the British press. Thelma is the glamour girl who keeps you reading.

Shirley T. (Comfort, TX)

The Woman Before Wallis
The "Woman before Wallis" is an immensely enjoyable novel, revealing the intriguing but decadent lives of the aristocracy and the wealthy on both sides of the Atlantic during the years following World War I.

While the United States and the United Kingdom struggled with the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s the rich were involved in multiple love affairs and other dubious relationships. The novel is well researched regarding historical facts and the author has succeeded in portraying the characters of Thelma and Gloria with such clarity that the novel is a "page turner"!

This is a great portrayal of the other side of the Wallis Simpson story in the ebbing days of high society leading up to World War 2.

Carrie M. (Rahway, NJ)

Woman Before Wallis Bryn Turnbull
For readers of The Paris Wife or A Well Behaved Woman, a debut novel with historical accuracy and detail which enhances the enjoyment and ease of reading. Travel to early twentieth century Paris, the English countryside, and by necessity to New York and beyond to immerse yourself in the world of Lady Thelma Furness and her family and acquaintances. Discover how the daughter of an American diplomat marries the aristocratic Viscount Duke Furness and through him, meets Prince Edward (known to his inner circle as David); however, can she trust her friend Wallis to care for him while she journeys to New York to support her twin sister Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt in her notorious child custody battle? There are many intriguing and accurate subplots.

An intriguing and thought provoking read into the societal demands of the British noble and royal families and their circle in the early twentieth century. The relationships between Thelma and Gloria, and with the younger generation, adds depth, interest, and understanding of the period. The details of the homes, estates, and more add color to the book. The only hindrance for some readers will be the interweaving of the two plots and time periods on the opposite sides of the Atlantic but these drive the plots and the family dynamics. These twin plots are needed to understand. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. The plot is well executed and the characters draw into their lives.

Discussion are included in the book or your contemplation or for group discussion.

Debra C. (Vienna, GA)

The Woman Before Wallis
On the heels of reading The Queens Secret and The Splendid Vile, The Woman Before Wallis, was the perfect ending to my all things English trifecta! If you enjoy discovering new and interesting details about the royals, you will thoroughly take pleasure reading this well written piece of historical fiction. Thelma's story is intriguing and provides a straight forward easy read...never knew that she once held Prince Edwards' heart and their history and love story left me wanting to know even more. Byrn Turnbull, great work presenting such an insightful piece of history!

Joan V. (Miller Place, NY)

The Rich ARE Different
I very much enjoyed The Woman before Wallis; I would have given it more than five stars if that rating were possible. I highly recommend this book.

I thought I knew a lot about the Duke of Windsor's abdication, but this book filled in a lot of details that were new to me. Through Thelma Morgan ( Lady Furness) there was a connection to the British Royal family and the famous custody suit for Gloria Vanderbilt, between her mother and her Vanderbilt grandmother. Lady Furness was the Duke's mistress and the twin sister of Gloria Vanderbilt's mother. Learning about all the behind the scenes was fascinating.

This look at the lives of American and British wealthy upper classes was very revealing. It's hard to imagine anyone keeping up that standard of living today, probably very few do. It's always fun to peel behind the curtains at the private lives these people led, but it does create a feeling of distaste at the values they had. Although the author does not go into the future life of the Duke, he did not make much of a contribution to the betterment of anyone other than himself. Behind all the glitter none of these people seem to be very content or happy with their lives.
I think it would make for a good discussion in a book club. I also think viewers of the Netflix series The Crown would enjoy it.

Diana C. (Boca Raton, FL)

Entitlement at its finest
This book tells the story of an American woman romantically invoved with Edward, The Prince of Wales prior to his much storied relationship with Wallis Simpson. I tried with every page I read to find some redeeming quality in each and every one of the characters in this novel, but I invariably came up short. For the most part, the author's prose was seamless and her inclusion of fascinating, albeit salacious, historical detail kept my interest. However, in this reviewer's opinion the story's characters were empty vessels totally immersed in their own greed and self preservation with less than a shred of human civility or propriety.

...2 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Bryn Turnbull Author Biography

Photo: Louise Claire Johnson

When she was eleven years old, Bryn Turnbull accidentally put her foot through a single-pane window while leafing through a well-worn copy of Sandman (Volume 2). The incident, which resulted in a trip to the hospital, five stitches, and a unique application of superglue, taught her two things: one, that reading is not, and should not be attempted as, a full-contact sport; and two, that writers can create worlds within a book so absorbing, so completely and utterly all-encompassing, that they can drive readers to such distraction as to forget the outside world entirely.

​ Today, Bryn is a writer of historical fiction. Equipped with a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews and a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from McGill University, Bryn, ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
Link to Bryn Turnbull's Website

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