Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

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
Buy This Book

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...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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

"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)

This information about The Woman Before Wallis was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Linda H. (New Albany, IN)

The Woman Before Wallis
This book was very enjoyable, as well as educational.
Apparently the Prince of Wales was involved with a friend of Wallis Simpson not long before he began his relationship with her (who knew)?. A wealth of information about Thelma Morgan and her sister Gloria Vanderbilt was a fascinating backdrop to the story. Thelma was the Prince's love interest prior to Wallis. The famous custody battle over "Little Gloria," Gloria Vanderbilt's daughter, also plays an integral role in this book. The ambience of the 2930's and 40's is palpable, allowing one to be fully immersed in the lives and times of Thelma and Gloria.
Thoroughly an enjoyable read.
#Bookbrowse kindly provided an ARC of #The Woman Before Wallis in exchange for an honest review.

Jean L. (Omaha, NE)

Exorbitant Extravagance
Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull is a well researched book of historical fiction. The time period of this story occurs after World War I and through the decade of the 1930s. It's focus presents a lifestyle of the rich and famous both in the United States and in England.

Thelma Morgan Furness is the women before Wallis. Though married to Viscount Duke Furness, she becomes involved in a four year affair with Edward, Prince of Wales. When Thelma's sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt goes to court in the United States to gain custody of her daughter, Gloria Vanderbilt, Thelma leaves England and the Prince to give her support. This opens the door for Wallis Simpson to take Thelma's place in the arms of Edward.

The scandal reveal in the court proceedings and the power of the Crown revealed during the trial makes for interesting reading.

I enjoyed the reading of this book. Historical fiction provides the reader with new insights to past history

Sharon R. (Deerfield, IL)

Royal Scandal
This is a marvelous depiction of the years leading up to Prince Edward's abdication of the throne. The amount of detail the author brings to her scenes is a remarkable achievement in itself. You feel you are in the drawing rooms, the Clubs, even in the forest surrounding the Fort watching the Prince cutting down trees. I also enjoyed the attention to the fashion of the times and how it changed significantly during the era.
Throughout the book I was also struck by the prevailing sadness. Even as they enjoyed their dinner parties and soirees, their gaiety was enhanced by alcohol and cigarettes.
When I finished the last page I couldn't help but think of our current fascination with the royals, especially Prince Harry as he has also walked away from his royal duties for the love of his life. The similarities are certainly there.

Mary S. (Bow, NH)

Historical fiction at it's most fun
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and The Woman Before Wallis did not disappoint this reader. It is based on the adult lives of Morgan twin sisters. One sister you've probably heard of: Gloria Vanderbilt, wife of Reggie Vanderbilt and mother of Gloria Vanderbilt, the famous designer. The second and lesser known sister, Thelma, is the focus of the book as she was the lover of the Prince of Wales for many years before Wallis Simpson. In fact she introduced Wallis to the Prince.

It is a whirlwind of a story, full people with incredible wealth - even during the Depression - and the trappings that the wealth brings. It is dialogue that kept me enthralled, however. The author does a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life. And, somehow she makes some of the most incredibly privileged people seem sympathetic - a true wordsmith!

If you're looking for a interesting story based on true events, look no further. I know you'll enjoy this one.

Sarah B. (Streamwood, IL)

Enjoyable
I enjoyed this immensely. I had never heard of Thelma Morgan, but I had heard of most of the other players. Both Gloria Vanderbilts and the case surrounding little Gloria; David and Wallis, but never that Thelma was there first and that David was so into married women.
This is perfect for anyone that loves royals, history and the feeling of celebrity tabloid stories.

Leah L. (Lawrence, NY)

Lots to discuss here
This review has several well known sayings because they are all relevant.

First -- Truth is stranger than fiction. Bryn Turnbull's debut novel is an engrossing piece of historical fiction that proves this adage true.

When I was growing up, my late mother talked about Edward, Prince of Wales, who chose the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. By doing so, he thereby gave up his rights to the Throne of England. Yet I had never heard of the woman before Simpson, Thelma Morgan, the sister of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. Thelma's husband Viscount Duke Furness introduced her to Edward and an affair ensured. Thelma traveled (via ship) to New York to support her sister through her well publicized divorce and custody trial. Before she set sail, she asked her trusted friend Wallis to take care of Edward. I wondered how history would have been different had Wallis not taken such good care of Edward. The rest is history. Cherchez la femme, as the French say.

Thelma and Gloria are the proverbial "poor little rich girls." There's glamour, fame, wealth but not much else. Both love and lose big time.

This sliver of juicy history occurs in a time period when journalism was about newspapers, photographers and radio. Imagine today's paparazzi feasting on these characters and their stories. There'd be many more applicable adages.

...39 more reader reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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

Other books by Bryn Turnbull at BookBrowse
  • The Last Grand Duchess jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more historical fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Izquierdo
    by Rubén Degollado

    A masterful debut that weaves together the lives of three generations of a Mexican American family bound by love, and a curse.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Cradles of the Reich
by Jennifer Coburn
Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.
Who Said...

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.