One with Britain, heart and soul!
A quotation eerily prophetic in the light of Elizabeth II and her recent Silver Jubilee celebrations--and the fact that if is weren’t for Wallis Simpson, the current Queen might never have ascended the throne. Although Nicolson’s story is based on solid research and told through the eyes of chauffeur May Thompson and American “overweight charity case” Miss Evangeline Nettlefold, much of what transpires is never quite believable.
One life, one flag, one fleet, one Throne!
We first meet May standing cap in hand in Sir Phillip Blunt’s study in Cuckmere Park deep in the bucolic heart of Sussex, terrified she will be sacked after running over the love of Miss Nettlefold’s life: her precious dog, Wiggle. Evangeline is deeply rooted in her friendship with Wallis Simpson, who decides to ask her clever and generous friend over from America to bolster her up because she's feeling “a little overwhelmed by the British.”
Through alternating chapters, Abdication dramatizes the stormy coming together and falling apart of friendships which gives rise to May and Evangeline’s concerns, their particular needs colored by Wallis Simpson’s romance with Edward VIII. By far the more interesting is May; her life is filled with dramas from the past and her journey to England with her brother, Sam. We learn how they escaped from life on a Barbados sugar plantation and settled into a house in Oak Street, London, with kindly cousins Nate and Sarah.
A relentless drumming signals an uprising of fascist elements and a clear and considerable anxiety around "something that concerns" the Prince of Wales’s personal life. Through May, we listen to Sir Phillip’s conversations. One of a handful of deputy chief whips in the Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative Government, Sir Phillip speaks earnestly on the phone, discussing the intricacies of the constitution.
To be sure it’s impossible to recreate with accuracy any actual person, and literary fiction by its nature takes liberties with people and events in order to cover a lot of ground in short order. Still, Edward VIII is pretty much as you might expect: handsome, glamorous and charismatic.
His enigmatic American muse is neurotic and a bit plastic, a facile social-climbing doll, the sort of female who is seduced to position, sycophancy, and power by her love of gemstones. The tragedy is that Wallis realizes all too late her mistake in prolonging her relationship with the King instead of returning at once to Ernest, her husband.
Nicolson is generally effective at directing each individual from childhood to middle age, showing their relationships with one another and with the rapidly changing world of the 1930s. There
is also the obduracy of the privileged classes in refusing to acknowledge the reality of the German threat. The author is largely effective in giving us a distorted, shortsighted, and unrealistic glimpse of a country determined to appease Hitler’s Germany at all cost.
Thanks to Nicolson's choice to empathize with Evangeline’s betrayal of Wallis and May’s diligent search for love, the story eventually wears thin. The fictional aspects are overdone, suffocating the real historical events like the seductive figure of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, and
Queen Mary’s maiden voyage. Unfortunately, even the unsuitability of Wallis's romance with Edward does little to produce the oomph promised by a monarchy in crisis.