The beautiful woman on the portrait is Margaret Greville. She was only Mrs Greville, but I like to think of her as lady Greville. I guess it fuels my romantic ideas about the England and its aristocracy. And possibly if you entertained the monarchs in your house and were a friend of queen Mary, isn't that enough to be called a lady?
I visited her estate Polesden Lacey and was intrigued by her character. She was famous for being a gracious society hostess and her parties and events were known all over England in the Edwardian times. The beautiful interiors take your breath away. But what caught my attention was that hosting and entertaining people was more than just a pass time for her, way to build connections (although her husband was a politician so it was important) or a social obligation. It was a certain choice of what to do with her life, the opportunities and wealth that was given to her. As one of the volunteer guides in the house told me ,,Many rich people sit on money they have. She enjoyed it".
Not that organizing parties is a noble mission itself (although she held many charity events and was involved in patriotic actions during the Great War), but how she did it. Every little detail in the house arrangement as well as in the planning of the parties was thought as to please her guests and make them feel as comfortable as possible. I don't think that it was just the money she spent on having exquisite food or house (although the menus and the decor are impressive) that attracted her friends and acquaintances. After all these were all rich people who could afford good food and probably had beautiful houses too. I like to think it was her warm spirit and the intention she put in welcoming them. This is certainly the impression that I got looking at the thank you notes and listening to stories told by the guides.
And then there was the fact that she quickly became a widow. She did not remarry nor did she have any children. Perhaps that is also why she wanted her house filled with laughter and chatter.
Lady Greville was a very discreet person. She asked all her personal writing to be destroyed after her death. Her final gesture was to leave the house to the National Trust, so that other people could come and enjoy the house. In the end I felt more as a guest than a tourist.
It was by chance that on the day I visited Polsdenlace was the anniversary of passing away of someone very close to me. However little I know of the real Margaret Grenville, she made me think of the woman I loved and lost. She too opened her house family, friends and acquaintances. My "Lady Greville" did not have parlors with gilded walls nor did she make miniature sandwiches that looked like works of art, just a big kitchen and a china set made of various bits and pieces. But she put on so much passion in the food she made, greeted her guests with so much happiness, that she will always be the perfect hostess to me.
To me inviting someone for tea, dinner or party will always have a deeper meaning- an act of friendship and love.