At that time, so early in their history, motorcars were not sold with mascots mounted on the hood or bonnet. Probably the reason was simply that nobody had had the chance to think of it yet. But at some point someone got the bright idea to decorate the radiator cap above the grill. As fast as wildfire, mascots became the fad among motorcar owners. Each owner mounted his own personal mascot. Some were attractive. Some were not. Little and not so little figures of horses, dogs and birds were popular choices. But evidently there were also mascots of toads, boots and in one instance, links of sausage, the brainchild of a millionaire merchant who had made his money with butcher shops.
So it is hardly surprising that Montagu felt the urge to embellish his prized Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost with a mascot that represented his own personality and interests. What is surprising is that in the end, the mascot he drove around with, the mascot he chose to flaunt to the world took the form of Eleanor.
Obviously Montagu’s friends knew about his relationship with Eleanor and understood “the situation”. But the wider world didn’t – and wasn’t meant to. Montagu was a high profile man and publicly an upstanding married one. His mistress was a secret. So the big question is this: If your illicit relationship is something you are trying to hide then it doesn’t make much sense to mount a breathtaking statue of your beautiful, scantily clad lover on the top of your car does it? No, it doesn’t. But that is exactly what Montagu did. So something just doesn’t add up.
The figurine, a masterpiece of sculpture by Eleanor’s old friend Charles Sykes, certainly drew attention, that much is for sure. How could it not? Suddenly people were asking questions. Montagu wasn’t a stupid man. So I can only conclude that the figurine represented an astonishing act of passive aggression by a deeply frustrated man. It was his silent statement of defiance, his soundless primal scream. “Here she is. Look at her. This is the woman I love.”
Who are we to judge the lives of others, to condemn people we never knew? For Eleanor all we can really do is look back through the telescope of time with empathy and say to ourselves, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Every one of us reading this blog was lucky enough to be born into a very different world.
Just how different was happily demonstrated a few months ago in May. On a glorious spring day at Windsor Castle, amidst great fanfare and celebration, Prince Harry, a man at the very pinnacle of England’s class structure, married the woman of his dreams. He married for love. His bride, Meghan Markle, would have been an unthinkable choice for Harry a hundred years ago. She would have kept company with Eleanor at the bottom of the social pecking order. In fact, the two woman have many similarities. Meghan is intelligent, energetic, and hard-working like Eleanor was. Meghan is also a previously divorced, mixed-race American, a "colonial" by the old English viewpoint. And like Eleanor, Meghan was an actress.
In my heart I wish Meghan all the happiness in the world and I wistfully imagine how life might have been for Eleanor. It was her tragic misfortune to be born too soon.