Giving a Dinner Party for the King (Well, Sort of)
This Life in Maine column topic contains two articles. The one that begins below was written as a magazine article. The second one, which follows it, was written to complete the description of Edwardian dinner parties as my partner Tony and I have given, including photos, so readers will have a fairly complete idea of what is involved.
The article below was originally published in Lewiston Auburn Magazine for December of 2013, Issue No. 36. To see the article there as well as to read other excellent articles about life in the Greater Lewiston-Auburn area, check out the magazine’s website, It’s all very good reading!

The Edwardian Era is the period of English history between the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the beginning of World War I in 1914. Named for Victoria’s pleasure-loving son King Edward VII, its aristocracy and upper middle class enjoyed the last full flowering of the British Empire.
This era is known today in part for “Edwardian dinners”: grand occasions where the upper classes ---they and their servants both dressed in formal attire---consumed dinners of five to twelve courses, including soup, salad, fish, meat, game, potatoes, vegetables, desserts, sherbets, fruit, and cheese, followed by coffee. Conversation centered on the issues and events of the day, the arts, and the theatre. An Edwardian dinner party was indeed a very sophisticated affair. Good manners, as always, were essential. These dinners were featured on BBC’s Downton Abbey.
My partner Tony and I decided it would be fun to try giving Edwardian dinners, on a much smaller scale. So far we’ve given seven. The are indeed a lot of fun, and guests have enjoyed them immensely. We think you might like to give Edwardian dinner parties as well! Consider the following.
There are several keys to success. The first is to create a good mix of guests from the arts, business, education, government, journalism, other professions, religion, and what we call “the wise men and women of the realm” (who may quite include the folks down the street). Composing a good balance of friends and acquaintances from dinner to dinner is a bit of an art and can take some time.
It is important that the guests enjoy a good discussion. Since most guests will not have met each other and for guests to feel at home, it is best to have a “gathering” with appetizers in the parlor for at least an hour and a quarter before dinner.
A second key to success is to create an elegant setting that sets the tone and says, “This is a significant event, put on for you!” One long table set with table linens, flowers, and candles creates the foundation. A gold-painted charger underplate on which to place in turn each dish enriches the effect.
One needs for every course the correct piece of silverware and dish or dishes. Silverware is laid out so that from course to course guests simply select from the outside in and thereby know which piece to use. A second salad fork, especially one with a wide tine, can be used as a fish fork. The removal of an empty dish and the serving of the next course can be timed to fit the flow of conversation. A meal can take two or three hours, but no one objects.
While it takes a charger, eight dishes, and seven pieces of silverware per guest, one can obtain these rather inexpensively at estate sales and second-hand, antique, and “value” stores. I say of our mixed silverware, “It’s all old family silver. I just wish I knew whose old families’ it is!” I bought our Pfaltzgraff china years ago second-hand.