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On an August afternoon in 1901, two English women, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, were touring the palace of Versailles in Paris. The women were both highly educated academics: Jourdain was the author of several textbooks and tutored English children in Paris, and Moberly had been appointed the first Principal of a hall of residence for young women at St. Hugh’s College in Oxford in 1886.1
As they walked about the palace of Versailles, the pair struggled to enjoy themselves, due to their ignorance of the history of the location. However, they persevered and decided to go and visit the Petit Trianon, a small château located on the grounds of the palace, which had once been the home of Marie Antoinette.
On their way there, however, Moberly and Jourdain claimed to have become lost. As they tried to find their way, the women said they encountered two men, who they described as “very dignified officials, dressed in long greyish green coats with small three-cornered hats.” 2 The men supposedly directed them to go straight on. Soon after they came upon a circular kiosk surrounded by woods on all sides. They would later ascribe this place as the Temple d’Amour, a garden folly located in the gardens of Petit Trianon. Beside the kiosk there was what they described as a rough looking man in a coat, who supposedly put the pair of them on edge.
Suddenly, a man ran up to them, and told the women – in strange and heavily accented French – to go towards the house, which was to their right. As this was the direction away from the dark character by the kiosk, the two of them obliged him and started to go in the indicated direction. When they looked back to thank him, the man had allegedly disappeared.
Moberly and Jourdain proceeded in the indicated direction, which took them over a small, rustic bridge to an English garden in front of a square building with lots of windows. It was then that they noticed a lady “sitting” nearby, “holding out a paper as though to look at it at arm’s length.” According to their later written testimonies, they assumed the woman “to be sketching.” 3
Supposedly, “She had on a shady white hat perched on a good deal of fair hair that fluffed round her forehead. Her light summer dress was arranged on her shoulders in handkerchief
fashion […] her dress was old-fashioned and rather unusual” 4
In their own words, the women described their experience as being “unnatural, therefore unpleasant ; even the trees behind the building seemed to have become flat and lifeless, like a wood worked in tapestry.” Their surroundings were claimed to have been “intensely still”, with an ominous quality. 5
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After observing the woman sketching, a footman supposedly approached the two women and directed them to a party of other visitors, whom they subsequently toured the house with. 6
Moberly and Jourdain did not mention the events that occurred in the gardens that day to one another until a week afterwards, at which point they discussed their belief that the Petit Trianon was haunted. A month later, at Oxford, they wrote separate accounts of what had happened, and compared them afterwards. Both of their accounts were very similar. Furthermore, after revisiting the chateau, the pair found that the gardens were very different from what they had seen during their first visit. The small bridge that they had crossed, for example, was not there. It was, however, present on an old map of the gardens. 7
Further exploring the possibility that they had stumbled upon some special event occurring that day at the palace, they researched the matter but found that nothing of any particular note had occurred the day of their visit. 8
After researching their experience to the best of their ability, the two women came to believe that what they had experienced that day was a glimpse into the past, to be precise, a glimpse into the life of the ill-fated Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette.
In 1913, Moberly and Jourdain published their accounts and research in a book called An Adventure, which caused a sensation at the time.
Sceptics were ready to dismiss their experience as a shared delusion, or as a misinterpretation of normal events. One theory in particular suggested that they had inadvertently stumbled into one of the reputed and eccentric themed parties of the French poet Robert de Montesquiou, who was known to have dressed in period dress along with his guests, so as to relive the time period. 9
Whatever the case may be, Moberly and Jourdains’ experience continues to intrigue and perplex, with dramatisations of their case being broadcast as recently as 2015.10 With such high level of detail and research in their testimonies, as well as their reputations as witnesses, many have been left wondering if the women really did experience a time slip that day in Versailles.
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