Friday, 7 March 2008

Another garden, another time



The following is what I like to call "the mother of all time slips". 
You are probably familiar with it. If you aren't, there's a good chance you'll be hooked by the subject, so proceed at your own risk.

The story is so fascinating - and so lengthy - that it would take a long time to elaborate properly on all of its aspects. So, for now, I am just going to put at your disposal some of the key elements - and I'll come back later, for the appropriate fine-tuning.

Versailles, August 10, 1901

The tenth of August - the day after
la notte di San Lorenzo, as Italian folklore calls it, when wishes come true if you wish upon the right stars (not that it has anything to do with our story) - was, by all accounts, a hot and stormy day in most of Europe in the year 1901.

It was certainly hot in the palace gardens at Versailles.
We don't know how many visitors were there on that day, but only two of them interest us anyway: Miss Charlotte Anne Moberly and her colleague Miss Eleanor Jourdain, a couple of unusually highly placed and very respected female educators - at Oxford, no less.

The gardens of Versailles are enormous - an entire day is seldom enough to explore them.
But their layout, typical of the French landscaping art of the 17th century, follows a very rational design (the design of the French mind, one is tempted to say). They are nothing like English gardens of the same era; they are not designed to get romantically "lost" in them. In fact, you have to be quite absent-minded to stray in a French garden.

And yet, on that hot summer's day in 1901, the two level-headed Oxford deans did just that.
Looking for the way to the
Petit Trianon, they found a decrepit garden gate that led them where they never would have thought possible...

Very briefly summarised: 

The scenery around them changed completely - it did not correspond to their modern maps of the park -, the few people they met wore clothes more fitting to the 18th century, and - significantly, or, at any rate, typically - an odd feeling of deep depression overcame them. (See Yet I did not wonder on this.)  
After repeated visits and no less than ten years of study in British and French libraries, they came to the conclusion that they must have somehow gotten a glimpse of Versailles as it was in the waning years of the 18th century. 
Most startlingly of all, Miss Moberly, ever the original thinker, speculated whether they had somehow accessed Marie-Antoinette's memory.

You can read a short account of the "incident" here (bearing in mind that it's less than complete and is subject to ridiculous "corrections" from time to time).

This is perhaps a better option.

But I'd rather you heard
them speak.

You see, they published a book in 1911, and it was none other than J. W. Dunne - the author of the highly acclaimed and wildly popular book, An Experiment with Time (1927), among other works - who provided a "note", thus lending added credibility and respectability to their story. (Please, do read his note. It provides an invaluable perspective on this particular case and on "time travel" in general.)

And by the way, the book was published under assumed names.
It wasn't until after the death of Eleanor Jourdain, in 1924, that the public, especially all those who had been scoffing at the authors of the book - 'Miss Morison' and 'Miss Lamont' - gaped in astonishment when they discovered that the authors had been such respectable and "level-headed" intellectuals.

Below are some excerpts from the book.

(If you'd rather skip the story itself at this point and  read just a few thoughts and comments on it, scroll all the way down, where you'll also find information about the film based on this story.)

EDIT: You can now - at least for the time being - watch the entire film here.



AFTER SOME days of sight-seeing in Paris, to which we were almost strangers, on an August afternoon, 1901, Miss Jourdain and I went to Versailles. We had very hazy ideas as to where it was or what there was to be seen. Both of us thought it might prove to be a dull expedition.1 We went by train, and walked through the rooms and galleries of the Palace with interest, though we constantly regretted our inability through ignorance to feel properly the charm of the place. My knowledge of French history was limited to the very little I had learnt in the schoolroom,2French Revolution. Over thirty years before my brother had written a prize poem on Marie Antoinette, for whom at the time I had felt much enthusiasm. But the German occupation was chiefly in our minds, and Miss Jourdain and I thought and spoke of it several times.

We sat down in the Salle des Glaces, where a very sweet air was blowing in at the open windows over the flower-beds below, and finding that there was time to spare, I suggested our going to the Petit Trianon. My sole knowledge of it was from a magazine article read as a girl, from which I received a general impression that it was a farm-house where the Queen had amused herself.

Looking in Baedeker's map we saw the sort of direction and that there were two Trianons, and set off. By not asking the way we went an unnecessarily long way round--by the great flights of steps from the fountains and down the central avenue as far as the head of the long pond. The weather had been very hot all the week, but on this day the sky was a little overcast and the sun shaded. There was a lively wind blowing, the woods were looking their best, and we both felt particularly vigorous. It was a most enjoyable walk.

After reaching the beginning of the long water we struck away to the right down a woodland glade until we came obliquely to the other water close to the building which we rightly concluded to be the Grand Trianon. We passed it on our left hand, and came upon a broad green drive perfectly deserted. If we had followed it we should have come immediately to the Petit Trianon, but, not knowing its position, we crossed the drive and went up a lane in front of us. I was surprised that Miss Jourdain did not ask the way from a woman who was shaking a white cloth out of the window of a building at the corner of the lane, but followed, supposing that she knew where she was going to. Talking about England, and mutual acquaintances there, we went up the lane, and then made a sharp turn to the right past some buildings. We looked in at an open doorway and saw the end of a carved staircase, but as no one was about we did not like to go in. There were three paths in front of us, and as we saw two men a little ahead on the centre one, we followed it, and asked them the way. Afterwards we spoke of them as gardeners, because we remembered a wheelbarrow of some kind close by and the look of a pointed spade, but they were really very dignified officials, dressed in long greyish-green coats with small three-cornered hats. They directed us straight on. 3

We walked briskly forward, talking as before, but from the moment we left the lane an extraordinary depression had come over me, which, in spite of every effort to shake off, steadily deepened. There seemed to be absolutely no reason for it; I was not at all tired, and was becoming more interested in my surroundings. I was anxious that my companion should not discover the sudden gloom upon my spirits, which became quite overpowering on reaching the point where the path ended, being crossed by another, right and left.

In front of us was a wood, within which, and overshadowed by trees, was a light garden kiosk, circular, and like a small bandstand, by which a man was sitting. There was no greensward, but the ground was covered with rough grass and dead leaves as in a wood. The place was so shut in that we could not see beyond it. Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees behind the building seemed to have become flat and lifeless, like a wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees. It was all intensely still.

The man sitting close to the kiosk (who had on a cloak and a large shady hat) turned his head and looked at us. That was the culmination of my peculiar sensations, and I felt a moment of genuine alarm. The man's face was most repulsive--its expression odious. His complexion was very dark and rough. I said to Miss Jourdain, `Which is our way?' but thought `nothing will induce me to go to the left.' It was a great relief at that moment to hear someone running up to us in breathless haste. Connecting the sound with the gardeners, I turned and ascertained that there was no one on the paths, either to the side or behind, but at almost the same moment I suddenly perceived another man quite close to us, behind and rather to the left hand, who had, apparently, just come either over or through the rock (or whatever it was) that shut out the view at the junction of the paths. The suddenness of his appearance was something of a shock.

The second man was distinctly a gentleman; he was tall, with large dark eyes, and had crisp, curling black hair under the same large sombrero hat. He was handsome, and the effect of the hair was to make him look like an old picture. His face was glowing red as through great exertion--as though he had come a long way. At first I thought he was sunburnt, but a second look satisfied me that the colour was from heat, not sunburning. He had on a dark cloak wrapped across him like a scarf, one end flying out in his prodigious hurry. He looked greatly excited as he called out to us, `Mesdames, Mesdames' (or Madame' pronounced more as the other), `il ne faut' (pronounced fout) `pas passer par là.' He then waved his arm, and said with great animation, `par ici... cherchez la maison.'

I was so surprised at his eagerness that I looked up at him again, and to this he responded with a little backward movement and a most peculiar smile. Though I could not follow all he said, it was clear that he was determined that we should go to the right and not to the left. As this fell in with my own wish, I went instantly towards a little bridge on the right, and turning my head to join Miss Jourdain in thanking him, found, to my surprise, that he was not there, but the running began again, and from the sound it was close beside us.

Silently we passed over the small rustic bridge which crossed a tiny ravine. So close to us when on the bridge that we could have touched it with our right hands, a thread-like cascade fell from a height down a green pretty bank, where ferns grew between stones. Where the little trickle of water went to I did not see, but it gave me the impression that we were near other water, though I saw none.

Beyond the little bridge our pathway led under trees; it skirted a narrow meadow of long grass, bounded on the farther side by trees, and very much overshadowed by trees growing in it. This gave the whole place a sombre look suggestive of dampness, and shut out the view of the house until we were close to it. The house was a square, solidly built small country house--quite different from what I expected. The long windows looking north into the English garden (where we were) were shuttered. There was a terrace round the north and west sides of the house, and on the rough grass, which grew quite up to the terrace, and with her back to it, a lady was sitting, holding out a paper as though to look at it at arm's-length. I supposed her to be sketching, and to have brought her own camp-stool. It seemed as though she must be making a study of trees, for they grew close in front of her, and there seemed to be nothing else to sketch. She saw us, and when we passed close by on her left hand, she turned and looked full at us. It was not a young face, and (though rather pretty) it did not attract me. 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, and there was a little line of either green or gold near the edge of the handkerchief, which showed me that it was over, not tucked into, her bodice, which was cut low. Her dress was long-waisted, with a good deal of fullness in the skirt, which seemed to be short. I thought she was a tourist, but that her dress was old-fashioned and rather unusual (though people were wearing fichu bodices that summer). I looked straight at her; but some indescribable feeling made me turn away annoyed at her being there.

We went up the steps on to the terrace, my impression being that they led up direct from the English garden; but I was beginning to feel as though we were walking in a dream--the stillness and oppressiveness were so unnatural. Again I saw the lady, this time from behind, and noticed that her fichu was pale green. It was rather a relief to me that Miss Jourdain did not propose to ask her whether we could enter the house from that side.

We crossed the terrace to the south-west corner and looked over into the cour d'honneur; and then turned back, and seeing that one of the long windows overlooking the French garden was unshuttered, we were going towards it when we were interrupted. The terrace was prolonged at right angles in front of what seemed to be a second house. The door of it suddenly opened, and a young man stepped out on to the terrace, banging the door behind him. He had the jaunty manner of a footman, but no livery, and called to us, saying that the way into the house was by the cour d'honneur, and offered to show us the way round. He looked inquisitively amused as he walked by us down the French garden till we came to an entrance into the front drive. We came out sufficiently near the first lane we had been in to make me wonder why the garden officials had not directed us back instead of telling us to go forward.

When we were in the front entrance hall we were kept waiting for the arrival of a merry French wedding-party. They walked arm-in-arm in a long procession round the rooms, and we were at the back--too far off from the guide to hear much of his story. We were very much interested, and felt quite lively again. Coming out of the cour d'honneur we took a little carriage which was standing there, and drove back to the Hôtel des Réservoirs, in Versailles, where we had tea5; but we were neither of us inclined to talk, and did not mention any of the events of the afternoon. After the tea we walked back to the station, looking on the way for the Tennis Court.

On the way back to Paris the setting sun at last burst out from under the clouds, bathing the distant Versailles woods in glowing light--Valerien standing out in front a mass of deep purple. Again and again the thought returned--Was Marie Antoinette really much at Trianon, and did she see it for the last time long before the fatal drive to Paris accompanied by the mob?

For a whole week we never alluded to that afternoon, nor did I think about it until I began writing a descriptive letter of our expeditions of the week before. As the scenes came back, one by one, the same sensation of dreamy unnatural oppression came over me so strongly that I stopped writing, and said to Miss Jourdain, `Do you think that the Petit Trianon is haunted?' Her answer was prompt, `Yes I do.' I asked her where she felt it, and she said, `In the garden where we met the two men, but not only there.' She then described her feeling of depression and anxiety which began at the same point as it did with me, and how she tried not to let me know it. Talking it over we fully realized, for the first time, the theatrical appearance of the man who spoke to us, the inappropriateness of the wrapped cloak on a warm summer afternoon, the unaccountableness of his coming and going, the excited running which seemed to begin and end close to us, and yet always out of sight, and the extreme earnestness with which he desired us to go one way and not another. I said that the thought had crossed my mind that the two men were going to fight a duel, and that they were waiting until we were gone. Miss Jourdain owned to having disliked the thought of passing the man of the kiosk.

We did not speak again of the incident during my stay in Paris, though we visited the Conciergerie prisons, and the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at Saint-Denis, where all was clear and fresh and natural.

Three months later Miss Jourdain came to stay with me, and on Sunday, 10th November, 1901, we returned to the subject, and I said, `If we had known that a lady was sitting so near us sketching it would have made all the difference, for we should have asked the way.' She replied that she had seen no lady. I reminded her of the person sitting under the terrace; but Miss Jourdain declared that there was no one there. I exclaimed that it was impossible that she should not have seen the individual for we were walking side by side and went straight up to her, passed her and looked down upon her from the terrace. It was inconceivable to us both that she should not have seen the lady, but the fact was clear that Miss Jourdain had not done so, though we had both been rather on the look-out for someone who would reassure us as to whether we were trespassing or not.

Finding that we had a new element of mystery, and doubting how far we had seen any of the same things, we resolved to write down independent accounts of our expedition to Trianon, read up its history, and make every enquiry about the place. Miss Jourdain returned to her school the same evening, and two days later I received from her a very interesting letter, giving the result of her first enquiries.


August 1901

In the summer of 1900 I stayed in Paris for the first time, and in the course of that summer took a flat and furnished it, intending to place a French lady there in charge of my elder schoolgirls. Paris was quite new to me, and beyond seeing the picture galleries and one or two churches I made no expeditions except to shops, for the Exhibition of 1900 was going on, and all my free time was spent in seeing it with my French friends. The next summer, however, 1901, when, after several months at my school in England, I came back to Paris, it was to take the first opportunity possible of having a visitor to stay there: and I asked Miss Moberly to come with me.

Miss Moberly suggested our seeing the historic part of Paris in something like chronological order, and I looked forward to seeing it practically for the first time with her. We decided to go to Versailles one day, though rather reluctantly, as we felt it was diverging from our plan to go there too soon. I did not know what to expect, as my ignorance of the place and its significance was extreme. So we looked up general directions in Baedeker, and trusted to finding our way at the time.

After spending some time in the Palace, we went down by the terrace and struck to the right to find the Petit Trianon. We walked for some distance down a wooded alley, and then came upon the buildings of the Grand Trianon, before which we did not delay. We went on in the direction of the Petit Trianon, but just before reaching what we knew afterwards to be the main entrance I saw a gate leading to a path cut deep below the level of the ground above, and as the way was open and had the look of an entrance that was used, I said, `Shall we try this path? It must lead to the house,' and we followed it. To our right we saw some farm-buildings looking empty and deserted; implements (among others a plough) were lying about; we looked in, but saw no one. The impression was saddening, but it was not until we reached the crest of the rising ground where there was a garden that I began to feel as if we had lost our way, and as if something were wrong. There were two men there in official dress (greenish in colour), with something in their hands; it might have been a staff. A wheelbarrow and some other gardening tools were near them. They told us, in answer to my enquiry, to go straight on. I remember repeating my question, because they answered in a seemingly casual and mechanical way, but only got the same answer in the same manner. As we were standing there I saw to the right of us a detached solidly built cottage, with stone steps at the door. A woman and a girl were standing at the doorway, and I particularly noticed their unusual dress; both wore white kerchiefs tucked into the bodice, and the girl's dress, though she looked thirteen or fourteen only, was down to her ankles. The woman was passing a jug to the girl, who wore a close white cap.6

Following the directions of the two men we walked on: but the path pointed out to us seemed to lead away from where we imagined the Petit Trianon to be; and there was a feeling of depression and loneliness about the place. I began to feel as if I were walking in my sleep; the heavy dreaminess was oppressive. At last we came upon a path crossing ours, and saw in front of us a building consisting of some columns roofed in, and set back in the trees. Seated on the steps was a man with a heavy black cloak round his shoulders, and wearing a slouch hat. At that moment the eerie feeling which had begun in the garden culminated in a definite impression of something uncanny and fear-inspiring. The man slowly turned his face, which was marked by smallpox: his complexion was very dark. The expression was very evil and yet unseeing, and though I did not feel that he was looking particularly at us, I felt a repugnance to going past him. But I did not wish to show the feeling, which I thought was meaningless, and we talked about the best way to turn, and decided to go to the right.

Suddenly we heard a man running behind us: he shouted, `Mesdames, mesdames,' and when I turned he said in an accent that seemed to me unusual that our way lay in another direction. `Il ne faut (pronounced fout) `pas passer par là.' He then made a gesture, adding, `par ici...cherchez la maison.' Though we were surprised to be addressed, we were glad of the direction, and I thanked him. The man ran off with a curious smile on his face: the running ceased as abruptly as it had begun, not far from where we stood. I remember that the man was young-looking, with a florid complexion and rather long dark hair. I do not remember the dress, except that the material was dark and heavy, and that the man wore buckled shoes.

We walked on, crossing a small bridge that went across a green bank, high on our right hand and shelving down below as to a very small overshadowed pool of water glimmering some way off. A tiny stream descended from above us, so small as to seem to lose itself before reaching the little pool. We then followed a narrow path till almost immediately we came upon the English garden front of the Petit Trianon. The place was deserted; but as we approached the terrace I remember drawing my skirt away with a feeling as though someone were near and I had to make room, and then wondering why I did it. While we were on the terrace a boy came out of the door of a second building which opened on it, and I still have the sound in my ears of his slamming it behind him. He directed us to go round to the other entrance, and, seeing us hesitate, with the peculiar smile of suppressed mockery offered to show us the way. We passed through the French garden, part of which was walled in by trees. The feeling of dreariness was very strong there, and continued till we actually reached the front entrance to the Petit Trianon and looked round the rooms in the wake of a French wedding-party. Afterwards we drove back to the Rue des Réservoirs.

The impression returned to me at intervals during the week that followed, but I did not speak of it until Miss Moberly asked me if I thought the Petit Trianon was haunted, and I said Yes. Then, too, the inconsistency of the dress and behaviour of the man with an August afternoon at Versailles struck me. We had only this one conversation about the two men. Nothing else passed between us in Paris.

It was not till three months later, when I was staying with her, that Miss Moberly casually mentioned the lady, and almost refused to believe that I had not seen her. How that happened was quite inexplicable, to me, for I believed myself to be looking about on all sides, and it was not so much that I did not remember her as that I could have said no one was there. But as she said it I remembered my impression at the moment of there being more people than I could see, though I did not tell her this.

The same evening, 10th November, 1901, I returned to my school near London. Curiously enough, the next morning I had to give one of a set of lessons on the French Revolution for the Higher Certificate, and it struck me for the first time with great interest that the 10th of August had a special significance in French history, and that we had been at Trianon on the anniversary of the day.

That evening, when I was preparing to write down my experiences, a French friend whose home was in Paris came into my room, and I asked her, just on the chance, if she knew any story about the haunting of the Petit Trianon. (I had not mentioned our story to her before, nor indeed to anyone.) She said directly that she remembered hearing from friends at Versailles that on a certain day in August Marie Antoinette is regularly seen sitting outside the garden front at the Petit Trianon, with a light flapping hat and a pink dress. More than this, that the place, especially the farm, the garden, and the path by the water, are peopled with those who used to be with her there; in fact that all the occupations and amusements reproduce themselves there for a day and a night. I then told her our story, and when I quoted the words that the man spoke to us, and imitated as well as I could his accent, she immediately said that it was the Austrian pronunciation of French. I had privately thought that he spoke old7 French. Immediately afterwards I wrote and told this to Miss Moberly.

On receiving Miss Jourdain's letter I turned to my diary to see on what Saturday in August it was that we had visited Versailles, and looked up the history to find out to what event she alluded. On 10th August 1792 the Tuileries was sacked. The royal family escaped in the early morning to the Hall of the Assembly, where they were penned up for many hours hearing themselves practically deposed, and within sound of the massacre of their servants and of the Swiss Guards at the Tuileries. From the Hall the King and Queen were taken to the Temple.

We wondered whether we had inadvertently entered within an act of the Queen's memory when alive, and whether this explained our curious sensation of being completely shut in and oppressed. What more likely, we thought, than that during those hours in the Hall of the Assembly, or in the Conciergerie, she had gone back in such vivid memory to other Augusts spent at Trianon that some impress of it was imparted to the place? Some pictures which were shown to me proved that the outdoor dress of the gentlemen at Court had been a large hat and cloak, and that the ladies wore long-waisted bodices, with full gathered short skirts, fichus, and hats.

I told the story to my brother, and we heartily agreed that, as a rule, such stories made no impression at all upon us, because we always believed that, if only the persons involved would take the trouble to investigate them thoroughly and honestly for themselves, they could be quite naturally explained. We agreed that such a story as ours had very little value without more proof of reality than it had, but that as there were one or two interesting points in it, it would be best to sift the matter quietly, lest others should make more of them than they deserved. He suggested lightly and in fun that perhaps we had seen the Queen as she thought of herself, and that it would be interesting to know whether the dress described was the one she had on at the time of her rêverie, or whether it was one she recollected having worn at an earlier date. My brother also enquired whether we were quite sure that the last man we had seen (who came out of the side building), as well as the wedding-party, were all real persons. I assured him with great amusement that we had not the smallest doubt as to the reality of them all.

As Miss Jourdain was going to Paris for the Christmas holidays, I wrote and asked her to take any opportunity she might have to see the place again, and to make a plan of the paths and the buildings; for the guide-books spoke of the Temple de l'Amour and the Belvédère, and I thought one of them might prove to be our kiosk.


January, 1902

On 2nd January 1902 I went for the second time to Versailles. It was a cold and wet day, but I was anxious not to be deterred by that, as it was likely to be my only possible day that winter. This time I drove straight to the Petit Trianon, passing the Grand Trianon. Here I could see the path up which we had walked in August. I went, however, to the regular entrance, thinking I would go at once to the Temple de l'Amour, even if I had time to go no farther. To the right of the cour d'honneur was a door in the wall; it led to the Hameau de la Reine and to the gardens. I took this path and came to the Temple de l'Amour, which was not the building we had passed in the summer. There was, so far, none of the eerie feeling we had experienced in August. But, on crossing a bridge to go to the Hameau, the old feeling returned in full force; it was as if I had crossed a line and was suddenly in a circle of influence. To the left I saw a tract of park-like ground, the trees bare and very scanty. I noticed a cart being filled with sticks by two labourers, and thought I could go to them for directions if I lost my way. The men wore tunics and capes with pointed hoods of bright colours, a sort of terracotta red and deep blue.8 I turned aside for an instant--not more--to look at the Hameau, and when I looked back men and cart were completely out of sight, and this surprised me, as I could see a long way in every direction. And though I had seen the men in the act of loading the cart with sticks, I could not see any trace of them on the ground, either at the time or afterwards. I did not, however, dwell upon any part of the incident, but went on to the Hameau. The houses were all built near a sheet of water, and the old oppressive feeling of the last year was noticeable, especially under the balcony of the Maison de la Reine, and near a window in what I afterwards found to be the Laiterie. I really felt a great reluctance to go near the window or look in, and when I did so I found it shuttered inside.

Coming away from the Hameau I at last reached a building, which I knew from my plan to be the smalled Orangerie; then, meaning to go to the Belvédère, I turned back by mistake into the park and found myself in a wood so thick that though I had turned towards the Hameau I could not see it. Before I entered I looked across an open space towards a belt of trees to the left of the Hameau some way off, and noticed a man, cloaked like those we had seen before, slip swiftly through the line of trees. The smoothness of his movement attracted my attention.

I was puzzling my way among the maze of paths in the wood when I heard a rustling behind me, which made me wonder why people in silk dresses came out on such a wet day; and I said to myself, `just like French people'. I turned sharply round to see who they were, but saw no one, and then, all in a moment, I had the same feeling as by the terrace in the summer, only in a much greater degree; it was as though I were closed in by a group of people who already filled the path, coming from behind and passing me. At one moment there seemed really no room for me. I heard some women's voices talking French, and caught the words `Monsieur et Madame' said close to my ear. The crowd got scarce and drifted away, and then faint music as of a band, not far off, was audible. It was playing very light music with a good deal of repetition in it. Both voices and music were diminished in tone, as in a phonograph, unnaturally. The pitch of the bank was lower than usual. The sounds were intermittent, and once more I felt the swish of a dress close by me.

I looked at the map which I had with me, but whenever I settled which path to take I felt impelled to go by another. After turning backwards and forwards many times I at last found myself back at the Orangerie, and was overtaken by a gardener.9 I asked him where I should find the Queen's grotto, that had been mentioned in De Nolhac's book, which I had procured while in Paris. He told me to follow the path I was on, and, in answer to a question, said that I must pass the Belvédère, adding that it was quite impossible to find one's way about the park unless one had been brought up in the place and so used to it that `personne ne pourrait vous tromper'. The expression specially impressed me because of the experience I had just had in the wood. He pointed out the way and left me. The path led past the Belvédère, which I took for granted was the building we had seen in August, for, coming upon it from behind, all the water was hidden from me. I made my way from there to the French garden without noticing the paths I took.

On my return to Versailles I made careful enquiries as to whether the band had been playing there that day, but was told that though it was the usual day of the week, it had not played because it had played the day before, being New Year's Day.

I told my French friends of my walk, and they said that there was a tradition of Marie Antoinette having been seen making butter within the Laiterie, and for that reason it was shuttered. A second tradition they mentioned interested me very much. It was that on 5th October 1789--which was the last day on which Marie Antoinette went to Trianon--she was sitting there in her grotto, and saw a page running towards her, bringing the letter from the minister at the Palace to say that the mob from Paris would be at the gates in an hour's time. The story went on that she impulsively proposed walking straight back to the Palace by the short cut through the trees. He would not allow it; but begged her to go to the `maison' to wait whilst he fetched the carriage by which she was generally conveyed back through the park, and that he ran off to order it.



During the next two years very little occurred to throw light on the story. The person living in Versailles to whom we had been directed as having related the tradition of the Queen's being at Trianon on 5th October 1789, was unable to remember anything at all about it. The photographs of the Belvédère made it clear that it was not identical with the kiosk. On the many occasions on which Miss Jourdain went to the Trianon she could never again find the places--not even the wood in which she had been. She assured me that the place was entirely different; the distances were much less than we had imagined; and the ground was so bare that the house and the Hameau were in full view of one another; and that there was nothing unnatural about the trees.

Miss Jourdain brought back from Paris La Reine Marie Antoinette, by M. de Nolhac, and Le Petit Trianon, by Desjardins. We noted that M. de Nolhac related the traditional story of the Queen's visit, and that the comte de Vaudreuil, who betrayed the Queen by inciting her to the fatal acting of the Barbier de Séville in her own theatre at Trianon, was a Creole and marked by smallpox (pages 61, 212). Turning over the pages of Desjardins I found Wertmüller's portrait of the Queen, and exclaimed that it was the first of all the pictures I had seen which at all brought back the face of the lady. Some weeks later I found this passage: `Ce tableau fut assez mal accueilli des critiques contemporains qui le trouvèrent froid, sans majesté, sans grace. Pour la posterité, au contraire, il a le plus grand mérite; celui de la ressemblance. Au dire de Madame Campan, il n'existe de bon portrait de la reine que cette toile de Wertmüller et celle que Madame Lebrun peignit en 1787' (page 282).

In January, 1904, Miss Jourdain went to the Comédie Française to see the Barbier de Séville, and noticed that the Alguazils standing round were dressed exactly like our garden officials, but had red stockings added. This was interesting, as the Comédie Française is the descendant of the royal private theatre, and the old royal liveries worn by the subordinate actors (who were, in earlier times, the royal servants) are carefully reproduced at it. Also, she reported that Almaviva was dressed in a dark cloak and a large Spanish hat, which was said to be the outdoor dress of French gentlemen of the period.

On Monday, 4th July 1904, Miss Jourdain and I went to the Trianon, this being my second visit. We were accompanied by Mademoiselle ------, who had not heard our story. On the Saturday of the same week (9th July) we went again unaccompanied.

Both days were brilliant and hot. On both occasions the dust, glare, trams, and comers and goers, contrasted with the quietness and solitude of our visit in 1901. We went up the lane as at the first time and turned to the right on reaching the building, which we had now learnt to call the logement du corps de gardes. From this point everything was changed. The old wall facing us had gates, but they were closed, and the one through which we had seen the drive passing through a grove of trees seemed to have been closed for a very long time. We came directly to the gardener's house, which was quite different in appearance from the cottage described by Miss Jourdain in 1901, in front of which she saw the woman and the girl. Beyond the gardener's house was a parterre with flower-beds, and a smooth lawn of many years' careful tendance. It did not seem to be the place where we had met the garden officials.

We spent a long time looking for the old paths. Not only was there no trace of them, but the distances were contracted, and all was on a smaller scale than I recollected. The kiosk was gone; so was the ravine and the little cascade which had fallen from a height above our heads, and the little bridge over the ravine was, of course, gone too. The large bridge with the rocher over it, crossing one side of the lake at the foot of the Belvédère, had no resemblance to it. The trees were quite natural, and seemed to have been a good deal cleared out, making that part of the garden much less wooded and picturesque.

The English garden in front of the house was not shaded by many trees; and we could see the house and the Hameau from almost every point. Instead of a much-shaded rough meadow continuing up to the wall of the terrace, there is now a broad gravel sweep beneath it, and the trees on the grass are gone. Exactly where the lady was sitting we found a large spreading bush of, apparently, many years' growth. We did not recognise the present staircase, which leads up to the north-west end of the terrace, nor the extension of wall round which one has now to go in order to reach the staircase. We thought that we went up to the terrace from some point nearer to the house from the English garden: also, the present exit from the French garden to the avenue was not so near the house as we expected, nor was it so broad as we remembered it.

To add to the impossibility of recalling our first visit, in every corner we came across groups of noisy merry people walking or sitting in the shade. Garden seats placed everywhere, and stalls for fruit and lemonade, took away from any idea of desolation. The commonplace, unhistorical atmosphere was totally inconsistent with the air of silent mystery by which we had been so much oppressed. Though for several years Miss Jourdain had assured me of the change, I had not expected such complete disillusionment.

One thing struck me greatly--people went wherever they liked, and no one would think of interfering to show the way, or to prevent anyone from going in any direction. We searched the place at our pleasure.

We went to the Hameau, following the path taken by Miss Jourdain on 2nd January 1902. We tried to find the thick wood in which she had lost her way, but there was nothing like it, and such paths as there are now are perfectly visible from one another, even in summer. We asked a gardener sweeping one of the paths whether that part of the grounds had ever been a thick wood. He said he believed that it had been, but could give us no date beyond the fact that it was before his time--more than twenty years ago.

On our return to Versailles we went into a bookseller's shop and asked if he had any maps or views of the Petit Trianon as it had been in old days. He showed us a picture (which he would not part with) of the Jeu de Bague. We saw at once that the central building had some likeness to the kiosk, but the surrounding part was not like, and its position was unsuitable for our purpose. We enquired about the green uniforms of the garden officials, and he emphatically denied their existence. He said that `green was one of the colours of the royal liveries', and when we answered that three years before persons in long greenish coats had directed us in the grounds, he spoke of it as `impossible--unless', he added, `they were masqueraders.'
We asked how long the gardens had been thrown open to the public and people allowed to wander everywhere, and were told that `it had been so for years,' and this evidently implied a great many years.

The result of this expedition was to make us take a graver view of our first visit, and we resolved to look into the matter as carefully as we could, for no ordinary histories of the French Revolution supplied topographical details of the Queen's private garden. After some years we have been able to collect many facts, small and unimportant in themselves, but together forming a single picture of strange significance to us. of the Palace also told us that `green was a royal livery and that now only the President had the right to use it on certain occasions.'


1.) We stayed in Paris about three weeks. We remained at home during the mornings and went for expeditions each afternoon, without hurry or fatigue.^

2.) This included Carlyle's French Revolution and some general histories of France.^

3.) One man looked older than the other. Both were very grave.^

4.) The man said a great deal more which we could not catch. He was young and active and greatly excited.^

5.) I remember that on account of the wind I put on my coat.^

6.) The woman was standing on the steps, bending slightly forward, holding a jug in her hand. The girl was looking up at her from below with her hands raised, but nothing in them. She might have been just going to take the jug or have just given it up. Her light brown hair escaped from under her cap. I remember that both seemed to pause for an instant, as in a tableau vivant; but we passed on, and I did not see the end.^

7.) By `old' I mean old or unusual forms, perhaps surviving in provincial French.^

8.) One man wore red, the other blue; the colours were not mixed.^

9.) I thought this gardener did not look like a Frenchman; he had more the air of an Englishman. He had hair on his face, a grizzled beard, was large and loosely made. His height was very uncommon and he seemed to be of immense strength. His arms were long and very muscular. I noticed that even through the sleeves of his jersey.


So there you have it. Make of it what you will.
But, for your own sake, do not be too hasty in your judgment.

I must say I was quite taken with Miss Moberly's original tentative explanation for the whole incident: that they must have somehow entered the memory of Mrs. Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette herself.

While flawed and more often than not unsatisfying, this theory would certainly explain some of their strange experiences on that August day: for example, the guard apparently talking to them, i.e. to Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain (or at least to one of them); or the unpleasant gentleman who sent chills down their spines when he looked at them - or so they thought. (Considering the probable identity of said gentleman, the chills would have been more than justified, certainly from within Marie-Antoinette's memory: he turned out to be a traitor of the royal couple.)

As for the objections by so-called "skeptics", we'll discuss some of them at some other time.
At this point, let me just mention the most popular one: folie a deux or "shared folly" (it doesn't sound quite as respectably "scientific" when translated, does it?), about which you can read here and here (online, if you have access to JSTOR). The "incident" is also mentioned in an article dealing with a purported "Marie Antoinette Obsession".

None of these theories account - among other things - for the fact that the ladies did not see exactly the same sights. (Only one of them saw a Marie-Antoinette-like figure; only one of them saw a woman shaking a cloth or a carpet; and so on.)

Another "logical" explanation - featuring quite prominently in the film based on this incident - triumphantly points to an Ancien Regime-themed costume party at the Petit Trianon, hosted by a society lady, a friend of Proust's.

In fact, this "explanation" - that the ladies had seen a costume party - appeared so convincing that Joan Evans, the executor of their estate, let the book go out of print.

The problem with this theory is that the last such costume party had been given no later than in 1894, seven years before the Moberly-Jourdain first visit.
(So the point of this momentous discovery would be that they travelled "only" seven to ten years - not one hundred years - back in time? And I'd really like to know the address of the costume shop that provided the masks for the park itself, since the landscape changed its scenery, too.)

And, of course, there's my personal favourite:

"It was summer, it was hot, the ladies probably had a glass of wine at lunch..."

I am paraphrasing, but you get the picture.
(This particular line of thought is mentioned here.)

To which I can only reply with Einstein's words: "I used to believe that only two things were infinite: the universe and human stupidity. I am not so sure about the universe anymore..."


If you'd rather read their material with your own eyes (and provided you have nothing better to do), here's where you'll find it.

And if you'd rather "see the movie", you're in luck: there actually is a film - a very fine one.
It is called Miss Morison's Ghosts (1981), starring Wendy Hiller and Hannah Gordon. Unfortunately, the DVD Miss Morison's Ghosts is for "region 1" only, but you can get a two-piece VHS set (Miss Morison's Ghosts (2pc).

EDIT: Or you can watch it right here.

And finally, here are two very interesting comments gleaned from

website dedicated to - hoaxes. (The first one mentions the detail that appeals to me the most: the apparent odd distortion of the landscape.)

"I spent a lot of time in the gardens of Versailles as a child, especially in the area around the Petit Trianon, as my mother could let us children run free there while my father took photographs. I remember some odd days when the landscape would become dull and flattened in appearance as mentioned by Moberley and Jourdain. I never saw anything, though I have had numerous experiences elsewhere," says one commentator.

"As a descendant of the moberly family i am well aquainted with this story. Aunt Caroline saw many other supernatural and weird things during her lifetime, not just these ghosts," says another one.

Whether these comments are truthful or not I cannot say (obviously), but I also see no particular reason to doubt their veracity.


We''ll always have Paris... or whatever it was 

The Ultimate Tourist

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