The Moberly–Jourdain Incident, or The Ghosts of Versailles
The Moberly–Jourdain incident was an event that occurred on 10 August 1901 in the gardens of the Petit Trianon, involving two female academics, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain. The women were both from educated backgrounds. During a trip to Versailles, they visited the Petit Trianon, a small château in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, where they allegedly experienced a time slip, and saw Marie Antoinette as well as other people of the same period. After researching the history of the palace, and comparing notes of their experience, they published their work in a book entitled An Adventure, under the names of Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont, in 1911. Their story caused a sensation, and was subject to much ridicule.
On 10 August 1901, they travelled by train to Versailles. They did not think much of the palace after touring it, so they decided to walk through the gardens to the Petit Trianon. On the way, they reached the Grand Trianon and found it was closed to the public. They travelled with a Baedeker guidebook, but the two women soon became lost after missing the turn for the main avenue, Allée des Deux Trianons. They passed this road, and entered a lane, where unknown to them they passed their destination. Moberly noticed a woman shaking a white cloth out of a window and Jourdain noticed an old deserted farmhouse, outside of which was an old plough. At this point they claimed that a feeling of oppression and dreariness came over them. They then saw some men who looked like palace gardeners, who told them to go straight on. Moberly later described the men as “very dignified officials, dressed in long greyish green coats with small three-cornered hats.” Jourdain noticed a cottage with a woman and a girl in the doorway. The woman was holding out a jug to the girl. Jourdain described it as a “tableau vivant.” Moberly did not observe the cottage, but felt the atmosphere change. She wrote: “Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees seemed to become flat and lifeless, like wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees.”
They reached the edge of a wood, close to the Temple de l’Amour, and came across a man seated beside a garden kiosk, wearing a cloak and large shady hat. According to Moberly, his appearance was “most repulsive… its expression odious. His complexion was dark and rough.” Jourdain noted “The man slowly turned his face, which was marked by smallpox; his complexion was very dark. The expression was 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. A man later described as “tall… with large dark eyes, and crisp curling black hair under a large sombrero hat” came up to them, and showed them the way to the Petit Trianon.
After crossing a bridge, they reached the gardens in front of the palace, and Moberly noticed a lady sketching on the grass who looked at them. She later described what she saw in great detail: the lady was wearing a light summer dress, on her head was a shady white hat, and she had lots of fair hair. Moberly thought she was a tourist at first, but the dress appeared to be old-fashioned. Moberly came to believe that the lady was Marie Antoinette. Jourdain however did not see the lady. After this, they were directed round to the entrance and joined a party of other visitors. After touring the house, they had tea at the Hotel des Reservoirs before returning to Jourdain’s apartment.
[Image: Portrait of Marie Antoinette by Wertmüller. The figure that Moberly saw near the Petit Trianon was claimed to bear a resemblance to the Queen as depicted in this painting]