Ghosts of Petit Trianon
THE GHOSTS OF PETIT TRIANON OR THE STRANGE JOURNEY IN TIME OF 2 TOURISTS TO VERSAILLES… A journey through time. Here is what two British tourists would have experienced in the summer of 1901, in the alleys of the park of the Palace of Versailles.
The ghosts of Trianon or ghosts of Versailles refers to an experience lived in 1901 in the gardens of the Petit Trianon by two English women who considered it paranormal. Although parapsychologists had doubts from the start about the authenticity of their supposed retrovision, their book entitled An Adventure, published in 1911, was a definite success and became a part of the legend of Versailles and Marie-Antoinette, in particularly in the English-speaking world.
Yet another ghost story from more or less joker minds? Not quite: the 2 women were by no means enlightened or habing such a magical power. Charlotte Anne Moberly, 55, was a principal of a women’s college at the University of Oxford, and Eleanor Frances Jourdain, 38, a teacher. What they will experience, a real temporal passage to the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, will be the subject of a book, An Adventure, released in 1911.
An almost supernatural feeling
We are August 10, 1901. Charlotte Anne Moberly joined her friend Eleanor Frances Jourdain, in Paris, where the latter lives, for a tourist visit of the Palace of Versailles and its park. It’s hot, the weather is muggy.
After having walked through the Hall of Mirrors and the various rooms of Louis XIV’s palace, the two women make their way to the Petit Trianon. They get lost and venture into the park. The weather is cloudy and the sky gives them an almost supernatural impression. A thunderstorm, some might say. A “universe with a door opened by mistake” wrote Jean Cocteau in the preface to the French edition of this story, in 1959, now entitled Les fantômes du Trianon.
Lost in the park, the two tourists are astonished by the outfit of gardeners seen by the roadside: despite the summer, they wear a long coat and a tricorn. Then, they see a young girl and probably her mother in period costumes.
Venturing more and more into the park, their visit takes on a much less bucolic aspect: Charlotte and Eleanor meet the threatening gaze of a man, also in period clothes, but whose face is infected. A man in a cape, described as tall, handsome, with curly hair under a hat then indicates the direction to them: we must go to this house whose shutters are closed in the middle of the day, located at the end of the road. On the lawn, a woman, who was drawing peacefully in a dress and white hat, raises her head. The two women feel sick. Quickly, a man intervenes, and shows them the way to find their way back.
The ghost of Marie Antoinette
A few hours later, they evoke their strange visit and do by their sensations so strange. And yet, no, there was no pageant that day. But the rumor has been going around for centuries: the ghost of Marie-Antoinette walks in the tree-lined alleys of Versailles. After anguished research and quieter visits this time, this strange dream takes shape: they have experienced a journey through time, a real waking dream. One of the paths has not existed for years, one of the doors has been condemned for ages, the man with the poisonous face looks like the Comte de Vaudreuil, courtier and the woman, sitting in the grass, looks like relates to a painting by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller whose subject was none other than Marie-Antoinette.
When their adventure was published in 1911, Charlotte and Eleanor received a very mixed reception: part of the press gave them no credit, the other, more popular, dissected the affair and thus aroused the curiosity of many tourists, who even today are looking for the mysterious alley that leads to Marie-Antoinette.
Background of 2 tourists: Moberly and Jourdain
They were among the pioneers of women’s higher education in Britain and published their adventure under a pen name; their real identity was not revealed until their death.
Charlotte Anne Moberly, known as Annie Moberly, (September 16, 1846 – May 7, 1937), pen name: Elisabeth Morison, was the daughter of a former principal of Winchester College, who was then professor of Oxford before becoming bishop of Salisbury. She served as his secretary for 20 years before being chosen in 1886 as principal of St. Hugh’s Hall, Oxford University’s third college for women, recently founded by Elizabeth Wordsworth, the great-niece of the poet William Wordsworth. She was the friend of suffragist Clara Mordan. 10th in a family of 15 children, legend has sometimes made her the 7th daughter of a 7th son, benefiting from the gifts of clairvoyance granted by certain popular traditions to this kind of child.
Eleanor Frances Jourdain (1863-1924), pen name: Frances Lamont, was the eldest of 10 children of Pastor Francis Jourdain, vicar of Ashbourne (Derbyshire), descendant of French Huguenots. She herself was a graduate of Oxford Girls’ College. She became a teacher and founded her own school (Corran) in Watford (Hertfordshire). At the material time, she was living in Paris, where she had rented an apartment at 270 boulevard Raspail with the prospect of accommodating students there for a period of study. Annie Moberly had come to offer to help her in St Hugh. She effectively became deputy principal of the college in 1902, then retired principal of Annie Moberly in 1915. She is the author of seven books on literature and theater. Her authority became excessive at the end of her days and she had to face the resignation of a large part of her team shortly before her death.
Interpretations of Ghosts of Petit Trianon
The hypothesis of the two protagonists of the affair was that they had had access to remnants of memory left by Marie-Antoinette during particularly emotional days. Electricity (electrical storms were reported in France on the day of the visit) was offered as a facilitating element. After discussions with the Society for Psychical Research, they finally decided to publish in 1911 the account of their visit, presented as research, under the names of Elisabeth Morison and Frances Lamont. An Adventure (republished in 1913 and 1924) achieved certain success with 11,000 copies sold in 1913. The experiment was discussed in The Journal of Parapsychology, The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, The Journal for Psychical Research in London and Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research in London.
Indeed, despite the praise of the Society for Psychical Research for their investigative efforts, historical errors were immediately noticed and the hypothesis of confusion due to psychological and physical factors (heat, fatigue) was quickly raised. . In response, Miss Morison and Lamont published the four accounts (each two) which they had written for the record, one shortly after the fact (between November 25 and 28, 1901), the other a little later (December 1901-January 1902), accompanied by maps retracing their path, descriptions of the costumes, characters and landscapes and the music heard. They insisted that they had seen items from the 18th century that they did not know existed before their research. The Trianon incident was neither their first nor their last paranormal vision.
The case, already adopted by the general public as a romantic and exotic element of supernatural folklore, gained renewed interest among parapsychologists after the deaths of the two protagonists. Their real identity having been revealed, their reputation in the academic world revived studies. In 1950 W.H. Salter, having carefully reviewed their correspondence with the Society for Psychical Research, concluded that details mentioned in the 1901 account had in fact been added in 1906 and were the result of subsequent research. It was suggested that they had simply bumped into costumed actors and wanted too much to believe their story.
However, in the 1950s French parapsychology was still interested in the case. Les Fantômes du Trianon was published in 1959 with a preface by Jean Cocteau and an introduction by Robert Amadou. Guy Lambert, a specialist in Parisian history, proposed the reign of Louis XV, precisely the year 1774, rather than the end of Louis XVI’s reign as being the perceived epoch of the past. Some, noting that the pavilion taken for the Temple of Love resembled a known Chinese pavilion in the pipeline, believed that the two Englishwomen had remembered the trace of one of the gardeners of Versailles, Antoine Richard. On the side of rational explanations, Philippe Jullian suggested in his biography of Robert de Montesquiou that the two Englishwomen would have met the group of relations that the aristocrat used to lead in the gardens of Versailles for trips in period costume.
The different interpretations are based on a kind of retrovision from the two English women. However, it is necessary to be logical in accepting that this retrovision is necessarily accompanied by an “antiew” on the part of the characters encountered. If the two Englishwomen were seen by the characters who spoke to them, they should have noticed that their clothes were not of their time, except that the long dresses of the eighteenth century were not very different from those from the beginning of the twentieth century. If this kind of adventure had been experienced by young women at the beginning of the 21st century, their outfit would have marked the minds of the characters encountered who would have written down this meeting. However, we do not have written testimonies, until proven guilty.
“We also laughed at them a lot, of course, but what is very extraordinary is that more than fifty years later, we discovered at the municipal library of Versailles, in a number of archives which were little used, plans have been discovered showing a Chinese pavilion which exactly conforms to the description they had given in 1907. ” Franck Ferrand, “les pieds dans le plat”, November 27, 2013.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons