Sunday, 14 September 2008

Focus On: The Time Slip At Versailles

The following, rather notorious, case of "time travel" is usually referred to as the  Moberly-Jourdain incident.

On 10 August 1901 two British travelers, Charlotte Anne Moberly (1846-1937) and Eleanor Jourdain (1863-1924), were wandering the gardens of the Petit Trianon after a disappointing visit to the Palace of Versailles. They became slightly lost despite their handy Baedeker guidebook and that is when things became a little... strange.

According to their account of the events they started to experience a feeling of disquiet.

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

From here they met a man who they considered to be vile and "evil" and among the many people costumed in period dress one of the women claimed to see a lady she thought might be Marie Antoinette. Shortly after this they rejoined a group of people and continued their trip.

They didn't even discuss the incident until some time afterwards and it was a decade before their book about the incident "An Adventure" (1911) was published.

Now I don't mean to dismiss this story out of hand but:

1) some claim that things the women describe couldn't have been where the women say they were in 1901. This seems to be proof in the favour of the women's story except they were lost so their later descriptions of where they were cannot be reliably used as evidence of a time slip.
2) It is know that the aristocratic, and rather decadent, French poet Robert de Montesquiou held period parties in the grounds and given the character of the attendees the atmosphere at these gatherings may well have been otherworldly to two British tourists stumbling upon the scene.

I've often felt in parts of Europe a feeling of otherworldliness and oppression. But I've always felt this stems from the unusual quiet many streets on the continent seem to exude (unlike Britain's noise polluted cities!) and the great difference in architecture and surroundings. If these ladies were lost and disoriented, in a foreign country after a quiet walk and they just so happened to wander into a party of decadent excess I have no reason not to believe this would have confused and upset the women to the point of causing them to believe they had traveled to a different time. They appear to be susceptible to suggestion and Jordain died before she could be removed from her position at a college due to her anti-German paranoia.

Sadly, and it is with sadness as I have every desire to believe such an amazing experience could be possible, I suspect this tale of a time slip is either nothing more than a hoax or nothing less than a manic episode of confusion.

Further Reading

An Adventure - Elizabeth Morison and Frances Grant The ladies own account written under pen names to protect them from ridicule.

Robert De Montesquiou : A Prince of the Nineties - Philippe Jullian

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