If there is one factor that makes people believe their story even more than 100 years later, it is their reputation. Both Charlotte Ann Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were highly educated Englishwomen with impeccable reputations.
They were not liars, and both ladies gained nothing by making up this story. In fact, it might have ruined their reputations for a long time.
In fact, both women were so disturbed by the incident that they didn’t even talk about it with each other until they returned to England a week later. They knew that their reputations were at stake, and, coming from conservative English academic families, any conversation about the “strange” incident could have been controversial and scandalous not only for their careers but also for their families.
So when they did discuss the matter, they decided to write separate accounts of their experiences and then compare notes. They even visited the Palace of Versailles several times to identify the “sights” and “strange buildings” they had discovered, and above all to get more information about the “beautifully dressed woman” they had seen painting in the garden in front of the Petit Trianon, the castle of French queen Marie Antoinette.
But they found no evidence of what they had seen that day. They thought they saw “ghosts” from a bygone era who disappeared as suddenly as they appeared. Not knowing what to do or what to believe, they decided to publish their impressions in a book called The Adventure in 1911, under the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont.
Only after their deaths in 1937 did people learn of the real authors. As they feared, their impeccable reputation caused even more controversy and enormous criticism, and to this day no one knows exactly what the two women actually experienced on that hot August day in Versailles.
The Palace of Versailles in France is a magnificent example of seventeenth-century architecture, spread over 2,000 acres of gardens and fountains. The Petit Trianon is a small castle on the grounds of the palace, which King Louis XVI gave to his new wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, as her personal refuge. The château was Marie Antoinette’s “place of solitude” where she could hide from the prying eyes of courtiers, nobles and diplomats.
The Petit Trianon is where the story of Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain begins. After touring the Palace of Versailles, they decided to stroll through the Petit Trianon. Somehow they missed the right turn and ended up in an unfamiliar alley.
They kept walking and met some strange people along the way. They saw high-ranking officials dressed in long gray-green coats with small triangular hats. They saw a cottage with a woman and a girl standing in the doorway; the woman was holding out a jug to the girl and the girl was reaching for it–and yet the scene was lifeless, like a painting.
They talked to a gentleman with a “strange” French accent, dressed in an antique “suit,” and a couple of guards dressed in “strange” clothing for the time. Both of them felt some “restlessness” or “stillness in the air”; as Moberly writes in his book:
“Everything suddenly began to look unnatural and therefore unpleasant; even the trees seemed to become flat and lifeless, like wood woven in a tapestry. There were no effects of light and shadow, and the wind did not sway the trees.”
A winding path led Moberly and Jourdain across the village bridge, and they finally reached Petit Trianon. There the biggest surprise awaited them.
They saw a woman in a light summer dress, with long hair under a white hat, sitting on the grass in front of the castle, sketching. Moberly was confused and thought the woman was a tourist who had come to sketch the gardens. But upon closer inspection, she appeared to resemble Marie Antoinette, after she recalled her portrait she had seen at the exhibition.
The women were deeply disturbed by what had happened and hurried back through the palace gardens. On their way back they found that the strangely dressed officials were gone, the woman with the jug was also gone, and the village bridge they had climbed up no longer existed.
It seemed as if everything that was happening was a dream.
They were convinced that what they had seen that day was something unreal. When they went back, they did a little research and found a map from 1783 that marked the places that had disappeared. The bridge, the cottage, and the garden where Marie Antoinette had sketched were exactly where they had seen them.
In 1908, Moberly and Jourdain also found the diary of Madame Eloff, the queen’s dressmaker, who had made the very dress in which they had seen Marie Antoinette that day.
They went back many times and tried to find the same path, but without success. Eventually they decided to write about their experiences in a book under pseudonyms because they did not want to tarnish the reputation they had earned over decades of teaching.