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21 Diciembre 2012

Are there really ghosts at Versailles?

At the start of 20th century, two Edwardian ladies caused a publishing sensation with an account of meeting the ghost of Marie Antoinette at Versailles. Tim Richardson revisits the tale.

TIM RICHARDSON

The Telegraph (Reino Unido) [Crónica]

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(1) Erie effects weather,light and an indefinable 'sense of place’ can lend a garden a spooky atmosphere (2) The Petit Trianon, Versailles (ALAMY)

Ghosts in broad daylight, a curious dreamlike experience, jolts of disorientation followed by the growing recognition that something strange has happened… for anyone interested in gardens and their particular atmospheres, The Trianon Adventure, a 'true' Edwardian ghost story, retains a curious resonance. The book (also known as An Adventure), became a bestseller upon publication in 1911 and remained a talking point throughout the first half of the 20th century. Today the story is almost forgotten.

The 'adventure' in question happened on a hot day in August 1901, when two academic ladies, Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, paid a visit to Versailles and the jardin anglais of the Petit Trianon – Marie Antoinette's celebrated hideaway half a mile to the north of the main palace. This is an informal landscape of mazy paths, meandering streams, dark glades and small, evocative buildings, such as the Temple of Love (a neoclassical rotunda), the Belvedere (an exquisite octagonal pavilion) and the Rocher, or rock bridge. Secreted in a cleft among the little knolls behind the Belvedere is the queen's grotto, a delightful feature with entrances on two levels; it was here that the queen was reputed to have been found, deep in thought, when she was first told of the approach of the revolutionary mob. The planting was restored in 2008 using a 1795 botanical inventory, including numerous specimens of what were then North American rarities. But even today, perhaps the chief sensation this garden inspires is disorientation.

Miss Moberly was principal of the fledgling all-female Oxford college, St Hugh's, and Miss Jourdain was headmistress of a girls' school in Watford. The two were spending three weeks sightseeing in Paris, partly in order to assess their compatibility as potential colleagues at St Hugh's.

According to Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain, that afternoon they encountered a succession of people in late-18th-century costume, some of whom spoke to them. At the time, they thought little of it. The first of these spectres was a servant woman shaking a sheet from the window of a building (later found to be non-existent), followed by a pair of ill-mannered 'gardeners' in uniform (subsequently identified by the ladies as Swiss Guards), then a repulsive-looking man with a pockmarked face leaning on a balustrade next to a rocky outcrop. He was followed by a handsome, out-of-breath young man in a wide-brimmed hat, who appeared as if from nowhere behind them and told them to go back to the palace immediately. The climax of this ghostly tour was a woman seen sketching (by Miss Moberly only, although in later testimony Miss Jourdain said she could sense a presence), who could only have been Marie Antoinette – that is what the ladies claimed.

 

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