Thursday, March 31, 2016

A True Story of Time Travel by Eleanor Stem

The Gardens at Petit Trianon

Because I could not make it better, the following is almost verbatim from the source:

“On a hot summer’s afternoon in August of 1901, two respectable English schoolteachers, Annie Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, decided to visit Versailles on a sight-seeing expedition. They had never been there before. After looking in on the Palace of Versailles, they started to walk toward the Petit Trianon.

“Suddenly, without realizing it, they walked backward in time. They crossed a garden that did not exist in 1901 but which had existed in 1789. They saw and spoke to people who had been dead for more than a century. Their incredible psychic adventure, fully supported by years of research, created a sensation when it was announced in 1911. 

Le Petit Trianon
“Annie Moberly, age 55, and Eleanor Jourdain, age 38, with a guidebook in hand... took a stroll through the gardens. Their destination was the Petit Trianon, a small private chateau at the far end of the grounds, which...” Marie Antoinette used to escape court life. 

“Trying to find the Petit Trianon, Moberly and Jourdain missed a right turn, kept going straight ahead, began wandering aimlessly—and thus, as they would later claim, they took leave of the 20th century and reentered 18th century. 

“From what they reconstructed afterward, here is what they saw and here is what they encountered:

“Moberly, alone, saw a woman shaking a white cloth out of the window of a building. Jourdain, alone, saw some old fashioned farm implements including a plow, lying on the grass. They both viewed two men wearing what appeared to be masquerade costumes—small tricorn hats and long grayish-green coats—and thought them to be gardeners. They asked these men the way to the Petit Trianon, and one man answered mechanically that they must continue ahead. Then, off to the right, Jourdain, alone, saw a cottage, with a woman passing a jug to a young girl standing in the open doorway. 

Garden Kiosk as seen today
“Jourdain remembered later how she felt as they had plodded onward. ‘I began to feel as though I were walking in my sleep; the heavy dreaminess was oppressive.’ Finally, they reached the edge of a wood, where they could see a man seated near the steps of a garden kiosk, its columns topped by a round roof. Moberly also recalled her reactions: ‘Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees behind the building seemed to have become flat and lifeless, like a wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade and no wind stirred the trees. It was all intensely still.’

“The two ladies had a closer glimpse of the man near the steps, and they were frightened. He was swarthy, pockmarked, and he wore a large hat and heavy black cloak. 

‘The man’s face was most repulsive—its expression odious,’ Moberly recalled. About to hasten away, the two women saw a younger man who apparently had come from behind some rocks that were in the path. He was handsome, his hairstyle resembling ‘an old picture’, and his face was flushed. He spoke to them eagerly in oddly accented French, trying to divert them from the path they had taken. They finally understood that he was giving them directions to the Petit Trianon. 

Marie Antoinette with her 2nd son in garden
“Following the young man’s directions, Moberly and Jourdain took another path to their right, crossed an attractive rustic bridge spanning a tiny ravine, skirted a narrow meadow, and at last came upon the Petit Trianon. On the lawn before the Trianon they stopped, and Annie Moberly watched an aristocratic lady—wearing a large white hat, and an old fashioned long-waisted green bodice above a full short skirt**—sitting and sketching the scenery. She was rather pretty, although not young, and she stared at Moberly. Then a uniformed official emerged from the Petit Trianon to escort the English ladies through the chateau before sending them away. 

“Annie Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain left the palace grounds and took a carriage to the Hôtel des Réservoirs in Versailles to have tea before returning to Miss Jourdain’s apartment in Paris. Neither of them mentioned to the other [what they saw] at their visit to Versailles, at least not until a week later when Miss Moberly was recording impressions of her visit to France. As Miss Moberly came to the afternoon at Versailles, she began to feel a strange, dreamy, unnatural oppression. She stopped writing and turned to Miss Jourdain and asked, ‘Do you think that the Petit Trianon is haunted?’ Miss Jourdain nodded firmly. ‘Yes, I do.’ And for the 1st time, each woman told the other how eerie an experience it had been for her.

“Three months later, when Annie Moberly was back in Oxford, Miss Jourdain came from Paris to be her house guest. Obsessively, they resumed their discussion of that afternoon at Versailles—and how it became apparent that while they had both seen certain things, each of them had seen something the other had not seen—or had been unable to see. 

Jourdain, alone, had seen the plow on the grass and the woman and girl in the cottage doorway. Moberly, alone, had seen the aristocratic lady sketching before the Petit Trianon. In those moments, both women perceived that something unusual, indeed something very unusual, had happened to them at Versailles—they had, inexplicably, stumbled backward through time into another age. They vowed to keep their experience secret, while each wrote up a separate and detailed account of the adventure and both agreed to do thorough research on the history of Versailles and the Petit Trianon. 

“For 9 years, Moberly and Jourdain did their detective work—digging into every archive available that had information on the background of Versailles. The two ladies visited Versailles again and again. When they had completed their sleuthing, they had learned that their afternoon in Versailles in 1901 had actually been in the afternoon in 1789.... The two ‘gardeners’ in greenish coats the women had met were actually two Swiss Guardsmen on duty that day. The girl in the cottage doorway was named Marion and she had lived with her mother on the palace grounds. The repulsive man in the black cloak seated near the kiosk steps was the Comte de Vaudreuil, a Creole friend of the Queen of France. And, the most exciting of all for Moberly and Jourdain, they discovered—from a portrait done by Wertmuller, and from the journal of Madame Eloffe, the Queen’s dressmaker (who had made her mistress two green bodices and several short white skirts** for that summer of 1789)—that they had come upon Queen Marie Antoinette herself as she sat sketching before her chateau. 

“The only sight Moberly and Jourdain did not identify was the rustic bridge spanning the ravine that they had to cross to reach the Trianon. The earliest map they could find—one copied in 1783 from the original plan for Marie Antoinette’s garden (which had been drawn by her architect but had subsequently been lost)—had not shown the rustic bridge or ravine. But no matter. Moberly and Jourdain were satisfied. They already had enough. 

“In 1911, Moberly and Jourdain published their findings pseudonymously in a little book entitled An Adventure.*** The book itself was a sensation, although critics did not take it seriously. Worst of all, the London Society for the Psychical Research, which collected facts on psychic experiences and had such prestigious members as Henri Bergson, John Ruskin, Lewis Carroll, Lord Tennyson, rejected the adventure of the schoolteachers and announced that the experience was built on ‘the weakness of human memory’. 

“Defensively, Moberly and Jourdain began to reveal to friends, to faculty members, to their pupils, that they were the ones who had the adventure at Versailles. The families of their students were appalled. Faculty members were skeptical, and conflict grew. And generally, throughout England and France, the two schoolteachers were ridiculed by the majority of scholars, historians, and experts in psychic phenomena. The two women were regarded as romancers or hysterics—and the things they claimed to have seen were regarded as no more authentic than the rustic bridge and the ravine that they had been unable to prove had ever existed at Versailles. 

“But in the end, Moberly and Jourdain scored a stunning triumph. True—in 1901 there was no rustic bridge and no ravine, even though the women swore they had crossed such a bridge. True—De la Motte’s map of the gardens, done in 1783, showed neither the bridge nor the ravine. But suddenly, one day in 1912, Moberly and Jourdain learned that the long lost original map of the gardens drawn by Marie Antoinette’s architect Mique had been found—had been discovered, charred and crumpled, stuffed inside an old chimney in a house at Montmorency. And Mique’s original map was legible—and lo, it showed the ravine and the rustic bridge over it, which De la Motte had sloppily failed to copy down. Moberly and Jourdain were vindicated—and they published news of the great find in a 3rd edition [unavailable in google books] which, for the 1st time, bore their real names as the authors, for they were no longer ashamed but now were proud of their book. 

“How many other human beings had ever—since man has existed on earth—made such a journey as this one, backward through the time barrier into the distant past—and had returned with word of it?

“Miss Jourdain died in 1924 at the age of 61. Miss Moberly died in 1937 at the age of 91.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

** Skirts in 1901 were much longer than the styles in 1789 which were approx. ankle length.
*** The actual book An Adventure can be found [free download] in google books. My copy is dated 1913.

Many thanks to:

Fully quoted from: The People’s Almanac by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1975.
Wikicommons, Public Domain 

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

In Search of Language in Writing Historicals

by Kathy Fischer-Brown 

In setting historical novels for a contemporary audience, dialogue and voice are vital elements for bringing the past to life. Before I park myself in front of the computer to write, I need to hear the characters speak. I want to hear, not just the particular tone and quality of their voices—so if they were to call up on the phone, I’d know who they were—but its rhythms and word choices. Like other writers, I hear voices (too often at the most inconvenient times), and it’s the particular sound and rhythms I try to get right in their dialogue and inner monologues. Unfortunately there are complications in that we have only a vague idea what eighteenth century speech sounded like as it was spoken on a daily basis.

Unlike the barely-to-almost recognizable English of the early Medieval and into the Renaissance periods, the English language of “The Age of Enlightenment” closely approximates today’s written (and it is assumed, its spoken) word. This was also the time when punctuation rules were being formulated for the first time, so we can read along and hear in our minds how the author intended the words to sound, their pauses and full stops. We have a number of dictionaries from the period: Robert Crawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall, (1604), works by Elisha Coles, Thomas Blount, Edward Phillips, and Samuel Johnson’s monumental A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), to name a few. These dictionaries not only defined the words, but made an attempt to standardize their pronunciation. 
Obviously we have no recordings of our ancestors from the 1700s, but we have some idea of the accents that defined English speech in the thirteen original colonies, some of which are still with us (such as the Bostonian “pahk the cah” or Bernie Sanders’s Brooklyn “yuge”). It’s presumed these regionalisms were derived from the areas in Great Britain where the settlers of New England originated. These in turn acquired flavor in the melting pot, seasoned by smatterings from the Dutch, German, and French—both words and their pronunciations. (An excellent case for this theory can be found in The Story of English, by Robert McCrum. William Cran, and Robert MacNeil.)

A most important tool for the writer of historicals is the written word of the period, especially poetry, which is most helpful when rhyming words give an indication of how certain words were pronounced over two hundred years ago…except when the rhyme is strained. (By the way, is it “huzzah,” or “huzzay”? The battle rages on in this informative and entertaining article, by Norman Fuss). Letters, plays, novels, political treatises, newspaper articles all provide glimpses into the way people wrote, which was generally more formal than daily speech.

A pet peeve of mine is finding words in modern historicals—both in dialogue and narrative—that didn’t exist in the period. Even trickier are words which appear to be modern that were actually in use. The question for a writer attempting to recreate an accurate depiction of a far gone time is whether to use such words and expressions without jolting the reader out of the setting. I tend to avoid both cases.

Another quandary is: “How much period lingo is too much?” A pinch of Thees and thous, prithees, vouchsafes, and the like sprinkled in with dialogue that is easy on the modern eye and ear goes a long way toward establishing the era and the characters’ individual and societal idiosyncracies. Same goes for accents. A minor character in Courting the Devil, “Major” Fergus McKenna, is veteran of the French and Indian Wars. Without going into too much detail, I wanted to establish his Scottish roots with a word or a phrase here and there, without attempting to capture his accent on the page.  Accents are ‘tricksy little hobbitses’ and best approached with a light hand.

Some Cool Links


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the DevilThe Partisan's Wife and The Return of Tachlanad, her newly released epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her The Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of her books are available in a variety of e-book formats and in paperback from Amazon and other online retailers, as well as a bookstore near you.

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