The Duke of Sodom and a Time Travel Mystery Solved

I came across a reference, in a new biography of Colette, to the “Duke of Sodom,” a French dandy, contemporary of Oscar Wilde, named Robert de Montesquiou. I thought I’d look him up, for after all, anyone who has earned the sobriquet “Duke of Sodom” must be a memorable character.

I was surprised to find on his (English language) Wikipedia page a reference to time travel and one of the great mysteries that has intrigued me for so many of these years and in a small way, was the seed for my El pueblo (The Settlement, serialized here) though to be fair, it was the juxtaposition of contemporary and 15th century architecture in San Miguel de Allende that suggested the possibility that there might be a place out of time.

Two English ladies were visiting Versailles around the turn of the century, turned a corner and found themselves in the 1700’s. They believed they had crossed the threshold of some kind of time portal and had traveled in time.

Their story was mentioned, if I recall, in the People’s Almanac in the 1980’s as well as in other books. The tale suggested that while time travel may be exceedingly uncommon, visiting the past nevertheless was possible.

They wrote about their adventure, never realizing that there was a simple explanation for their shared experience and the Duke of Sodom was responsible for their confusion:

An Adventure

In his biography, Philippe Jullian proposes that the Moberly–Jourdain incident in 1901, in which Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claimed to experience time travel in the grounds of the Petit Trianon, is explained by their stumbling into a rehearsal of one of Montesquiou’s Tableaux Vivants, with his friends (one possibly transvestite) dressed in period costume. Joan Evans, who owned the copyright to An Adventure (1911), Moberly and Jourdain’s account of their experiences, accepted this solution and forbade any further editions.

A mystery solved, methinks.