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FOLIE À DEUX: A Dramatic Reproduction, Presented to the WAWI LGBT Study Group Jan 8th, 2020

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

FOLIE À DEUX: A Dramatic Reproduction

In 1901 two extraordinary British women took the wrong path, and got lost in the woods while touring Versailles palace, where they stumbled upon ghosts of Marie Antoinette’s court. Bright academics who were conscious of the risks to their credibility in sharing such a story, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain wrote independent accounts of what they experienced, and then after a decade researching a largely lost history—how the grounds were changed or deteriorated after the Revolution, and how the French court spent it’s final days—published a book, replete with their research of discovered maps and gardener’s entries, that placed their paranormal encounter on October 5th, 1789, during Marie Antionette’s last day at the Petit Trianon. Or, as they believed, they experienced a reverie of this event, as remembered by Marie Antoinette, as she was heading to her execution in August of 1792.

Published in 1911 under pseudonyms as An Adventure, the “Moberly-Jourdain Incident” or “The Ghosts of the Trianon,” as it’s alternately known, has fascinated readers and Versailles tourists as a ghost story, or an account of time travel, or both. Nevertheless, critics have spent equal amounts of time discrediting the incredible story. The accepted conclusions range from the dismissive—that they were normal women, albeit Edwardian spinsters, who perhaps stumbled upon one of Robert de Montesquieu’s reenactment parties in the woods, and mistook his “tableau vivant” for a haunting (Julian, 1967, pp. 140–41)—to the damning: they were the century’s best example of a “lesbian folie à deux” (Castle, 1991, pp. 741–72).

The story is still haunting a hundred years later, in a world where believing women is still discussed in power circles predominated by men who decide what kind of evidence is the right kind of evidence. And while many in our community have felt the pull in this most recent time-loop to stand up and say “we believe survivors,” we did so suspecting it wasn’t enough. After all, we invented the system where symptoms are clues to the war being waged within the woman, and we came up with the damning diagnostic categories.

Scientific and psychic groups alike turned their backs on Moberly and Jourdain in 1911. Freud himself became a member of one of the most famous paranormal organizations that same year—the Society of Psychic Research (SPR) in Cambridge, which reviewed An Adventure in it’s journal, Proceedings, and decided it was not a credible case of the paranormal (reprinted in Iremonger, 1975, 146-55).

The next year, Freud published his own essay in Proceedings titled, “A Note on the Unconscious in Psycho-Analysis.” There is nothing in the essay about telepathy or thought transference, and it is clear from his correspondence with Ferenczi at this time that Freud considered it risky to speak to their own research on thought transference. The historical evidence for Freud’s conflicted interest in the occult, however, is abundant. He left out a chapter on the “occult meaning of dreams” from the Interpretation of Dreams in 1899 (Rabeyron & Evrard, 2012, p. 99); he and Fereczi’s visited a Berlin psychic, Frau Seidler, who Freud was very impressed by, although he exhorted Ferenczi to publish nothing about telepathy in 1909 (Brabant, Falzeder, & Giampieri-Deutsch, 1993, p. 79); he wrote a “secret essay” about successful cases of telepathy for SPR 1924 that he retracted because of “medical discretion” (Brabant, Falzeder, & Giampieri-Deutsch, 2000, p. 205-6). And although Ernest Jones left this part of his work out of Freud’s biography, many others have since documented it (Moreau, 1976; Méheust, 1999; Rabeyron & Evrard, 2012).

Instead, Freud introduced a radical new metaphor in this essay for two parts of the mind that obey different laws:

Unconsciousness is a regular and inevitable phase in the processes constituting our psychical activity; every psychical act begins as an unconscious one, and it meets with resistance or not… A rough but not inadequate analogy to this supposed relation of conscious to unconscious activity might be drawn from the field of photography. The first stage of the photograph is the ‘negative process’, and some of these negatives which have held good in examination are admitted to the ‘positive process’ ending in the picture (pp. 264).

So one could say that Freud rescues a definition of the unconscious from the 19th century sea of “latent” and “split-off” and “multiple consciousnesses” (Keeley, 2001, pp. 780-84) as a distinct part of our psyche that obeys different rules (resistances) than our conscious mind, but which at times, like in remembered dreams, and through the method of psycho-analysis, can become known consciously. But one could also say he leaves to drown in the tempests of 19th century judgment and misogyny those afflicted by what resists being known consciously: the difficult hysteric patient, the delusionally mad, and perhaps also Moberly and Jourdain.

In 2020, the tempest is even more fraught. Do you believe these women’s story? Psychoanalysis often insists on the option of a neutral position, with which to be unsure, or at least to ask further questions. Although neutral positions don’t save women from real or proverbial guillotines. Even worse, what we know how to do with phenomena like these is to analyze the implicated psyche: Why did she have this dream? Why this hallucination? What was it about her that Marie Antionette’s final reverie resonated so powerfully in 1901?

But are these the right questions? As soon we become the analyst, we turn her into the patient. And just like that, the smart, brave woman standing sworn before us vanishes.

I’ve never seen a ghost, and like Moberly and Jourdain, I’m not a student of theoretical science or the paranormal. As a gay psychoanalyst, I’ve never considered until recently if some people are more prone to folie à duex because of their sexual orientation. I am not going to analyze Moberly or Jourdain. In the following pages, I will attempt to bring them back to life, so as to make their own case. Then I will tell you why I believe these womenand why as a gay analyst I believe in madness for two. And in revisiting “A Note on the Unconscious in Psycho-analysis,” which couldn’t save these women a century ago, I will summon Freud in my defense of both.

But in bringing the dead back to life, I cannot guarantee that you too won’t be touched by madness.


After reaching the beginning of the long water we truck away to the right down a woodland glade until we came obliquely to the other water close to the building which we were rightly concluded to be the Grand Trianon. We passed on our left hand, and came upon a broad green drive perfectly deserted. If we had followed it we should have come immediately to the Petit Trianon, but, not knowing its position, we crossed the drive and went up a lane in front of us. I was surprised that Miss-Jourdain did not ask the way from a woman who was shaking a white cloth out of the window of a building at the corner of the lane, but followed, supposing that she knew where she was going to. Talking about England, and mutual acquaintances there, we went up the lane, and then made a sharp turn to the right past some buildings. We looked in at an open doorway and saw the end of a carved staircase, but as no one was about we did not like to go in. There were three paths in front of us, and as we saw two men a little ahead on the centre one, we followed it, and asked them the way. Afterwards we spoke of them as gardeners, because we remembered a wheelbarrow of some kind close by and the look of a pointed spade, but they were really very dignified officials, dressed in long greyish-green coats with small three-cornered hats. They directed us straight on.

We walked briskly forward, talking as before, but from the moment we left the lane an extraordinary depression had come over me, which, in spite of every effort to shake off, steadily deepened. There seemed to be absolutely no reason for it; I was not at all tired, and was becoming more interested in my surroundings. I was anxious that my companion should not discover the sudden gloom upon my spirits, which became quite overpowering on reaching the point where the path ended, being crossed by another right and left.

In front of us was a wood, within which, and overshadowed by trees, was a light garden kiosk, circular, and like a small bandstand, by which a man was sitting. There was no greensward, but the ground was covered with rough grass and dead leaves as in a wood. The place was so shut in that we could not see beyond it. Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees behind the building seemed to have become flat and lifeless, like a wood worked in a tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees. It was all intensely still.

The man sitting close to the kiosk (who had on a cloak and a large shady hat) turned his head and looked at us. This was the culmination of my peculiar sensations, and I felt moment of genuine alarm. The man’s face was most repulsive—it’s expression odious. His complexion was very dark and rough. I said to Miss Jourdain, ‘Which is our way?’ but thought ‘nothing will induce me to go to the left’. It was a great relief at that moment to hear someone running up to us in breathless haste. Connecting the sound with the gardeners, I turned and ascertained that there was no one on the paths either to the side or behind, but at almost the same moment I suddenly perceived another man apparently, just come either over or through the rock (or whatever it was) that shut out the view at the junction of the paths. The suddenness of his appearance was something of a shock.

The second man was distinctly a gentleman; he was tall, with large dark eyes, and had crisp curling black hair under the same large sombrero hat. He was handsome, and the effect of the hair was to make him look like an old picture. His face was glowing red as through great exertion—as though he had come a long way. At first I thought he was sunburnt, but a second look satisfied me that the colour was from heat, not sunburning. He had on a dark cloak wrapped across him like a scarf, one end flying out in his prodigious hurry. He looked greatly excited as he called out to us, ‘Mesdames, Mesdames’ (or ‘Madame’ pronounced more as the other), ‘il ne faut’ (pronounced fout) ‘pas passer par là.’ He then waved his arm, and said with great animation, ‘par ici…cherchez la maison.’

I was so surprised at his eagerness that I looked up at him again, and to this he responded with a little backward movement and most peculiar smile. Though I could not follow all he said, it was clear that he was determined that we should go to the right and not to the left. As this fell in with my own wish, I went instantly towards a little bridge on the right, and turning my head to join Miss Jourdain in thanking him, found, to my surprise, that he was not there but the running began again and from the sound if was close beside us.

Silently we passed over the small rustic bridge which crossed a tiny ravine. So close to us when on the bridge that we could have touched it with our right hands, a thread-like cascade fell from a height down a green pretty bank, where ferns grew between stones. Where the little trickle of water went to I did not see, but it gave me the impression that we were near other water, though I saw none.

Beyond the little bridge our pathway led under trees; it skirted a narrow meadow of long grass bounded on the farther side by trees, and very much overshadowed by trees growing in it. This gave the whole place a somber look suggestive of dampness, and shut out the view of the house until we were close to it. The house was a square, solidly built small country house—quite different from what I expected. The long windows looking north into the English garden (where we were) were shuttered. There was a terrace round the north and west sides of the house, and on the rough grass, which grew quite up to the terrace, and with her back to it, a lady was sitting, holding out a paper as though she must be making a study of trees, for they grew close in front of her, and there seemed to be nothing else to sketch. She saw us, and when we passed close by on her left hand, she turned and looked full at us. It was not a young face, and (though rather pretty) it did not attract me. She had on a shady white hat perched on a good deal of fair hair that fluffed round her forehead. Her light summer dress was arranged on her shoulders in handkerchief fashion, and there was a little line of either green or gold near the edge of the handkerchief, which showed me that it was over, not tucked into, her bodice, which was cut low. Her dress was long-waisted, with a good deal of fullness in the skirt, which seemed to be short. I thought she was a tourist, but that her dress was old-fashioned and rather unusual (though people were wearing fichu bodices that summer). I looked straight at her; but some indescribably feeling made me turn away annoyed at her being there.

We went up the steps on to the terrace, my impression being that they led up direct from the English garden; but I was beginning to feel as though we were walking in a dream—the stillness and oppressiveness were so unnatural. Again I saw the lady, this time from behind, and noticed that her fichu was pale green. It was rather a relief to me that Miss Jourdain did not propose to ask her whether we could enter the house from that side.

We crossed the terrace to the south-west corner and looked over into the cour d’honneur; and then turned back, and seeing that one of the long windows overlooking the French garden was unshuttered, we were going towards it when we were interrupted. The terrace was prolonged at right angles in front of what seemed to be a second house. The door of it suddenly opened, and a young man stepped out on to the terrace, banging the door behind him. He had the jaunty manner of a footman, but no livery, and called to us, saying that the way into the house was by the cour d’honneur, and offered to show us the way round. He looked inquisitively amused as he walked by us down the French garden till we came to an entrance into the front drive. We came out sufficiently near the first lane we had been in to make me wonder why the garden officials had not directed us back instead of telling us to go forward.

When we were in the front entrance hall we were kept waiting for the arrival of a merry French wedding-party. They walked arm-in-arm in a long procession round the rooms, and we were at the back—too far off from the guide to hear much of his story. We were very much interested, and felt quite lively again. Coming out of the cour d’honneur we took a little carriage which was standing there, and drove back to the Hôtel des Réservoirs in Versailles… (Moberly, 1911, pp. 3-11).


After spending some time in the Palace, we went down by the terrace and struck to the right to find the Petit Trianon. We walked for some distance down a wooded alley, and then came upon the buildings of the Grand Trianon before which we did not delay. We went in the direction of the Petit Trianon, but just before reaching what we knew afterwards to be the main entrance I saw a gate leading to a path cut deep below the level of the ground above, and as the way was open and had the look of an entrance that was used, I said, ‘Shall we try this path? It must lead to the house;’ and we followed it. To our right we saw some farm-buildings looking empty and deserted; implements (among others a plough) were lying about; we looked in, but saw no one. The impression was saddening, but it was not until we reached the crest of the rising ground where there was a garden that I began to feel as if we had lost our way, and as if something were wrong. There were two men there in official dress (greenish in colour), with something in their hands; it might have been a staff. A wheelbarrow and some other gardening tools were near them. They told us, in answer to my enquiry, to go straight on. I remembered repeating my question, because they answered in a seemingly casual and mechanical way, but only got the same answer in the same manner. As we were standing there I saw to the right of us a detached solidly built cottage, with stone steps at the door. A woman and a girl were standing at the doorway, and I particularly noticed their unusual dress: both wore white kerchiefs tucked into the bodice, and the girl’s dress, though she looked thirteen or fourteen only, was down to her ankles. The woman was passing a jug to the girl, who wore a close white cap.

Following the directions of the two men we walked on: but the path pointed out to us seemed to lead away from where we imagined the Petit Trianon to be; and there was a feeling of depression and loneliness about the place. I began to feel as if I were walking in my sleep; the heavy dreariness was oppressive. At last we came upon a path crossing ours, and saw in front of us a building consisting of some columns roofed in, and set back in the trees. Seated on the steps was a man with a heavy black cloak round his shoulders, and wearing a slough hat. At that moment the eerie feeling which had begun in the garden culminated in a definite impression of something uncanny and fear-inspiring. The man slowly turned his face, which was marked by smallpox: his complexion was very dark. The expression was very evil and yet unseeing, and though I did not feel that he was looking particularly at us, I felt a repugnance to going past him. But I did not wish to show the feeling, which I thought was meaningless, and we talked about the best way to turn, and decided to go to the right.

Suddenly we heard a man running behind us: he shouted, ‘Mesdames, mesdames,’ and when I turned he said in an accent that seemed to me unusual that our way lay in another direction. ‘Il ne faut’ (prounounced fout) ‘pas passer par là.’ He then made a gesture adding ‘par ici…cherchez la maison.’ Though we were surprised to be addressed, we were glad of the direction, and I thanked him. The man ran off with a curious smile on his face: the running ceased as abruptly as it had begun, not far from where we stood. I remember that the man was young-looking, with a florid complexion and rather long dark hair. I do not remember the dress, except that the material was dark and heavy, and that the man wore buckled shoes.

We walked on, crossing a small bridge that went across a green bank high on our right hand and shelving down below as to a very small overshadowed pool of water glimmering some way off. A tiny stream descended from above us, so small as to seem to lose itself before reaching the little pool. We then followed a narrow path till almost immediately we came upon the English garden font of the Petit Trianon. The place was deserted; but as we approached the terrace I remember drawing my skirt away with a feeling as though someone were near and I had to make room, and then wondering why I did it. While we were on the terrace a boy came out of the door of a second building which opened on it, and I still have the sound in my ears of his slamming it behind him. He directed us to go round to the other entrance, and, seeing us hesitate, with the peculiar smile of suppressed mockery offered to show us the way. We passed through the French garden, part of which was walled in by trees. The feeling of dreariness was very strong there, and continued till we actually reached the front entrance to the Petit Trianon and looked round the rooms in the wake of a French wedding-party. Afterwards we drove back to the Rue des Réservoirs (Ibid., pp.16-20).


“The mind of the hysterical patient is full of active yet unconscious ideas,” Freud writes in “A Note on the Unconscious in Psycho-Analysis”:

If the hysterical woman vomits, she may do so from the idea of being pregnant. She has, however, no knowledge of this idea, although it can be easily detected in her mind, and made conscious to her by one of the technical procedures of psychoanalysis. If she is executing the jerks and movements constituting her ‘fit’, she does not even consciously represent to herself the intended actions, and she may perceive those actions with the detached feelings of an onlooker. Nevertheless analysis will show that she was acting her part in the dramatic reproduction of some incident in her life, the memory of which was unconsciously active during the attack. The same preponderance of active unconscious ideas is revealed by analysis as the essential fact in the psychology of all other forms of neurosis (pp. 262).

So Freud proposes a model of the unconscious where thoughts can exist, and be active, and enacted, even while still latent and unknown consciously to the individual. The implications for Moberly and Jourdain would be, then, that they both had unconscious and active thoughts that manifested in a symptom (the shared experience of a vision). It follows from what Freud proposes, that with the benefit of analysis, the dynamic of these (lesbian) women’s histories could then be used to interpret the dream-like vision and powerful over-identification with Marie Antoinette. But even before Freud’s essay in Proceedings, Moberly and Jourdain anticipated that their genders and histories would be used against them, and so dedicated a whole chapter in their account to this end.


(I have chosen to let the witnesses speak for themselves, and have used their own words; Moberly, 1911, pp. 100-120)

PROSECUTION: “It’s been reported by people who know you best that you have a history of supernatural experiences.”

WITNESSES: “We belong to no new schools of thought: we are the daughters of English clergymen, and heartily hold and teach the faith of our fathers.”

PROSECUTION: “We’ve heard rumors that one of you saw Emperor Julius Constantine at the Louvre in 1914 wearing a toga and a crown that no one else saw; and that the other, the Principal of St. Hugh’s, became so certain of a German Spy hiding in the school in 1924 that it caused mass resignation of her staff?”

WITNESSES: “One of us has to own to having powers of second sight, deliberately undeveloped, and there are psychical gifts in her family. She comes from Huguenot stock. The other is one of a large and cheerful party, being the seventh daughter and of a seventh son; her mother and grandmother were entirely Scotch, and both possessed powers of premonition accompanied by vision. Her family has always been sensitive to ghost stories in general, but mercilessly critical of particular ones of a certain type. Both of us inherited a horror of all forms of occultism. We lose no opportunity of preaching against them as unwholesome and misleading; because they mostly deal with conditions of psychical excitement, and study of the abnormal and diseased, including problems of disintegrated personality which present such close analogy to those of insanity. We have the deepest distrust in, and distaste for, stories of abnormal appearances and conditions.”

PROSECUTION: “You did not publish your account until 1911, after spending a decade doing research. Why research it at all? Why not just publish it and let experts do the research?”

WITNESSES: “The research had been undertaken with the idea of disproving the suggestion that anything unusual had happened, for we were resolved not to deceive ourselves or anyone else, if personal industry could prevent it.”

PROSECUTION: “There are details in the version that you published in 1911 than do not appear in the account you first shared with people in 1901. It would appear that your tale grew more elaborate with the telling. For instance, in a transcript of that account, there is no mention of the little bridge over the ravine, or the cascade close by.”

WITNESSES: “We suspect the explanation to be simply that we had not talked about them at first, not knowing their significance till later, and so they have not got into any widely-spread story.”

PROSECUTION: “How can you be certain that what you experienced was not just people posing for a cinematograph?”

WITNESSES: “Naturally, from the first, we had thought of some such explanation, but had rejected it as insufficient. We did not see the man running; we only heard him…. The cinematograph theory does not explain how it was that he came over and stood with his back against rocks of considerable size piled on one another, when rocks have not been there for nearly a hundred years… Nor does it explain how it was that both before and during the man’s coming we were both gazing at a kiosk which is now no longer in existence… The cinematograph does not explain the man who opened the great door of the chapel, easily banging it behind him as he came out; for in 1907 the people living in the place believed that it had not been opened since the days of Louis XVI… How was the wall lowered, which now largely hides the great door of the terrace…? Certainly none of the persons we met were being photographed at the moment, or we would have seen it; and had scenery been erected for the purpose, we must have observed such large artificial arrangements… the fact of anything that considerable would have been in the catalogue.”

PROSECUTION: “Perhaps you stumbled upon a garden party? Robert de Montesquieu was known to have gay affairs where he dressed up as the Sun King and styled transvestites as Marie Antoinette. Maybe you stumbled upon one of his tableau vivants?”

WITNESSES: “In the municipal records kept in the Library at Versailles there is a list of fêtes in the grounds… There had been one for which people had been dressed in Louis XVI. costume in June, 1901… There was none in August, 1901. In September of 1910, the question of such representation was settled by an enquiry of the authorities… [There was] a fête on June 27th, and the photographs of it had been taken sufficiently near the time to be published in the July number of Versailles Illustré. Not one of the pictures in this number is in the least like what we saw either in the matter of subjects, costumes, or places. The inaccuracy is so great, that in an article in the same magazine the scene of the messenger coming to the Queen is transferred from the grotto to the Hameau, though the sole authority for the tradition places it in the grotto.”

PROSECUTION: “Can you speak to your condition on that day in 1901, and the nature of your trip together. Love is a kind of madness. Perhaps you were so romantically affected so as to be susceptible to suggestive thought.”

WITNESSES: “Our condition at the time was one of perfect health and enjoyment of a holiday in the midst of very hard work… We are quite certain that neither of us exerted any conscious influence over the other; for though we saw much in common, yet each had independent vision. We should think it wrong either to exercise, or submit to, influence of that nature. We are independent people and accustomed to stand on our own feet.”

PROSECUTION: “You conclude with certainty in your account that what you experienced was Marie Antoinette’s own reverie, on August 10th? Or October 5th? Maybe now I’m confused. If you are not mind readers, how can you be certain of the thoughts of a woman dead now 100 years?

WITNESSES: “There was an incoherence about both the large and small incidents which seems to require combination within a single mind, and the only mind to which they could all have been present would have been that of the Queen… [I]t is possible that if we entered into an act of memory, it may well have been first made on the terrible 10th of August, 1792, though the memory itself was occupied (in the central place) with the events of October 5th, 1789… Having been for two most trying years confined to Paris, and through two hot summers, and being in the midst of the tumultuous horrors of the great tenth of August, she may, as the day wore on, and she grew more used to her miserable position in the Hall of the Assembly—where she sat for eighteen hours—have fancied (in memory) the grounds at Trianon more spacious than they really were; and have seen the trees, as one see trees in recollection, like a picture without life, depth, or movement—“

PROSECUTION: “So how many people would it take to sort through the incoherence if two women had a reverie, I wonder?” (laughter in the Assembly)

“No further questions your Honor.”


You might have noted that Freud’s “dramatic reproduction of the past” is not far from Robert de Montesquieu’s “tableau vivant,” “the picture brought to life.” Eleanor Jourdain makes her own mention of this in a footnote on the woman holding the jug:

The woman was standing on the steps, bending slightly forward, holding the jug in her hand. The girl was looking up at her from below with her hands raised, but nothing in them. She might have been just going to take the jug, or have just given it up. Her light brown hair escaped from under her cap. I remember that both seemed to pause for an instant, as in a tableau vivant; but we passed on, and I did not see the end (Ibid., pp. 17-18)

It’s perhaps an even more striking image of what Freud is talking about in his photography analogy. In both, an image appears: one that doesn’t move as in a cinematograph, but is both brought to life and suspended, and somehow outside the usual rules of time, as is common to dreams and hauntings. Or in their words, a “reverie” or waking dream.

But Freud did not address waking dreams, trance states, or thought transference in his essay for Proceedings. A more recent analysis by James Keeley makes a convincing case that Freud felt the need at this point distinguish his ideas from the Spiritualists who were very interested in visions and trance states and had borrowed his work on hypnotism to develop their own theories of multiple consciousnesses, or else risk becoming a footnote for someone else’s psychology (2001, pp. 780-84). In any case, Freud limited himself in the essay to a discussing hypnosis, hysteria and nocturnal dreams. That same year, however, he published his “Recommendation to Physicians Practicing Psycho-Analysis,” where his telephone receiver analogy comes as close as any to suggesting thought transference, even though he never uses the term:

To put it in a formula: he [the physician] must turn his own unconscious like a receptive organ towards the transmitting unconscious of the patient. He must adjust himself to the patient as a telephone receiver is adjusted to the transmitting microphone. Just as the receiver converts back into sound waves the electric oscillations in the telephone line which were set up by sound waves, so the doctor's unconscious is able, from the derivatives of the unconscious which are communicated to him, to reconstruct that unconscious, which has determined the patient's free associations (pp. 115).

What’s interesting is that this is not far from Moberly and Jourdain’s own claim, with the difference being whom we locate as the patient and whom the physician. Were they men writing from within the power circles of medical science, maybe they would have written a scholarly account of how their unconscious received transmission from their subject, produced a symptom-frequency that served to communicate something of their subject’s past, and dramatized it, as the unconscious is want to do, as series of tableaus, whose meaning was not apparent until their final chapter where they conduct their analysis of the Queen’s mind.

So the question before the jury becomes, can the unconscious, which receives communications from other unconsciouses, and dramatizes the past, reproduce it’s drama in someone else? It’s fairly clear that according to Freud, the answer either way is “yes.” How we understand the answer is crucial, however, because it either leads us to a special kind of shared delusional madness called ‘folie à deux,’ or, to what today we might dare to call “what happens in every relational psychoanalytic dyad.”


(Answers attributed to the “Relational Analyst” generalized from audience reactions when the paper was presented to the “LGBT Study Group” at the William Alanson White Institute in New York, January 8th, 2020.)

DEFENSE: “Has an unbidden thought ever come to you that you believed to have originated from your patient’s unconscious?”


DEFENSE: “Has an image ever appeared in your mind that you believe came from your patient’s mind?”


DEFENSE: “In your experience, has a thought or an image ever surfaced in the mind of your patient that you suspected originated someplace else—his parents’ minds for example?”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “It has happened.”

DEFENSE: “And his parents were not psychoanalysts, or psychics, or hypnotists?”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “They were not.”

DEFENSE: “So it’s fair to say then that a child might experience a symptom of an unconscious process that originated in a parent?”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “That would be fair, yes.”

DEFENSE: “Have you ever had a patient who had a symptom that originated from an early trauma?”


DEFENSE: “What about a patient who had a symptom that originated from a trauma in the family, before he was born?”


DEFENSE: “So even if the trauma was kept secret, and wasn’t consciously known, the patient could in theory still experience a thought or an image related to the parent’s trauma?”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “That would be fair to say, yes.”

DEFENSE: “What if it were the grandparent’s trauma? A Holocaust let’s say.”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “Yes. There is quite a large body of writing about the transmission of trauma from children of Holocaust survivors in particular.”

DEFENSE: “And so trauma would operate the same way if, say, instead of a family trauma, we were talking about a cultural trauma?”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “Yes, I believe so.”

DEFENSE: “So theoretically, it would be possible to imagine a patient who experienced a symptom related to a cultural trauma, even from a past generation, and even if the history was kept a secret or was unknown to the patient?”

RELATIONAL ANALYST: “Not so hard to imagine, I should say.”

DEFENSE: “Thank you. No further questions you Honor.”


I’m going to switch my approach here, but not because I think we have a losing case. But because given the kind of evidence history privileges, Moberly and Jourdain may never get a fair trial. And analyzing their history is likely to either impeach their credibility, or at any rate still to fail to persuade beyond a reasonable doubt why a traumatic history was able to speak through them—why they were able to bring to life something that had been lost—why this tableau vivant appeared to two lesbians, even if it didn’t originate in them. But as analysts we believe in other ways of knowing that will never hold up in court as “evidence.” So now I will take the stand.

In June of 2019 I was wondering in a line of people through the costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when history spoke to me, although it was not a hallucination. I described it to my friends and my analyst at the time that for a moment “history collapsed.” It was life-changing for me.

I was at “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” and until seeing the much acclaimed exhibit I had a very narrow sense of what the word “Camp” meant, and would never have used this word to describe myself or my art or my fashion. What was more, I was there with a French lover who was visiting from Paris for World Pride. He spoke almost no English and I speak almost no French, and I found him all the more alluring for that.

If you never saw the exhibit, I’m sorry for you, because it was incredible. It traced the evolution of Camp from Louis XIV’s court in Versailles, the “Eden of Camp,” all the way to 21st century art, fashion, drag and pop culture. There were contradictory definitions of what Camp was, whether it is high-brow or low-brow, or just aesthetic, or always excessive, or artificial, or nostalgic, or a replica, or culturally subversive, etc. But there was a line from Susan Sontag’s essay halfway though the exhibit that explained, “[S]ince no authentic aristocrats in the old sense exist today to sponsor special tastes, who is the bearer of this taste? Answer: an important self-elect class, mainly the homosexuals, who constitute themselves aristocrats of taste” (Sontag, 1982, pp. 117).

I froze, arm akimbo. Not just because I was flattered to discover my aristocratic heritage, but also because in that moment I realized that a legacy that I’d known nothing about had unconsciously informed who I was and almost all the decisions I’d made in the last year. From the purple “Une femme like me” T-shirt I was wearing and women’s Comptoir de Cotonniers pants I’d found at the thrift shop, to my choice of lover, to the fact that that same week for World Pride I would debut a “Camp” closing ceremony performance for the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatic Championships. I’d spent the last year meticulously styling my synchronized swimming teammates as Marvel superheroes, and had created comic strip “tableau vivants” to retell the Stonewall story for a new generation of Pride celebrants.

There’s more. You will find it hard to believe “what I didn’t know,” “when I didn’t know it” (of which Moberly and Jourdain also struggled convince their critics), but earlier that year I created a Mardi Gras costume, and without really knowing who she was, I had created a look that turned out as if Marie Antoinette had just rolled out of bed in her crinoline, curlers still in her powdered wig, as she grabbed a champagne flute and joined the parade.

“How could you not know who Marie Antoinette was?” you are asking yourselves. As an undergraduate student of British Literature, I was also a rather Edwardian academic, and so I knew she was a morbid character that lost her head and was often resurrected in drag competitions, and was famous for saying “let them eat cake,” but I can also tell you what my creative process was, and that I didn’t set out to bring this history back to life.

Instead, I’d been fascinated the previous year by a TeenVogue story that had circulated the internet about a gay rights rally that after Trump’s inauguration strategically turned into a block party outside Ivanka Trump’s DC home. A photo went viral when her wealthy neighbor, “Diane,” heard the ruckus, and grabbed a glass of wine and threw on “her wokest fur” to watch the festivities from her front porch. Bewildered and delighted, she was an oddly perfect image of the cultural moment.

And so without thinking of Marie Antoinette, and without knowing what Camp was, I knew I wanted a Rococo “sips-champagne-while-the-Empire-burns” look for Mardi Gras that year, and when the temperature dropped to the 30s, I added a white faux fur coat to the look. It was only at the parade after my transformation that my friends dubbed me “Marie Mantoinette.”

Even after the Met, when I started researching Versailles obsessively and listening to podcasts and Netflix shows about the Sun King, I didn’t remember that I’d actually dressed up as Marie Antoinette until I’d started writing this paper. So here is my point: without the manifestation of a hallucination or an active delusional disorder, I nevertheless started to see the image developing, that originated from negatives that I had inherited and accumulated, that had been actively influencing my decisions and artistic choices for over a year, even if I was not consciously aware of it, only as I was standing in the Met with my French lover, feeling history collapse around me.

In another footnote, Moberly and Jourdain point out that by Marie Antoinette’s time, there are a several garden follies referred to as “the ruine,” including the “Temple de L’Amour.” Were there trifles among the ruins of Camp’s Eden in my world and culture that I’d somehow picked up on, even if outside of my awareness? Probably. Did the trauma of what was lost somehow slip through what I knew of the French Revolution being the birth of (other) freedom, and so resonate with my own sense of loss and tragedy? It’s likely. Did my being someone who is culturally-othered, and therefore unable to find my own Temple of Love in the tapestry of history make me more open to some subversive counter-currents? Also likely. Didn’t my own history draw me to these different ruins in the first place? Of course at some level it did, but I don’t see how that invalidates this traumatic history speaking to me anymore that it does these women. Does being queer, or do the relatio