George Gurdjieff

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George Gurdjieff : biography

13 January 1866 – 29 October 1949

New pupils included C. S. Nott, René Zuber, Margaret Anderson and her ward Fritz Peters. The generally intellectual and middle-class types who were attracted to Gurdjieff’s teaching often found the Prieuré’s spartan accommodation and emphasis on hard labour in the grounds disconcerting. Gurdjieff was putting into practice his teaching that man needs to develop physically emotionally and intellectually, hence the mixture of lectures, music, dance, and manual work. Older pupils noticed how the Prieuré teaching differed from the complex metaphysical "system" that had been taught in Russia. In addition to the physical hardships, his personal behaviour towards pupils could be ferocious:

Gurdjieff was standing by his bed in a state of what seemed to me to be completely uncontrolled fury. He was raging at Orage, who stood impassively, and very pale, framed in one of the windows . . . Suddenly, in the space of an instant, Gurdjieff’s voice stopped, his whole personality changed, he gave me a broad smile—looking incredibly peaceful and inwardly quiet— motioned me to leave, and then resumed his tirade with undiminished force. This happened so quickly that I do not believe that Mr. Orage even noticed the break in the rhythm.Fritz Peters, Boyhood with Gurdjieff.

During this period, Gurdjieff acquired notoriety as "the man who killed Katherine Mansfield" after Katherine Mansfield died there of tuberculosis under his care on 9 January 1923. However, James Moore and OuspenskyOuspensky, In search of the Miraculous, chapter XVIII, p. 392 convincingly show that Mansfield knew she would soon die and that Gurdjieff made her last days happy and fulfilling.

First car accident, writing and visits to America

Starting in 1924, Gurdjieff made visits to North America, where he eventually received the pupils taught previously by A.R. Orage. In 1924, while driving alone from Paris to Fontainebleau, he had a near-fatal car accident. Nursed by his wife and mother, he made a slow and painful recovery against medical expectation. Still convalescent, he formally "disbanded" his institute on 26 August (in fact he dispersed only his "less dedicated" pupils), which he explained as an undertaking "..in the future, under the pretext of different worthy reasons, to remove from my eyesight all those who by this or that make my life too comfortable".Life is Only Real then, when ‘I Am’

After recovering, he began writing Beelzebub’s Tales, the first part of All and Everything in a mixture of Russian and Armenian. The book was deliberately convoluted and obscure, forcing the reader to "work" to find its meaning. He also composed it according his own principles, writing in noisy cafes to force a greater effort of concentration.

In 1925 Gurdjieff’s mother died, and his wife developed cancer; she was to die in June 1926 as a result of Gurdjieff’s well-intentioned but medically unsound radium water and magnetic treatments. Ouspensky attended her funeral. According to Fritz Peters, Gurdjieff was in New York from November 1925 to the spring of 1926, when he succeeded in raising over $100,000. In all he was to make six or seven trips to the U.S. During them he alienated a number of people with his brash and undisguised demands for money. Some have interpreted this in terms of his following the Malamatiyya technique of the sufis, deliberately attracting disapproval.

Despite his fund-raising efforts in America, the Prieuré operation ran into debt and was shut down in 1932. Gurdjieff constituted a new teaching group in Paris. Known as The Rope, it comprised only women, many of them writers. and many lesbians. Members included Kathryn Hulme, Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson and Enrico Caruso’s widow, Dorothy. Gurdjieff became acquainted with Gertrude Stein through Rope members, although she was never a follower of his.Rob Baker, "", 2000. Accessed 10 March 2013.

In 1935 Gurdjieff stopped work on All and Everything. He had completed the first two parts of the planned trilogy but only started on the Third Series. (It was later published under the title Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’.) In 1936, he settled in a flat at 6, Rue des Colonels-Renard in Paris, where he was to stay for the rest of his life. In 1937, his brother Dmitry died, and The Rope disbanded.