Chapter 4 - Gurdjieff in France & USA 1922 - 1924
Copyright © Reijo Elsner
After a short detour in Berlin, efforts that failed to get Gurdjieff and his followers to London, he ended up in France. The reason that I have taken this short period separately is that it represents the attempt to establish the teaching in Europe, but the accident in 1924 changed the way the teaching was continued. In just over two years, however, the teaching acquired a new taste and became open to a much wider public than in the earlier attempts.
The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man was established in 1922 in Fontainbleau-Avon, 65 km from Paris, in an estate called Chateau du Prieuré des Basses Loges. After 1933, having lost Prieuré, Gurdjieff continued his activities in Paris, where he lived to the end of his life. His permanent 'office' was at Café de la Paix and he lived most of the time at 6 Rue des Colonels-Rénard, not far from Arc de Triumph. During his life he made nine visits to the United States, the first in 1924.
Much of the previous details of Gurdjieff, his search and teaching are based on his own writings or his talks recorded in 'The Fragments' and 'Our Life'; only a couple of the lectures in Essentuki and one in Berlin are included in 'Views from the Real World'. After Gurdjieff moved to France this was changed and many people have given their descriptions of what was taught and said.
The pace of building up the institute was very intense and so was the inner Work that Gurdjieff conducted with an increasing number of student. A study house was built for the movements and a Turkish sauna for relaxation and cleanliness. There are excellent photographs, not only of du Prieuré, but also from Avon and Paris, taken in 2002 by Karel and Ingrid on their honeymoon.
After the visits to London many of the former followers of Ouspensky visited du Prieuré. Among the first to arrive from England was A. R. Orage. Orage had met Ouspensky in London already in 1914, when Ouspensky was on his way back from India to Russia, and had been in correspondence with him. They met again in London, where Orage also met Gurdjieff for the first time. Orage sold his succesful magazine 'The New Age' and moved to du Prieuré in 1922 to follow Gurdjieff. Orage was a respected literary critic with many contacts in the literary circles and attracted a flow of writers to visit du Prieuré. One who stayed was Katherine Mansfield.
In 1923 Orage was sent to New York to prepare the way for Gurdjieff's proposed voyage. He became Gurdjieff's 'ambassador' in USA for the next seven years and organized the first groups outside Europe in New York. There are excellent articles on Orage at Gurdjieff International Review.
The first American student was Rose Mary Lillard, a musician and student of dancing. Miss Lillard was a student in Hellerau and met Gurdjieff there. She married C. S. Nott in 1926, and is remembered as Mrs. Nott, whose work effort lasted well over 50 years. Mrs. Nott is the Gurdjieff pupil whose direct influence in teaching Gurdjieff music and movements over a long period is one of the most remarkable in the history of the teaching. At the same time she is one of the least known to the outside world.
The time hade come to sail to America and after the constantly appearing financial problems were sorted out Gurdjieff sailed on board s.s. Paris with more than 30 of his followers. Demonstrations were arranged in New York and Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. Many new people joined and later turned up in Fontainbleau and Paris to become key figures in the spreading of the ideas and group work. C. S. Nott, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap (and many others) have all written Books about their work and experiences.
If one thing would be different, everything would be different, said Gurdjieff. Apparently the one thing that could not be different was his interest for motor cars. After the return to du Prieuré in the Autumn on his way back from Paris Gurdjieff's car collided with a tree with nearly fatal consequences.
With all the accidents that Gurdjieff was subject to in his life it is a miracle that he lived to such an old age!
I once asked Mrs. Nott if she did not think that Gurdjieff's accident was not an attempted suicide. She did not seem to be surprised at the question and answered bluntly: 'Which one?' She went on with her version of the 'stray bullets', that had plagued Gurdjieff at least thrice, and added: 'Mr. Gurdjieff had many accidents - not just the one that you know of, and not only motor accidents, although the way he drove the car, it is a wonder he did not have more of them.'
The accident made a difference; Gurdjieff was in a coma and recovered slowly. He wrote later that when he first entered du Prieuré he was confronted with Mrs. Serious Problem. He now had to decide how to continue in these circumstances. After he officially closed the Institute, his decision was to begin to write books. The writing was begun at the end of 1924 and continued for the next ten years.