top of page

Constantinople: 1920-21

Old Constantinople


(By Uncredited. Postcard c. 1905-1910. Photograph from an earlier date. ( online auctions) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

In January 1920 Ouspensky arrived destitute in a Constantinople teeming with Allied forces, demobilised Turks, and Russian refugees. On completing shipboard quarantine, the family were fortunate to find accommodation in a single room in a large lodging house on Prinkipo Island in the Marmara. Ouspensky again supported them, this time by teaching mathematics to children, and English (which he scarcely knew) to fellow émigrés. Once established, Ouspensky began lectures on Gurdjieff’s ideas in Pera, Constantinople’s European quarter; here, in the upstairs offices of the Russky Mayak (a Y.M.C.A. for White Russians) he excited broad interest, gradually forming a nucleus of twenty to thirty pupils. He anticipated the arrival of Gurdjieff and his company, which was rumoured in bazaar gossip, and which materialised in June 1920.


The ensuing year – the last throughout which Gurdjieff and Ouspensky had substantial contact – was characterised by Ouspensky’s complex vacillations. At outset, when he brought Gurdjieff to his lectures and magnanimously surrendered all his pupils to him, there seemed promise of full reconciliation. Indeed from July to September 1920 the two men related closely: exchanging visits, making excursions, attending dervish ceremonies, and working together on the scenario of Gurdjieff’s ballet The Struggle of the Magicians. However by October, when Gurdjieff opened his Institute in Constantinople at No.13 Yemenedji Sokak, the same psychological difficulties arose for Ouspensky as at Essentuki: accordingly he dissociated himself and withdrew for two months to Prinkipo. Here in mid-November 1920, he was gratified to receive, from Nikolai Alexandrovitch Bassaraboff in New York, a substantial royalty cheque, with the unanticipated news that Tertium Organum had been published successfully in English: this reinforced Ouspensky’s intention to settle in England or America. In December, once Gurdjieff’s Institute was established, Ouspensky resumed his own lectures at Russky Mayak, and also began group discussions at Matchka, in the flat of Mrs Winifred Alise Beaumont (then living with John Godolphin Bennett who a year later became Ouspensky’s pupil).

J G Bennett

John Godolphin Bennett

(Source unknown)

Despite their now independent trajectories, the relationship between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky was still fundamentally unimpaired. In spring 1921 Ouspensky accepted an invitation to give weekly lectures at Gurdjieff’s Institute. He also interested himself in Gurdjieff’s Movement classes at the Grand Rabbinate, both by volunteering young pupils and by attending Saturday night demonstrations (his interest however fell short of personal participation).

Prinkipo Island

Prinkipo Island

By SALTOnline [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

On 19 May 1921 Ouspensky received the then substantial sum of £100 from Mary Lilian, Lady Rothermere in Rochester New York, cabled with the encouraging message: ‘Deeply impressed by your book Tertium Organum wish meet you in New York or London will pay all expenses’. With his path to London now smoothed, Ouspensky secured from Gurdjieff permission to write and publish a book on his ideas. His last three months in Prinkipo were not without tension: he suffered bureaucratic delay in obtaining his British entry visa; and Mme Ouspensky, disapproving his course, resolved to remain with Gurdjieff. Ouspensky finally left alone for London in mid-August 1921.

bottom of page