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London & Paris: 1921-24

Ouspensky was to live twenty years in England propagating (and financially reliant on) Gurdjieff’s ideas. His reception in London in August 1921 was well prepared. Lady Rothermere installed him in a Bloomsbury hotel near Taviton Street; provided him with a meeting place in her studio in Circus Road, St John’s Wood; liberally distributed copies of Tertium Organum; and introduced him to figures like T. S. Eliot. Ouspensky’s old acquaintance A. R. Orage orchestrated the recruitment of pupils: from journalistic circles he drew Rowland Kenney first editor of the Daily Herald and Clifford Sharp editor of the New Statesman; from the Theosophical Society and the Quest Society many minor figures; and from the ‘psychosynthesis group’ the Jungians Dr Henry Maurice Dunlop Nicoll and Dr James Carruthers Young. Ouspensky, by extolling ‘his synthesis and the method of study and practice he had evolved’, quickly stamped his authority on this small section of London’s intelligentsia. (His indebtedness to Gurdjieff received little emphasis.)

P D Ouspensky

Ouspensky with his cat

(Source unknown)

By October 1921, Ouspensky was surprisingly well established: in Eugenie Kadloubovsky he had found a devoted secretary; in his cat ‘Vashka’ companionship; and in Ralph Philipson a financial backer less intrusive than Lady Rothermere. At 55a Gwendwr Road in West Kensington he had rented a modest maisonette (his principal residence for the next fourteen years); and through theosophical connections he enjoyed the use of a large meeting room at 38 Warwick Gardens, where he held groups three or four times a week. Despite this all-round consolidation, Ouspensky’s mood vacillated, and in December he briefly considered returning to Constantinople.

Letter by P D Ouspensky

"G comes tonight." Ouspensky writes to Mrs Grace Page.

Image © Gurdjieff Studies Ltd 2007

Commencing on 8 March 1922, Gurdjieff made a three week visit to London, and at Ouspensky's invitation talked with his groups (Olga de Hartmann interpreting).  It was wounding to Ouspensky that Gurdjieff completely won over the allegiance of most of his pupils and patrons, who on their own initiative set out to found and fund Gurdjieff’s Institute in London at Hampstead. Had this eventuated, Ouspensky was resolved to maintain his independence by moving to France or America: however the Home Office refused Gurdjieff a permanent entry permit to Britain and on 14 July 1922 he settled in France.

Prieuré des Basses Loges

Prieuré des Basses Loges

Much relieved, Ouspensky immediately visited Paris to confer; his English supporters then volunteered substantial funds, with which, on 30 September 1922, Gurdjieff bought the Prieuré at Fontainebleau as a permanent centre for his work. On the same day at Gwendwr Road, Ouspensky interviewed the critically ill writer Katherine Mansfield and referred her to Gurdjieff. In autumn 1922, with or without Ouspensky’s acquiescence, all his most promising pupils (except J. G. Bennett) namely A. R. Orage, Dr Nicoll, Dr Young, Rowland Kenney, and the diplomat Eric Graham Forbes Adam, congregated at the Prieuré, together with Katherine Mansfield, Lady Rothermere and Mme Ouspensky. Ouspensky himself joined them in November to observe rather than participate.

Dr Maurice Nicoll

Dr Maurice Nicoll at the Prieuré

(Source unknown)

Katherine Mansfield’s death at the Prieuré on 9 January 1923 excited in England a shallow journalistic interest in the Work, not unhelpful to Ouspensky (who projected himself as Gurdjieff’s equal rather than his apprentice). Alluding to Gurdjieff’s ideas as ‘our discoveries’, Ouspensky announced to the press the imminent publication of his book Fragments of an Ancient Teaching (in fact posthumously published twenty-seven years later as In Search of the Miraculous). Throughout the year Ouspensky worked stolidly to reconstitute his position in London, following the exodus to the Prieuré. By October Rowland Kenney and Dr Nicoll had returned and the latter quickly introduced another pupil of substance, the surgeon Dr Kenneth Macfarlane Walker. Although Ouspensky refused Gurdjieff’s repeated invitation to come and live at the Prieuré, he paid several short visits in 1923, and was there in the first week of 1924, when Gurdjieff left to tour America with thirty-five pupil dancers.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield. Murry, M Middleton (Mrs): Photographs of Katherine Mansfield. Ref: PAColl-5294-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22707918

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