Katherine Mansfield entered the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in mid-October 1922. Occupying the Prieuré des Basse Loges, a rambling chateau near the woods of Fontainebleau that had once been the residence of Mme de Maintenon, the Institute was directed by the enigmatic G. I. Gurdjieff, an esoteric master of Greek and Armenian parentage whose eclectic teaching combined Christian spirituality with Sufi practice. Mansfield was on the verge of literary celebrity, but she was deeply unhappy in her marriage to the critic and editor John Middleton Murry – and she was dying of tuberculosis. Putting herself under the direction of Gurdjieff (to whose methods she had been introduced by A. R. Orage), Mansfield had to set aside the reservations of her husband and literary friends and take a ‘Leap into the Dark.’[1]

During the last months of her life – she died at the Institute on 9 January 1923 – Mansfield underwent what might be termed an examination, or perhaps an experience, of conscience that led her to an unflinching acknowledgment of her own shortcomings and an attempt to mend relations with family and friends. She imagined a different kind of writing – stories she would ‘dare show to God’[2] – that she hoped would be an expression of a new spiritual health; unhappily, these stories would never be written. But she also perceived the possibility of attaining the inner freedom that had eluded her all her life. From the perspective of her life’s final episode, her abbreviated work constitutes a passionate attempt to depict her inner journey: a going-forth from a place of innocence and certainty, a solitary passage through an inhospitable landscape, and – as the cloud of her illness increasingly darkened the horizon – a destination that seemed to offer little comfort. And yet, like the finely crafted end of a meandering story, her sojourn at Gurdjieff’s Prieuré gave form and meaning to all that had gone before.

Mansfield did not take her decision to go to Fontainebleau lightly, and in a notebook she meticulously records the process by which she arrived at it. She began with the perception that her relations with others left something to be desired. ‘Let me take the case of K.M.,’ she writes: ‘She has led, ever since she can remember, a typically false life. Yet, through it all, there have been moments, instants, gleams, when she has felt the possibility of something quite other’.[3] The false life that she had observed entailed a mechanical reaction to others and the harbouring of an ill will that ultimately proved harmful to herself. In seeing this, she anticipated the practice of self-observation which, according to P. D. Ouspensky, a Russian mathematician and philosopher who had met Gurdjieff in Moscow in 1915, was central to Gurdjieff’s method. But more than analysis was required. In Ouspensky’s account, Gurdjieff points out to his students that

you do not remember yourselves […] You do not feel yourselves; you are not conscious of yourselves. With you, ‘it observes’ just as ‘it speaks,’ ‘it thinks,’ ‘it laughs.’ You do not feel: I observe, I notice, I see […] In order really to observe oneself one must first of all remember oneself. (Author’s italics)[4]

 

Mansfield’s understanding of the teaching was gleaned from her conversations with Orage (who had already had contact with the Institute), from her reading of M. B. Oxon’s Cosmic Anatomy, and from Ouspensky’s lectures in London. Based on the observed life recorded so perceptively in her notebook, she must have understood that ‘self-remembering’ involved an additional step: the mobilisation of the attention, the attempt to turn one’s attention inward in order to see the mechanical psyche at work. According to Ouspensky, Gurdjieff regarded identification – with material possessions, with people, with oneself – as ‘the chief obstacle to self-remembering’; the habit of ‘identifying with people’[5] was particularly insidious. The antidote lay in the intention to render oneself independent of the opinions of others (or of one’s own imaginings about those opinions), while at the same time behaving toward others in a respectful and compassionate way. Perhaps Mansfield was thinking of this teaching when she wrote famously in a notebook entry dated 14 October 1922, her birthday, while awaiting an invitation to the Prieuré in a Paris hotel room: ‘Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth’.[6] The ideal life that she aspires to sounds like the life that most of us would want, but it is informed by her understanding of the need for the self-awareness, inner effort, and compassion that form the core of Gurdjieff’s work – and of course by her own realisation that her time was short.

Now, Katherine, what do you mean by health? And what do you want it for?

Answer: By health I mean the power to live a full, adult, living, breathing life in close contact with what I love – the earth and the wonders thereof – the sea – the sun […] I want to enter into it, to be part of it, to live in it, to learn from it, to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me and to become a conscious and direct human being. I want, by understanding myself, to understand others. I want to be all that I am capable of becoming, so that I may be […] a child of the sun.[7] (Author’s italics)

 

Who was the Gurdjieff to whom she was going, the Gurdjieff who ‘claims to do just what I always dreamed might be done’?[8]  He had travelled extensively among esoteric communities in the East – at least by his own account in the autobiographical Meetings with Remarkable Men.[9] He fled the revolution in Russia and established himself as an esoteric teacher in France, from where he made sallies to England and the United States. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching formally introduced Gurdjieff to the West; it describes Ouspensky’s first encounter and subsequent meetings with Gurdjieff in Russia, France, and England.[10] Since the book was not published until after Gurdjieff’s death in 1949 – and since Ouspensky’s intention was to discern a systematic teaching in Gurdjieff’s spontaneous utterances and extempore disquisitions – it may be best to approach Gurdjieff through his own words, recorded with various degrees of fidelity by his many students. In a talk entitled ‘First Initiation,’ Gurdjieff describes the pilgrim’s progress of ‘a man on the path to self-knowledge’:

In the first place, he must know what to look at. Once he knows this, he must make efforts, keep his attention, and observe constantly, with tenacity. By holding his attention and constantly observing, one day he might see. If he sees once, he can see a second time, and if this goes on, he will no longer be able not to see. This is the state to be looked for, and the aim of observation; it is from this that true desire, the irresistible desire to become, will be born. Having been cold, we shall become warm, vibrant. We shall be affected by our own reality.[11]

 

Surely it was the promise of words like these that prompted the manifesto of Mansfield’s notebook and that at the end of her life drew her irresistibly to the Prieuré. As Ouspensky, who facilitated her entry, noted, she ‘already seemed to me to be halfway to death […] But one was struck by the striving in her to make the best use even of these last days, to find the truth whose presence she clearly felt.’[12]

Mansfield’s decision was preceded by another parting from Murry. They had travelled together from Sierre to London in September 1922, but once arrived, they found separate lodgings, Mansfield with her friend Dorothy Brett, Murry next door and subsequently in Sussex; [13]they never again lived together under the same roof. In Murry’s account, Mansfield’s interest in Gurdjieff’s work contributed to their estrangement:

I was surprised at the swiftness with which she joined the circle formed about M. Ouspensky, to which Orage and J. D. Beresford belonged […] It was impossible for me to follow her into the Ouspensky circle; or at least it seemed impossible without violating my own integrity.[14]

 

Yet the issue of her illness (‘the matter which most deeply concerned us’) and how to treat it was also fraught with difficulty: ‘Now our love spoke across a vast; and my memory of those days is one of despair and anguish. It was evident to me as it was to Katherine that re-birth was the only remedy. But how to be born again?’[15] Murry seems to have believed that his wife hoped for a physical cure through occult or spiritual means, whereas a letter to her friend Dorothy Brett revealed that Mansfield had, in fact, given up all hope of a cure for her disease.[16] And yet, although he felt unable to stand by her or to sympathise with her interest in Gurdjieff, perhaps he perceived indirectly that she was concerned with the last things, that in spite of the reassurances of her letters, her intention was to look for the conditions that would enable her to make a good death.

Accompanied by the faithful Ida Baker, Mansfield arrived at the Prieuré on 17 October 1922. According to James Moore’s biography of Gurdjieff, her host ‘proved consideration itself’ toward his new guest.[17] Mansfield knew only that she would be allowed to stay overnight, but discovered the following day that she could remain for at least two weeks; shortly thereafter she was invited to remain indefinitely. Her first challenge was to discover the presence of hope within herself, to dare to hope in the possibility of what the Prieuré had to offer her. She wasted no time in re-establishing her connection with Orage – and in acknowledging what she owed him particularly a measure of the approval that she had sought in vain from her father. He had published her first stories in the New Age and encouraged her to continue to write for the magazine. But most of all Mansfield felt that he had been a model of integrity and literary judgment that she was not always able to live up to. The atmosphere of the Institute, the emphasis on ‘inner’ work, the sense of urgency about such work fostered by Gurdjieff, enabled her to see her relationship with Orage in a new light: it was necessary for her to thank him first of all for encouraging her to come to the Institute and then to acknowledge the role he had played in her development as a writer and to assure him that she was still searching for her literary ideal, for a form of writing that would do justice to the direction he had indicated to her.

In ‘Talks with Katherine Mansfield’, Orage describes their encounters and Mansfield’s search for a new rationale for her work. In literature, she was no longer content to find a formal perfection:

The greatest literature of all – the literature that scarcely exists – has not merely an esthetic object, nor merely a didactic object, but, in addition, a creative object; that of subjecting its readers to a real and at the same time illuminating experience. Major literature is in short an initiation into truth.[18]

 

Orage makes the connection between Mansfield’s desire to develop her art and the work of the Institute:

For she realized that it is not writing as writing that needs criticism, correction, and perfection so much as the mind, character, and personality of the writer. (One must become more to write better.) […] when, as in KM’s case, the improvement of one’s technic by the ordinary means has ceased to be possible or fallen under the law of diminishing returns […] then the adoption of entirely new means, such as special self-training, becomes imperative.’[19]

 

She had set aside writing for the time being in order to devote herself to ‘self-training’, and her hope was that this discipline would reveal to her a new direction for her art. She did not yet see her way clearly, but her conception of the function of literature had crystallised: it was to produce in its readers a definite and carefully prepared experience that, although dependent upon the capacity of each, would be essentially the same for all: ‘an initiation into truth’.[20]

One of her companions at the Institute was Adèle Kafian, a young Lithuanian woman who had followed Gurdjieff from Russia. Adèle was assigned to take care of Mansfield, to whom she felt an immediate attachment: ‘I gladly took care of her and tried to anticipate what might give pleasure to this Englishwoman who was so modest in her requirements.’[21] To Mansfield she confessed that she felt a little guilty about the pleasure she took in her assignment since the work of the Institute required that students willingly take on unpleasant tasks. This companionship with Adèle was part of Mansfield’s initiation into this work: she was struck by the sacrifices the younger woman had made in order to work with Gurdjieff, and Adèle’s enthusiasm helped to strengthen her own need to hope that her limited participation in the activities could lead to a real inner change.

Writing in 1946, Adèle Kafian described herself as having been ‘full of faith in the great possibilities of human achievement.’[22] She alludes to the special balcony in the cowshed that Gurdjieff commissioned so that ‘Mrs Murry’ could have a place of refuge and quiet; Adèle was assigned to milk the goats while Mansfield lay upon a divan. She reported Mansfield’s reaction to the ongoing work: ‘I like to see how much all the people here work and do what they have never done in their lives before, and do it quite well. When I get better, I shall also work.’[23] The work referred to here is undoubtedly the physical work that was carried out upon house and grounds, but Mansfield was also becoming aware of an inner work, part of which entailed the attainment and maintenance of her fragile hope.

Her closest friend at the Institute was undoubtedly Olgivanna (Olga Ivanovna) Hinzenberg, another young woman who had followed Gurdjieff from Russia, an active participant in the so-called Movements (or dances) that were a part of Gurdjieff’s system, and the future wife of Frank Lloyd Wright (who in later years hosted Gurdjieff at Taliesin). At their first meeting, Olgivanna was struck by Mansfield’s eyes: ‘sharp, intense, dark eyes’ which ‘burned with the desire and hunger for impressions.’[24] The two women were able to converse in English and quickly became close. Olgivanna reports that Mansfield was very weak, to such an extent that she could not fully participate in the physical work of the Institute and was obliged to eat in a separate dining room: ‘Katherine […] had expressed her deep wish to eat in the Russian dining-room with the others, but, to her great disappointment, she never did.’[25]

Like Adèle, Olgivanna had been instructed by Gurdjieff to take care of Mansfield, a measure, Olgivanna felt, of his humanity and compassion. She was moved by the invalid’s predicament since it was manifestly clear that Mansfield did not have long to live. But Mansfield’s spirits were lifted by this friendship – and by the work, both outer and inner (which she still only dimly intuited), going on around her. The life her illness had denied her seemed suddenly to be hers, and she told Olgivanna that she felt ‘a life within me which death will not destroy.’[26]

The occasion for this insight was a slow walk in the Prieuré garden; for the moment, Mansfield’s experience of the weak October sunlight sufficed for all. Olgivanna was eager to nourish a new hope: ‘There is no death for one like you who perceives the possibility of sweeping death aside when the time comes’.[27] There was no pretence between them in this moment, no talk of miraculous recovery, of a bright future. What Olgivanna confirmed in Mansfield’s experience was the timeless depth of the present moment and the glimpse of a life that would continue to encompass them both – and all beings – regardless of the body’s vicissitudes. Mansfield felt that she had attained something that could not be taken from her, echoing (in Olgivanna’s recollection of their conversation) the words of her notebook: ‘At last I have it clear; the only truth I really care about. It was flowing in my subconsciousness, it tortured me, but it never came up to the surface. Now I see the reality of it. I feel it as this sun that is warming my face and my hands’.[28] Mansfield later wrote to Murry when she had a better understanding of what the Gurdjieff work entailed: ‘But the point is there is hope. One can and does believe that one will escape from living in circles and will live a CONSCIOUS life. One can, through work, escape from falsity and be true to one’s own self – not to what anyone else on earth thinks one is.’[29]

For perhaps the first time, Mansfield was participating fully in a communal life, and she delighted in the company of people who shared her sincere wish to change. She informed Murry:

It is great happiness to be here. Some people are stranger than ever, but the strangers I am at last feeling near, and they are my own people at last. So I feel. Such beautiful understanding and sympathy I have never known in the outside world.[30]

 

Perhaps she was thinking of the early days of the Murrys’ friendship with D. H. and Frieda Lawrence when she wrote

There is another thing here – Friendship. The real thing that you and I have dreamed of. Here it exists between women and women and men and women, and one feels it is unalterable, and living in a way it never can be anywhere else. I can’t say I have friends yet. I am simply not fit for them. I don’t know myself enough to be really trusted, and I am weak where these people are strong. But even the relationships I have are dear beyond any friendships I have known.[31]

 

In spite of his lack of sympathy with the work of the Institute, Mansfield longed to share her life there with Murry: ‘I wish I could tell you of the people I live with … But so many people come forward as I write. They are all very different; but they are the people I have wanted to find – real people, not people I make up or invent’.[32] And there was real work to be done, work in which she could participate. It must have been Olgivanna Hinzenberg who introduced Mansfield to the practice of self-observation that lay at the core of Gurdjieff’s teaching, a practice that in order to be effective, had to be accompanied by a measure of ‘self-remembering’, the experience of being present in the here-and-now, to body, emotion, and thought. ‘One must inwardly stop and observe, observe without taking sides, impartially’, Gurdjieff instructed. ‘And if you observe in this manner, paying from yourself, without self-pity, by giving up all your imaginary riches for one moment of reality, then you may suddenly see what you have never seen before.’[33]

In Olgivanna’s account, Mansfield continued to suffer from what she perceived as the gap between her aspiration and her current state. Olgivanna dramatises their relationship in dialogue, as though she were creating a short story; she causes Mansfield to say: ‘I am wicked, Olgivanna, terribly wicked. I shall never be able to change. Why should I dislike some people to such an extent that it is simply nauseating to me?’[34] This was a conventional understanding of the Gurdjieff work: Mansfield was expressing the idea that it was necessary for her to overcome or put aside feelings that she regarded as ‘wicked’. But of course the judgment that a feeling was ‘wicked’ (or ‘saintly’) was a purely subjective one – and vitiated the practice of impartial self-observation that Gurdjieff called for. Olgivanna was quick to point this out in relation to her friend’s physical condition: ‘You will always have your physical functions; you cannot throw your body away, but your attitude toward your physical likes and dislikes has changed.’[35] The implication was that the same separation could be achieved in regard to negative feelings toward others – or toward oneself. The practice of self-observation did not involve the eradication or suppression of negative feeling, but rather the raising of such feeling into an awareness which was its own action, which in itself constituted change. The goal, the ‘state to be looked for’, was self-acceptance: a deeply attentive and impartial looking that did not interpose categories like ‘wicked’ and ‘good’ between oneself and experience. And as Gurdjieff observed, ‘this is not easy – and it is not cheap. You have to pay dearly, […] pay at once, pay in advance. Pay from oneself by sincere, conscientious, disinterested efforts.’[36] This was the discipline that Mansfield had undertaken, in order to see what was in her, and she was willing the pay the price of the suffering that this kind of seeing entailed.

Knowing that Mansfield could not sleep, Olgivanna had been sitting up with her until the early hours; coupled with the demanding work schedule of the Institute, this produced in Olgivanna a ‘weary and restless’ state. She gives a touching account of leaving her friend alone for an entire day and returning in the evening, ‘miserable’, to find that Mansfield had taken advantage of a ‘bad day for both of us’ to put Gurdjieff’s advice into practice, entertaining an unwelcome visitor, one whose presence ‘is enough to spoil my whole day’, and sitting with the unpleasant feelings, which had gradually dissipated of their own accord.[37]

For Mansfield, it was perhaps the actualisation of something she had already known. In an extraordinary notebook entry entitled ‘Suffering’, written at the Villa Isola Bella in Menton in December 1920, during the enforced isolation of a winter abroad in search of a more benign climate than England could offer, she began as follows:

I should like this to be accepted as my confession.

I do not want to die without leaving a record of my belief that suffering can be overcome. […] There is no question of what is called ‘passing beyond it.’ This is false.

One must submit. Do not resist. Take it. Be overwhelmed. Accept it fully. Make it part of life.

Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become Love. This is the mystery. This is what I must do. I must pass from personal love to greater love. I must give to the whole of life what I gave to one.[38]

 

This is an anticipation of the work of the Institute as propounded by Gurdjieff. At an extreme pitch of personal isolation and suffering, Mansfield had divined what was required of her. With the guidance in a personal self-discipline that Gurdjieff could provide and the support of a compassionate community in which she felt fully at home, she was able to trust the reality of her own intuitions and to have faith that she would be able to live the ‘full, adult, living, breathing life’ she had imagined for herself.

By his own account, Orage saw Mansfield ‘almost every day’ at the Institute, and he  felt that, although she did not speak about it, she was seeking to produce work quite unlike what she had written to date, with which she professed herself to be profoundly dissatisfied. Yet according to Orage, she had put writing aside, ‘quite content not to be writing or even reading.’[39] He imagined that a new conception of the function of her work, an ideal that new stories would embody, could only arise in an intuitive way from the unique circumstances in which she found herself:  ‘It was in fact a conception to be brooded upon, and not written about – a conception that slowly arose from a new state of being and understanding; a conception, therefore, inexpressible in words until its inner metamorphosis had been completed’.[40] It was not until a couple of days before her death that she confided to Orage what her new ideal would be. He remembered that she was very happy – ‘Her face shone as if she had been on Sinai’ – and she spoke of herself in the third person, employing a Russian pseudonym that she had adopted to express her affection for all things Russian: ‘Katya has felt something that she never felt in her life before, and Katya understands something she never understood before.’[41]

She began with a kind of indictment of her former method (and her former self): ‘I’ve been a selective camera, and it has been my attitude that has determined the selection; with the result that my slices of life […] have been partial, misleading, and a little malicious.’[42] She and the writers of her time had brought to their work a ‘passive, negative, or indifferent’ attitude and succeeded only in reproducing this attitude in their readers. Mansfield proposed to bring a ‘creative attitude’ to her new work which would undertake ‘to make the commonplace virtues as attractive as ordinarily the vices are made’[43] and to stimulate the reader to insight and action by the depiction of characters who are engaged in a courageous attempt to confront their difficulties. Thus the reader would be presented with a vision of the possibilities inherent in a particular human predicament rather than with the limited and frequently jaundiced view of an individual literary persona.

She did not feel that she was ready to actualise her new ideal, but she provided Orage with the outline of a projected story, a fictional situation in which a loving couple attempts to lay aside the ghosts of their respective pasts.

Thanks to some change in me since I have been in [the] institute, I see any such situation as an opportunity for the exercise and employment of all the intelligence, invention, imagination, bravery, endurance and, in fact, all the virtues of the most attractive hero and heroine.[44]

 

She reassured Orage that this approach did not necessarily mean that the story must have a happy ending: ‘The problem might prove to be too big. Heroes and heroines are not measured either by what they passively endure or by what they actually achieve, but by the quantity and quality of the effort they put forth’.[45] He claims that, until the end, she was ‘still radiant in her new attitude’.[46] Knowing what we do of her literary skill and courage in confronting technical difficulties, it is hard to imagine that she would not have been able to actualise her new ideal.

There was a moment in which Mansfield’s faith in the inner work she had undertaken seemed to waver. Although she confessed to Olgivanna that she felt ‘marvellous’, she sought her friend’s reassurance: ‘what if I tell you that I am back again with all my old feelings, habits and desires, all those which only a month or two ago I pushed away as worthless? […] Would you still believe I am on the right way?’ Olgivanna was quick to reiterate the principle of the work: ‘Yours are not “old feelings, habits and desires”; they are all new, the same in expression, but born of a different quality […] You did not believe in anything you possessed.’[47]

Mansfield’s refusal to believe in or to identify with the ‘old feelings, habits and desires’ was the basis of her well-being and, paradoxically perhaps, gave rise to the acceptance and transformation of all that she had described as ‘worthless’. She would never be other than Katherine Mansfield, the writer, the detached critic of life and art, the exile, the restless seeker of love and reassurance, but her attitude toward that persona had changed. In expounding Gurdjieff’s teaching, Ouspensky writes about a parade of small-minded ‘I’s that in turn attempt to usurp authority in the house of self; the trick was not to identify with any one of them in order to allow the real master to emerge. Mansfield had already perceived the real state of affairs, though she had lacked the means and the opportunity to confirm her observation. In an undated notebook entry, she explores her experience of this house divided against itself: ‘True to oneself! Which self? […] there are moments when I feel I am nothing but the small clerk of some hotel without a proprietor who has all his work cut out to enter the names and hand the keys to the willful guests’.[48] But she goes on to imagine

a self which is continuous and permanent, which, untouched by all we acquire and all we shed, pushes a green spear through the leaves and through the mould, thrusts a sealed bud through years of darkness until, one day, the light discovers it and shakes the flower free and – we are alive – we are flowering for our moment upon the earth.[49]

 

The self as bud and flower recalls the Shakespearean epigraph of her story, ‘This Flower’: ‘But I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety’.[50] It may not be too much to say that the extremity of her illness and the opportunity for a special kind of ‘self-training’ that the Institute provided nourished Mansfield’s new faith in the emergence of this self that would not be a straw for every wind.

In the last weeks, she seemed aware that her time was short and made haste to settle her accounts from the place of hope and faith she had attained. On Ida Baker’s copy of Bliss and Other Stories, Mansfield had written: ‘In spite of what I have said – and shall say – you have been a “perfect” friend to me.’[51] In a farewell letter to her father – once the representative of all that was vulgar and provincial – she wrote to celebrate the New Year, and closed with a poignant valediction: ‘God bless you, Darling Father. May we meet again.’[52] To Murry she wrote: ‘Would you care to come here on January 8 or 9 to stay until 14-15? Mr. Gurdjieff approves of my plan and says will you come as his guest? On the 13th our new theatre is to be opened. It will be a wonderful experience’.[53] Mansfield’s decision to invite Murry to the Prieuré was also an acknowledgement of the change that had taken place in her. Her letters to Murry from the Institute provide a view of her external circumstances, largely omitting the story of her struggle to understand and engage in the inner work. She had written a few days after her arrival to assure him that all was well and to try to describe the change that had taken place in her, or rather her hope for change:

I have been through a little revolution since my last letter. I suddenly made up my mind […] to try and learn to live by what I believed in, no less, and not as in all my life up till now to live one way and think another […] in the deepest sense I’ve always been disunited. And this which has been my ‘secret sorrow’ for years, has become everything to me just now.[54]

 

In spite of their separation, she wishes to reassure him: ‘Only you matter – more and more, if that is possible, for now that I am not so ‘identified’ with you, I can see the real tie that holds us’.[55] A week later, she expresses her enthusiasm for her new life by impetuously inviting him to share it:

Suppose you throw up every single job in England, realize your capital, and come over here to work for Gurdjieff. Burn every single boat at once! Do you like the idea? […] Do you like that old mechanical life at the mercy of everything? And just living with a little tiny corner of yourself?[56] […] Let us speak the new truth. What present relationship have we? None. We feel there is the possibility of one. That is deep-down truth.[57]

 

A couple of days later, she regrets her tone: ‘I always think all can be changed and renewed in the twinkling of an eye […] And whenever I am intense […] I am a little bit false’.[58] She is referring here not only to herself, but to their relationship. Reaffirming her decision to separate from him in order to come to the Institute, she reassures him that they still have a life together, although she must have felt that that life could not be long: ‘Oh my dearest Bogey, just wait and see how you and I will live one day – so happily, so splendidly.’[59] This is to set aside her own fears about death, to resist the temptation to involve him in her personal struggle, and to find the courage to express her love and commitment: ‘Essentially, you and I are together. I love you and feel you are my man. It’s that I want to build on and realize and live in, one of these days.’[60]

In a letter of 1 December, Mansfield insists that Murry cannot come to the Prieuré for Christmas because ‘I make “efforts” of a certain kind all day and live an entirely different life. But I have no life to share at present […] I cannot see you until the old Wig has disappeared’. She worries that he will take this amiss, but her resolve does not waver: ‘I must get better alone’.[61] Neither does her expression of love for ‘my man’ waver in her remaining letters. And perhaps her guide in this development is Orage who in his essay on conscious love explains the phenomenon as follows:

It is rare among humans because in the first place the majority are children who look to be loved but not to love; secondly, because perfection is seldom conceived as the proper end of human love – though it alone distinguishes adult human from infantile and animal love; thirdly, because humans do not know, even if they wish, what is good for those they love; and fourthly, because it never occurs by chance, but must be the subject of resolve, effort, self-conscious choice.[62]

 

In her separation from Murry, Mansfield had found that it was possible to love him without being overwhelmed by her own need for love and care. She now determined to put this state to the test.

Murry arrived on 9 January, in time for the grand opening of Gurdjieff’s Study Hall. The accounts of Mansfield’s last evening at the Prieuré are unanimous in suggesting the transformation that had taken place. Murry’s final note in his edition of her Journal reads:

I have never seen, nor shall I ever see, any one so beautiful as she was on that day; it was as though the exquisite perfection which was always hers had taken possession of her completely. To use her own words, the last grain of ‘sediment,’ the last ‘traces of earthly degradation,’ were departed for ever. But she had lost her life to save it.[63]

 

‘Katherine was very pale, but radiant,’ he wrote later; ‘she seemed a being transfigured by love, absolutely secure in love’.[64] She introduced him to her friends at the Institute, and that night they watched a performance of sacred dances together. But when she went to climb the stairs to her room, she suffered a fatal hemorrhage and despite the attentions of two doctors, died within the hour.

By many accounts, the Prieuré was a kind of crucible. The conditions created by Gurdjieff provided his students with a unique opportunity for insight and transformation, though some of them undoubtedly wilted in the hot-house atmosphere. In a later talk, ‘Remain Apart’, Gurdjieff presents an uncompromising view of the work that these conditions facilitated:

One needs fire. Without fire, there will never be anything. This fire is suffering, voluntary suffering, without which it is impossible to create anything. One must prepare, must know what will make one suffer and when it is there one must make use of it. Only you can prepare, only you know what makes you suffer, makes the fire which cooks, cements, crystallizes, does. Suffer by your defects, in your pride, in your egoism. Remind yourself of the aim. Without prepared suffering there is nothing, for by as much as one is conscious, there is no more suffering, no further process, nothing. That is why with your conscience you must prepare what is necessary.[65]

 

During her time at the Prieuré, Katherine Mansfield grew in the confidence that her decision to ‘throw in her lot with Gurdjieff’ had been a sound one: ‘I know I shall never grow strong anywhere in the world except here.’[66] No one would doubt that she suffered, but her intuition had allowed her to perceive that the work of the Institute gave her the opportunity to transform that suffering into hope, faith, and love. Mansfield’s deepest and most heartfelt plea at the last was, ‘I want to be REAL’.[67] She wished to cut through the pretences and prejudices of the ‘false self’ bemoaned by Beryl in the story ‘Prelude’ (‘Shall I ever be that Beryl for ever. Shall I? How can I?’).[68] Mansfield understood that such an aspiration entailed suffering, and she was willing to pay the price, committing herself to the light, like her child alter-ego Kezia in ‘The Doll’s House’, re-imagining herself as a ‘child of the sun.’ Who is to say that she did not achieve her wish?

 

Notes

[1] Letters, 5, p. 305 (to John Middleton Murry, 21 October 1922).

[2] A. R. Orage, ‘Talks with Katherine Mansfield’, Century Magazine, 87, (November 1924), (pp. 36-40).

[3] John Middleton Murry, Journal of Katherine Mansfield, Definitive Edition (London: Constable, 1954), p. 330.

[4] P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949), pp. 117-18.

[5] Ouspensky, p. 151.

[6] Murry, Journal, Definitive Edition, p. 333.

[7] Murry, Journal, Definitive Edition, pp. 333-34.

[8] Murry, Journal, Definitive Edition, p. 331.

[9] G. I. Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men (New York: Dutton, 1969.

 

[10] P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949).

[11] G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘First Initiation: A Talk by Mr. Gurdjieff to a Paris Group, September 16, 1941’ (Charles Town, WV: American Society for Continuous Education, 1983), pp. 1-2.

[12] Ouspensky, pp. 385-386.

[13] Antony Alpers, The Life of Katherine Mansfield (New York: Viking, 1980), p. 370.

 

[14] Quoted in Louis Pauwels, Gurdjieff (New York: Weiser, 1972), p. 244.

 

[15] Quoted in Pauwels, p. 244.

 

[16] Letters, 5, p. 301 (to Dorothy Brett, 15 October 1922).

[17] James Moore, Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth (Rockport, MA: Element: 1991), p. 178.

[18] Orage, p. 37.

[19] Orage, p. 37.

[20] Orage, p. 37.

[21] Adèle Kafian, ‘The Last Days of Katherine Mansfield’, Adelphi (October-December 1946), (pp. 36-39).

[22] Kafian, p. 36.

[23] Kafian, p. 36

[24] Olgivanna [Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright], ‘The Last Days of Katherine Mansfield’, Bookman (March 1931), (pp. 6-13).

[25] Olgivanna, p. 6

[26] Olgivanna, p. 8

[27] Olgivanna, p. 8

[28] Quoted in Olgivanna, p. 8.

[29] Letters, 5, p. 320 (to Murry, 10 November 1922).

[30] Letters, 5, p. 309 (to Murry, 24 October 1922).

[31] Letters, 5, p. 319 (to Murry, 10 November 1922).

[32] Letters, 5, p. 327 (to Murry, c. 27 November 1922).

[33] Gurdjieff, ‘First Initiation’, p. 3.

[34] Olgivanna, p. 9.

[35] Olgivanna, p. 9.

[36] Gurdjieff, ‘First Initiation’, p. 2.

[37] Olgivanna, p. 10-11.

[38] Murry, Journal, Definitive Edition, p. 166-167.

[39] Orage, p. 37.

[40] Orage, p. 37.

[41] Orage, p. 38.

[42] Orage, p. 38.

[43] Orage, p. 38.

[44] Orage, p. 38.

[45] Orage, p. 40.

[46] Orage, p. 40.

[47] Olgivanna, p. 12.

[48] Notebooks, 2, p. 203-204.

[49] Notebooks, 2, p. 204.

[50] The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1942), p. 643

[51] Baker, Ida Constance, Katherine Mansfield: The Memories of LM (London: Joseph, 1971), p. 20.

 

[52] Letters, 5, p. 344 (to Harold Beauchamp, 31 December 1922).

[53] Letters, 5, pp. 341-342 (to Murry, 31 December 1922).

[54] Letters, 5, pp. 304-305 (to Murry, 21 October 1922).

[55] Letters, 5, p. 308 (to Murry, 23 October 1922).

[56] Letters, 5, p. 311 (to Murry, 27 October 1922).

[57] Letters, 5, p. 313 (to Murry, 28 October 1922).

[58] Letters, 5, p. 314 (to Murry, 2 November 1922).

[59] Letters, 5, p. 314 (to Murry, 2 November 1922).

[60] Letters, 5, p. 314 (to Murry, 2 November 1922).

[61] Letters, 5, p. 330 (to Murry, 1 December 1922).

[62] Quoted in Louis Pauwels, Gurdjieff (New York: Weiser, 1972), p. 261.

[63] John Middleton Murry, Journal of Katherine Mansfield (New York: Knopf, 1927), pp. 255-256.

[64] Quoted in Pauwels, p. 310-311.

 

[65] G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘Remain Apart: Questions and Answers by Mr. Gurdjieff to a Paris Group, December 7, 1941’ (Charles Town, WV: American Society for Continuous Education, 1984), p. 3.

[66] Letters, 5, p. 314 (to Murry, 2 November 1922).

[67] Letters, 5, p. 341 (to Murry, 26 December 1922).

 

[68] Katherine Mansfield, ‘Prelude’, in The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, (London: Wordsworth, 2006), p. 43.


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