“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, late October, 1922, La Prieure, Avon, near Chateau Fontainebleau, France

When she wakes up each morning, the first thing New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, just turned 34, smells is cow manure.

When she arrived at this commune a few weeks ago, the founder and guru, Georgi Gurdjieff, maybe 50, examined her and determined that she shouldn’t be required to take part in the manual labor that his other disciples carry out—butchering pigs, building huge structures on the grounds.

Le Prieure

But Gurdjieff is requiring Mansfield to sleep on this platform directly above the cows in the barn because, he says, it will cure her tuberculosis.

Mansfield is not so sure. But she does feel that practicing regular discipline, helping out in the kitchen by peeling vegetables, taking cold baths, making her own bed—even if it is in the barn—has so far been beneficial to her. Although she keeps her fur coat on all the time against the cold, she feels that this regimen is more helpful than the quack doctors she consulted in Paris earlier in the year.

Gurdjieff established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man here in this crumbling monastery at the beginning of the month. He claims he has been able to fund it with the fees he has earned from treating wealthy addicts, from speculation in commodity markets, and from a few restaurants he operates in Montmarte. But word is that he has also received money from Lady Rothermere, 48, wife of the owner of The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail in London. The Brits turned Gurdjieff down for citizenship, so he figures he’ll just take their money instead.

Since coming here, Mansfield hasn’t been in touch often with her husband, former editor of The Athenaeum John Middleton Murry, 33, and friends, like novelist Virginia Woolf, 40, back in England. She doesn’t interact much with Gurdjieff’s fellow Russian refugees who have followed him here either. Her closest companions are her old friend and mentor, Alfred Richard Orage, 49, who gave up the editorship of The New Age magazine to come live here, and her new friend and assigned handler, Olga Lazovic, 23.

Most of Gurdjieff’s 100 disciples gladly sleep in uncomfortable cottages or unheated rooms in the main building which they work hard at restoring all day. Known as “The Ritz,” that’s where the good rooms are, reserved for Gurdjieff and his celebrity guests.

Katherine does take part in the dances, games and rituals, many including vodka, which Gurdjieff imposes on them all. One of his favorites is “Stop.” They all move around until he yells, “Stop!” From the throne he sits on. And they stop.

Mansfield is hopeful that, of all the “cures” she has tried, this one will actually work.

Georgi Gurdjieff

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.