The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

Book Review
Gurdjieff and Orage:
Brothers in Elysium

by Paul Beekman Taylor
Samuel Weiser, 266 pp.


Orage at the Prieure, Gurdjieff, Fourth Way, Ouspensky, Jean Toomer

A central theme of Mr. Gurdjieff's Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am' is the defection of Alfred Richard Orage, the noted English literary editor and writer who replaced P.D. Ouspensky and J.G. Bennett as the "helper-instructor" who would help step-down the teaching through founding and leading of Fourth Way groups in America.

Why Orage left has never been entirely clear. Now the publication of Gurdjieff and Orage: Brothers in Elysium by Paul Beekman Taylor, a friend of the Orage family and the first to be given access to Orage's and Gurdjieff's letters and the diaries of Orage's wife Jessie, provides important new perspectives. In his previous book, Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer, Professor Taylor's studied ambivalence toward Gurdjieff and his admiration for Jean Toomer (who adopted and helped raise Taylor) attempted to resurrect Toomer's reputation while slighting Gurdjieff's. The attempt here is more evenhanded, but, again, Taylor's perspective is more that of an apologist. That said, this is a welcome and important new study of the influences at work in Orage's leaving the teacher and man for whom he had thrown over his whole life to follow.

Orage first met the teaching through Ouspensky, who arrived in London in September 1921. Orage, after years of study of Theosophy, and now hungry for a practical means of self-transformation, immediately accepted Ouspensky as his teacher. However, the following February after hearing Gurdjieff for the first time, Orage afterward declared: "I knew that Gurdjieff was the teacher. Ouspensky for me represented knowledge—great knowledge; Gurdjieff, understanding—though of course Gurdjieff had all the knowledge, too."

A "Helper-Instructor"

Nine months later, forty-nine-year-old A.R. Orage—the man whom T.S. Eliot called "the finest critical intelligence of our day," and whom Bernard Shaw declared was the most brilliant editor of the past century—arrived at the Prieuré, Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, located in Fontainebleau-en-Avon, southeast of Paris.

Obese, his long fingers stained yellow from years of chain-smoking, Orage expected perhaps to be given the keys to the teaching (just as Gurdjieff had done with Ouspensky and others in Essentuki in July 1917). Instead, he was handed a shovel and told to dig. And this Orage did day after day, often in the afternoon filling in the trenches he had dug in the morning. Brought to his psychic knees, Orage soldiered on, not surrendering to self-pity. One day came a breakthrough into higher mind. Now Gurdjieff—with Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll and J.G. Bennett refusing to help him—chose Orage to help introduce and establish the teaching in America. Though the choice was de facto, Orage—whom Gurdjieff considered "a brother"—was clearly the best choice.

Like a latter-day John the Baptist, Orage sailed to the New World on December 15, 1923. Magnetic, charming, erudite and worldly, Orage's easy but profound explication of the teaching so captivated the cream of New York's literati that when Gurdjieff and his troop of dancers arrived the following month their public performances drew a large and ready-made audience. When Gurdjieff returned to Paris, he left Orage behind to form and lead groups. With the Prieuré packed with students and the American trip such a success, Gurdjieff's mission of establishing the Fourth Way in the West looked exceptionally bright.

But in July came a terrible shock. Gurdjieff's car crashed into a tree, leaving him in a coma for days. Upon reviving, Gurdjieff radically changed course. Recognizing that despite the high level of students he had drawn to him, the properties of Kundabuffer were too strong and his time too short to train "helper-instructors." He decided to close the institute and hurl the teaching into the future through the creation of a Legominism, entitled All and Everything, a series of three initiatory books.

A Roaming Eye

While Gurdjieff wrote in Paris, Orage in New York taught upwards of 200 pupils who attended his groups and paid monthly dues of ten dollars. With this money, Orage supported Gurdjieff's efforts. The union of the two men was perfect except for Orage's chief feature. As Taylor delicately phrases it: "He seemed to have a roaming eye for female charms." There was no seeming about it. Only a day after his first talk in New York Orage met twenty-two-year-old Jessie Dwight. Attractive, well-bred, and descended from a long line of Connecticut clergymen, she was, says Taylor, "intelligent, strong-willed, and sure of her desires. She brooked no nonsense from anyone. Her major fault, perhaps, was an unreasoned recklessness. This trait was intensified when she drank, and from her late teens, she had been enjoying alcoholic beverages." More than enjoying, she had a drinking problem. With her ardor, skills and intellect, she became indispensable and soon became Orage's personal secretary. The close working relationship had the predictable result. Orage fell in love. "She is an absolute darling and G will love her," Orage wrote. "He loves 'all or nothing' people, and that disposition, apart from the question of tact, is the first condition of everything 'good.'"

Jessie Dwight Orage, Gurdjieff, Fourth Way, Ouspensky, Jean Toomer

If anything, Jessie was certainly "all or nothing." She meant to have Orage at any cost. From the very first, she saw Orage's allegiance to Gurdjieff as a threat. Orage wanted her to share his life in the Work, but Jessie had no real interest. However, she understood that the way to Orage was through the teaching. Her ambivalence can be seen when she and Orage went to the docks to see Gurdjieff off on his way back to France. In her diary she wrote:

"You come now, very important," Gurdjieff said.

"Not now," she said on the verge of tears. "Not now. September I come with Orage."

"No, now," Gurdjieff said "—very important—now—no Institute maybe in September."

"I hate you," she cried.

Then, he sailed, having grown a beard and wearing a grey soft hat which covered his shaven head. He looked handsome and dashing—an adventurer. He leant over the rail and made signals to his disciples on the pier.... Somehow Gurdjieff attained a mystery and an aloneness—a figure isolated because of his position far above.

"I should not wish," I said to myself, "never to see him again, but why should I go to Fontainebleau?"

And then when the Prophet had sailed from the land of his Abundance or from the land which Orage had made abundant for him, I found that I in truth must go. Orage said so—he did not wish it—he said it had to be done.

"Must I?" I said. "Why should I do anything I do not want to do? Why?"

"You see," he said, "I am dedicated to this. I have given up everything for this. You must go now without me. I will come in September."

And so I went.

Battle for Attention

At the Prieuré, Jessie almost immediately attracted attention. She wore trousers and smoked in public. One day, after Gurdjieff recovered from his car crash, he asked if she had heard from Orage. She had. The next day a notice was posted stipulating that all outgoing letters must be put in a special box and all incoming letters must be signed for and names of correspondents given.

"All my Americanism rose," wrote Jessie. "I walked down the garden with Gurdjieff. I sputtered with rage. 'What do you mean—how dare you?—my letters, I?' Gurdjieff said, 'I not understand.' His English never failed to desert him in someone else's need."

Instead of understanding that Gurdjieff was working with her, and her identification with Orage, Jessie began what would be an all or nothing battle with Gurdjieff for Orage's attention. Orage tried to make her see. In response to her first letter to him, a long list of complaints, he wrote: "The theory is quite simple: to change effectively, one's old moulds of habits must be broken up. One can no more do this for oneself, or by one's own inclination, than one can 'Stop!' oneself. It must be done for us. The institute is just a 'Stop!' exercise for all one's former habits and preoccupations of oneself; and it enables us to see ourselves in a new light.... I have had my reward. I felt centuries older, years younger and infinitely stronger; and I do not despair of one day being a real and really human." It did little good. A steady stream of complaint letters issued from the Prieuré.

In late August Orage arrived. Gurdjieff would not allow them to share quarters. Taylor gives no diary entries for this period but Jessie's state takes no great imagination. A month later the couple sailed back to New York, where Orage, who had been separated from his wife Jean since 1906 but had not obtained a divorce, moved into Jessie's new flat at 19 East 56th where he stayed for a year or so before finding an apartment close by.

Among those Orage drew to him was the intellectual, psychologist and scientist C. Daly King, who after some time was appointed to lead a group in Orange, New Jersey. Attracted to Orage and the teaching, King was ever ambivalent toward Gurdjieff. He would later help Jessie sow seeds of doubt with Orage, challenging Orage's manhood in regard to Gurdjieff.

The next August when Orage and Jessie visited the Prieuré Gurdjieff gave Orage the bulk of the First Series with instructions to put it into publishable English. Gurdjieff had dictated the early text in Armenian to Mme Galumnian Chaverdiian who turned it into Russian. After Gurdjieff's review of the Russian text, Thomas de Hartmann, with the help of Bernard Metz, turned it into literal English.


Notes

1. Shadows of Heaven. See review in Telos, Volume 4, Issue 1. Taylor's not so hidden animus toward Gurdjieff which played out heavily in that book, is not so evident here but does crop up from time to time. Among the most glaring, for example, is to report that Gurdjieff had done "a shocking thing" to his niece Lucie who threatened to tell "unless he sent her home—so he did so—but the poor child is living in a state of fear." Taylor then explains in a footnote that Nikolai de Stjernvall (who was there at the time) said that the so-called scandal was a "row [that] Gurdjieff had with Lucie in his room over a minor incident of misbehavior."

2. "I knew that Gurdjieff was the teacher." See C. S. Nott's Teachings of Gurdjieff (New York: Samuel Weiser Inc., 1961), pp. 2778–28. Curiously, Taylor gives no account of this signal event, as well as a number of others.

3. Keys to the teaching. See P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 346. "Gurdjieff unfolded to us the plan of the whole work. We saw the beginnings of all the methods, the beginnings of all the ideas, their links, their connections and direction."

4. Filling in trenches. This is reminiscent of how Marpa first taught Milarepa.

5. A brother. This comment of Gurdjieff's apparently leads Taylor to consider that Gurdjieff and Orage are equals. This viewpoint is augmented with Taylor's comparison at the book's end of the thought of the two men. That Orage, like Ouspensky, Bennett and Nicoll, or any other of Gurdjieff's students, ever saw themselves as equal in being and knowledge, that is, in understanding, to Gurdjieff is not supported by anything any of the men wrote or said.

6. Charming. Albert Camus, known for his great charm, gives a cogent description of the word in his book The Fall (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959). "They found me charming, imagine that. You know what charm is? A manner of hearing others reply yes when one asks no specific question!"

7. Public performances. Ouspensky mentions in Search that the first obstacle a would-be student has to overcome is to find the teaching. Taking this as unquestioned policy, the mainstream work has always kept a very low profile. But clearly Gurdjieff did otherwise. Ouspensky's book is representative of Gurdjieff's Russian period, a time of upheaval when secrecy was necessary.

8. Female charms. Camus, who also had an eye for the ladies, writes in his Notebooks, p. 279: "Sexual life was given to man perhaps to divert him from his true road. It's his opium. Without it, things come back to life."

9. Ambivalent toward Gurdjieff. See C. Daly King's The Oragean Version, an unpublished manuscript.

10. Gurdjieff regarded me. See James Moore, Gurdjieff: Anatomy of a Myth (London, Element Books, 1991), p. 215.

11. Naïveté. This is likely a code word for Orage's chief feature. Intellectually, of course, Orage was aware of it. As he wrote in the New Age: "Long after the liability to complete subjection to female illusion is over, men sometimes continue to experience perturbations of their equilibrium in the presence of women. In few instances are these perturbations violent enough to overthrow the mind entirely, but for the moment they undoubtedly do cause the judgment to reel and stagger and the resulting conversation and actions to become distorted. These residual phenomena, however, are to be distinguished from the similar phenomena of adolescence by the fact that they no longer inspire hope but disgust or, at least, annoyance." See William Patrick Patterson, Struggle of the Magicians (Fairfax, CA: Arete, 1996), p. 106.

12. 'Lord,' I say. See Louise Welch, Orage with Gurdjieff in America (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.,1982), pp. 11578–17.

13. The acute sensibility. See Philip Mairet, A.R. Orage: A Memoir (New York: University Books, 1966), pp.78–79.


For the remainder of this article, please order The Gurdjieff Journal Issue #25

If the ideas and perspectives you've found in this article are of interest, please subscribe to The Gurdjieff Journal. We promise you four lively, provocative issues of the only international journal devoted to exploring self-transformation in the contemporary world and the teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff. The Gurdjieff Journal publishes interviews, book excerpts, essays and book reviews. It does not, and will not, carry advertising. For its publication, it relies solely on the support of its readership.

Subscription Information

» Articles
    » Essays
    » Interviews
    » Working in the World
    » Meetings
    » Film Reviews
    » Book Reviews
    » Subscription Information
    » Description of Back Issues







Recommend This Page: