Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Vol 27, No 3 (2014)

Gurdjieff and Katherine Mansfield Redux: Alma de Groen’s ‘The Rivers of China’

Carole M. Cusack
Issued Date: 3 Mar 2015


The brief residence of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) at G.I. Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré des Basses Loges, Fontainebleau-Avon, ended with her death on 9 January 1923. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1918 (the year of her marriage to John Middleton Murry), and her illness was in an advanced state when she arrived at the Prieuré on 17 October 1922, having joined the circle of Gurdjieffians around A.R. Orage in London in August of that year and heard P.D. Ouspensky lecture on a few occasions. Gurdjieff was reviled as a charlatan and held responsible for her death by hostile critics, but there is substantial evidence that his teachings, and the solicitation of certain of his pupils, eased her last months. This article examines the historical record of Mansfield and Gurdjieff’s interactions and compares this to a fictional rendition of Mansfield’s time at the Prieuré, the play The Rivers of China by Alma de Groen (b. 1941), herself a female writer from New Zealand, for whom Mansfield’s life and death are primarily to be interpreted through the lens of feminism. The Rivers of China (1987) won the Premier’s Literary Award for Drama in both New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, and is a demanding, yet rewarding, drama. It is interesting as one of the play’s parallel narratives (both of which focus on Mansfield) offers a rare fictional portrait of Gurdjieff. The play therefore functions as a conduit for transmission of the Gurdjieff–Mansfield relationship to audiences that may know little of these enigmatic and challenging figures, despite its particular interpretation of the factual record.

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DOI: 10.1558/jasr.v27i3.24161


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