Copyright © 1999 William Patrick Patterson. All rights reserved.
The First Growl
Paris. 1930. Every Monday evening a small group ofwomenall intelligent, talented, some strikinglybeautifulwalked through the narrow, winding streets of the LeftBank to a small apartment in Montparnasse. What brought thesewomen together, the aim they shared in common, was an ancientesoteric teaching of awakening called the Fourth Way. GeorgeIvanovitch Gurdjieff, the man who had introduced it, no longertaught and the only way to learn about it was from someone hehad authorized. He had authorized very few, and these only at theintroductory level.
One was the occupant of the Montparnasse apartment towhich the group of women came every week. Her name was JaneHeap. She was an artist working in collage and jewelry, and theformer co-editor of the Little Review, an avant-garde arts magazinefamous for having published James Joyce's Ulysses, as well as thework of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and manyothers. She was forty-seven years old, heavy-set with dark close-croppedhair, and a broad forehead. Her brown eyes were bothwarm and observant. Her mouth was large, always painted with abright red lipstick. The initial physical impression of her could bejarring, for she appeared to be two genders at once. She had astrong sense of herself; her energy was magnetic, and her mindpowerful, clear, capable of making fine distinctions and seeingbroad patterns. Though she had studied the teaching for only sixyears, Gurdjieff had given her permission to lead the group.
Among the women who knocked at Jane's door was her oldfriend and former lover Margaret Anderson, the founder and co-editorwith Jane of the Little Review; Georgette Leblanc, a well-knowndiva, actress and former mistress of the Belgian playwrightand poet, Maurice Maeterlinck; Solita Solano, novelist and editor;Janet Flanner, foreign correspondent for The New Yorker; andLouise Davidson, an actress. Also, for varying periods of time, anumber of other women attended the meetings at Jane's apartment.Among them was Jane's good friend the modernist writerGertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas, as well as thenovelist Djuna Barnes, author of Ryder and the Ladies Almanack.
It was autumn. Jane Heap's group had been meeting and studyingthe ideas of the teaching for some time. It was still too earlyreally but the group had jelled and so Jane had given the task foreach woman to speak sincerely and completely about her life. Ofcourse, this was what everyone was always talking aboutthemselvesinone way or another. But none did it consciously, withintention. Stories were told piecemeal, either spewing out inuncontrollable outpourings, or furtively, in small cameos, alwaysframed in rationality or justified with grand generalizations. Therewas a kind of inner taboo about being truthful in talking aboutoneself. The anecdotes were really little pieces of personal propagandameant to polish the self image, or to destroy another's.
One's life story, one's belief in and worship of one's fabrication,was what held everyone in place. It was the mirror in which thereflection of everything was seen, and categorized, and judged. Inthis way the mirrorone's life storymade anything newinstantly old. So no matter what "improvements" one mightmake ... all were made within the borders of the mirror. Peoplelived and died within the mirror and never knew it. To begin toknow oneself, one had to know one's mirror, one's life story.
Jane asked the women to work on making what she called"kaleidoscopes" of their lives, past and present. They were to examineeach colored piece of "glass"their influences, memories, attitudes,and beliefsas if in a kaleidoscope and see the patterns thepieces formed. If one gave enough attention, patterns would beginto emerge. Each one was then to tell the group about her life. Theperson who spoke was to speak as sincerely as possible and, at thesame time, listen to herself inside, her own feelings, reactions, judgments.Those listening were to give their attention to the speakerand, at the same time, to their feelings, reactions, judgments.
Gurdjieff had given this same exercise to his first groups inRussia: In order to know one's type, one must make a good study ofone's life, one's whole life from the very beginning; one must knowwhy, and how, things have happened.... Let every one of you in thegroup tell about his life.
To tell one's life story naturally brought up a great deal ofcharged and dark material, that which no one wants to touch,much less deal with. In giving people the task of telling the storyof their lives, Gurdjieff had given no exemptions, no way out:
Everything must be told in detail without embellishment, andwithout suppressing anything. Emphasize the principal and essentialthings without dwelling on trifles and details. You must be sincere andnot be afraid that others will take anything in a wrong way, becauseeveryone must show himself as he is ... and nothing must be takenoutside the group.
As an example, Jane told the story of her early life.
She said she was born November 1, 1883, in Kansas. Hermother was Norwegian; her father English. She had grown up onthe grounds of an insane asylum. Her father George worked as acivil engineer at the Topeka Asylum for the Insane [now theworld-famous Menninger Clinic]. Said Jane:
When I was a little child I lived in a great asylum for the insane. It was a world outside of the world, where realities had to be imagined and where, even through those excursions in illusions and hallucinations, there ran a strange loneliness. The world can never be so lonely in those places where the mind has never come as in a place where the mind has gone.... There was no one to ask about anything. There was no way to make a connection with `life'.... Very early I had given up everyone except the Insane. The others knew nothing about anything, or knew only uninteresting facts. From the Insane I could get everything. They knew everything about nothing and were my authority; but beyond that there was silence. Who had made the pictures, the books and the music of the world? And how had they made them? And how could you tell the makers from just people? Did they have a light around their heads? Were there any of them in the world now? And would I ever see one?
Once she had written to a friend that she had seen "a little bit oflife that is hard to forget. A man, once handsome and robust, aleader of mennow a shrunken doddering idiotbeing led froman outing back into hisward his white-haired wife standing witheyes shaded from the setting sun, watching him go. She comesevery day at this time and follows him about, hoping he may sometimerecognize her, but he only curses and jabbers at her."
Early on Jane had shown artistic talent and after high school hadstudied painting and jewelry design at the Art and Lewis Institutes ofChicago. She acted in plays and did set design. Then she heard of theCordonwhose bylaws stated the group was "formed for the purposeof establishing a common meeting ground for lovers of independenceand self-expression, whose vocations permit excursions beyonddomestic bonds"and immediately joined. The Cordon, meaningrope, was composed of young women from affluent families who hadan interest in the arts and other women.
In 1908 Jane met the first love of her life at a meeting of theCordon. She was Florence Reynolds, an alumnus of the art institute.They immediately formed a bond. It was about this time,said Jane, that she began wearing men's clothes.
During the summers or when she was away, Jane wrote constantlyto Florence, addressing her as "Tiny Heart." The lettersoften spoke of the great love she felt for Florence. Once shechided Florence for calling "our LoveFriendshipit has notgot to that has it? Isn't it very like the Love our friends the poetssing about. I think it very strange and different from friendship orjust love with a little letterdon't you?"
As both were interested in art, it was always one focus of conversation.Presaging her role as co-editor with Margaret of the LittleReview, Jane once wrote to Reynolds saying that artists would findrelief from life if they "would seek within their own souls and createin their work a new beauty and a new idealismone far and awaybeyond the reach of our contemporary life. They would find theirrelief [there] and not in religionI don't believe there is reliefthere." In another letter she added, "I have been thinking verymuch these days of Beauty (poor name for anything so Holy). Iknow that if everyone felt Beauty strongly, felt that everything beautifulwas God and all things not beautiful not God. That womanwas the nearest symbol for Beauty. If one could see thistherewould be no sin, or squalor, or unhappiness in the world."
In 1910 they decided to go to Europe and visit all the artmuseums. As Florence had a private income, they were able tostay for a year. Returning to Chicago, Jane got a job at the Art andLewis Institutes teaching art. She continued to act and design setsfor a local theater. After a time, her relationship with Florencewound downthough she and Reynolds remained good friendsand even now often wrote to one another. Jane then fell in lovewith Alixe Bradley, a gorgeous woman who spurned her. Rejectedand downcast, she had then met Margaret.
Georgette Leblanc told her story next. Georgette spoke in falteringEnglish and so Margaret translated. Georgette was born inRouen, France, in 1869. Her early life was as dramatic as her laterlife would be. Until recently, she said, she seemed to be unlucky inlove. For example, when she was only sixteen her mother, dressingfor a ball, had suddenly died in her arms. Some time later, ayoung suitor proposed to her but her father objected. The youngman drank poison and died. She then married a Spaniard whosquandered her dowry to pay off a gambling debt. But her greatestloss of love was to come much later.
Despite such horrible events, she had been blessed with a clearsoprano voice and so in 1887 when she left Rouen for Paris, she wassoon singing in the Opéra Comique in Paris. She was only eighteen.Jean Cocteau had said of her"Georgette was the model for a lyricsaintone of those strange great beings who move through thecrowd, headless and armless, propelled only by the power of theirsouls, as immutable as the Victory of Samothrace."
Georgette had read an essay about Ralph Waldo Emerson, theAmerican Transcendentalist, by the Belgian playwright MauriceMaeterlinck. She soon found she could think of nothing else butMaeterlinck's mystic vision and poetic style. In him, Georgettesaid, "I had discovered a tendency of mind, a vision, ideas andeven a being whose secret inner existence corresponded to myown. I had not tried to find out what he was like, how he lived....I had staked my life on a purely spiritual intention." Relinquishinga promising position with the opera, she confided to a friendshe was "going to Belgium to become the wife of the greatMaeterlinck."
In Brussels, she arranged an invitation to a supper party atwhich Maeterlinck would be present. Adorning her forehead witha blue diamond, which she regarded as a symbol of happiness, shequickly captivated the sober and reclusive playwright. Shortlythereafter, the twosome moved to Paris and launched a salonwhich attracted the front ranks of writers, composers and sculptors.In their living room could be found people like AnatoleFrance, Mallarmé, Debussy and Rodin. Georgette acted inMaeterlinck's plays and, being of a philosophical and mysticalbent herself, provided him with both inspiration and ideas.
But with the passage of years their differences grew. He beganto criticize her theatricality and taste for picturesque costumes.For her part, she found him "in perpetual flight before emotion,before disturbances, before the unexpected."
In 1911, while acting in his play The Blue Bird, Georgettenoticed Maeterlinck's attention was drawn to another member ofthe cast, an eighteen year old, Renée Dahon. At the playwright'sinvitation, the young woman moved in with them. Finally, in1919, having spent some twenty years with Maeterlinckthemost productive of his careerGeorgette finally left him. Hesoon married Dahon.
In 1923 when Georgette came to America, though her lifewith Maeterlinck had ended twelve years before, she still had notfreed herself. She had come at the invitation of the Hearst newspaperswhich had offered a large sum for her memoirs and wantedher to become well-known to American audiences. Though shehad been much acclaimed in Europe, particularly for singingThais and Carmen and for her roles in Maeterlinck's plays, hercareer of late had begun to falter. When her poetry and singingrecitals in Boston and elsewhere failed to win acclaim, Hearstwithdrew its offer for her memoirs, as well as all financial support.She was stranded. It was 1924.
When she and Margaret first met, she was fifty-five and Margaretthirty-eight. Despite their age difference, she and Margaret hadfallen in love and had been companions ever since. Margaret, wholoved music and played well enough to have considered a career as aconcert pianist, gave Georgette the encouragement she needed toresume giving recitals and accompanied her on the piano.
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff she had first seen in February1924, at a performance of his dance troupe. The following Juneshe had gone with Margaret, Jane and Louise Davidson to meethim at his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man atthe Prieuré, located in Fontainebleau-en-Avon. However, nosooner had Georgette arrived than she left. Gurdjieff and hisdemands for work on oneselfto see oneself as one really is andnot as one imagineshad been too great a shock. Within a fewdays, though, she saw she was in reaction and returned. Now,more open, Gurdjieff's being made an indelible impression onher. Said Georgette:
He resided on the earth as a planet too limited for his own needs and function. Where did he manifest his real existence? In his teaching, in his writings, not at all in ordinary social life which he seemed to regard as a vast plague and manipulated with resignation or impatience.
I was not astonished that he was little known, that he was not surrounded by thousands of followers. Neither money nor influence could open the doors of the PrieuréGurdjieff created all possible obstacles to discourage any idler-spirits who might push their way into a world where they did not belong.
What astonished me was not to understand a little, but to see that some peoplenewcomers to the Prieurédid not understand at all. I sometimes had flashes of `consciousness' so strong that a heat invaded me. Every hour I became aware of a soul I had not nurtured.
Now with Gurdjieff no longer teaching, Georgette had joinedJane's group in the hope of learning about herself and becomingmore present to life, rather than continuing her imaginings.
Jane told Georgette that by attempting to put her life intowords, she had objectified what had heretofore been unexamined.What had been said was no longer buried, could no longer be dismissed.By her truthfulness she had made the pasther pastcomealive. She had brought it into the present, made it activeand real. With it came a vulnerability, a certain chaos, a feeling ofbeing adrift at sea, alone and unprotectedwhat she had beenavoiding all along because of the suffering it caused. And so herpsychological structure, with all its defenses and buffers, had beenshaken and had begun to break down. She no longer could calmherself with the idea that she knew. Now, she could be spoken to.
Jane said she would attempt to speak about the idea and experienceof love. However, it would not be addressed in the usualindiscriminate way in which love is taken as being indivisible.Instead, she recounted how Gurdjieff had spoken of three types ofloveinstinctive, emotional and conscious. It is rare, Jane toldGeorgette and the rest of the group, that all three centersphysical,emotional, mentalfunction when one is in love. Usually,one is instinctively in love, emotionally in love or mentally inlove. This love is fragmented, personal and subjective. It is the"love" of one center, not the love of three centers. Hence, it is notwhole, impersonal, objective.
Jane asked Georgette: "Which of your three centersintellectualemotional, instinctivewas in love with Maeterlinck? Howmuch did you love the image of yourself that he created with hiswords?love yourself in him? The `woman on a pedestal?'" Janeexplained that "Infidelity is a sign that the physical center hasgrown indifferent." There could be a shift in the center of gravityso that "one was not, at the moment, mentally or perhaps emotionallyin love with the beloved, thus taking one off one's guardand making one's organism unfaithful."
Jane continued"Dismiss Maeterlinck from your mind andmemoryconsciously. You are allowing a mortgage to standagainst your own development. When you speak of resentment,calumny, hatred shown towards you ... they are only the negativeside of something you thought divine when it was manifestingitself positively. Do not stand back and register horror, surprise, orthe inability to understand."
Janet Flanner spoke next. She was thirty-eight years old, herhair prematurely white, her face with its observant eyes and largenose giving her the countenance of a wise owl. She was bornMarch 13, 1892, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The second of threesisters, her father was a mortician. His suicide a month before hertwenty-first birthday had been a shock so deep that she had spokenof it seriously only to Solita and Hemingway, whose ownfather had committed suicide. Her Quaker religion had given herno answers, or at least no answers she could accept, and so shesupposed she had become an agnostic. She had gone to college fora while but dropped out. She felt trapped. What passed for thinkingin Indianapolis was too small, its life too ordinary. She hadneeded to leave, but how? Then along came William Lane Rehm,nicknamed "Rube," a high school classmate. He was then livingin New York and had come home on a visit to see his parents. Shehad convinced Rehm to marry her, moved to New York with him,became pregnant, and then lost the baby.
That winter in New York, she had met Solita Solano, a dramacritic for the New York Tribune. She was an exotic dark-hairedbeauty with intense blue eyes and a shapely figure. But what reallyresonated was Solita's independence of mind, her literary interestsbothshe and Janet wanted to become writersand theirjoint belief that in romantic relationships each must give the other"absolute freedom." They quickly became inseparable partners. Atsome point Janet and Rehm separated but, because of the way itwould look back home, did not divorce.
Because she had deceived Rehm, she judged herself "criminallyguilty." Her actions, she felt, could not be defended. In the late1920s, he had come to Paris and they had gotten a divorce. Heseemed quite happy. Whatever face he might put on it, nevertheless,she knew what she had done. It was a blot she continued tobe ashamed of.
After separating from Rehm, Janet had moved into Solita'sGreenwich Village apartment. Life was wonderful but they bothcame to feel they needed a fresh start. So in 1921 when NationalGeographic sent Solita on assignment to Constantinople there wasno question but that Janet would accompany her. From Turkeythey travelled to Crete and then around Europe before eventuallysettling in Paris. In 1925 Janet became a foreign correspondentfor The New Yorker, writing a regular column called "Letter fromParis" under the name of Genêt.
In 1926 Janet published a novel The Cubical City. It receivedmixed reviews and she started another novel but couldn't sustain theinterest, and so gave all her time and attention to her Genêt articlesfor The New Yorker. Janet ended her story by saying that she andSolita continued to live together at the Hôtel Napoleon Bonaparte.
Jane tried to work with Janet but it never evolved beyond intellectualjousts. Though raised a Quaker, Janet was a materialist,putting all her belief in science. She wanted concrete, factualanswers and when feelings and emotions arose, as her friendsoften noted, she tended to rationalize them. Intellectually centered,Janet was defended at all times against feelings (possiblystrengthened as a reaction to her father's suicide).
By 1932 Janet Flanner had stopped coming to meetings. Shehad fallen in love with Noel Haskins Murphy, a stunning widownearly six feet tall with high cheekbones and hay-colored hair.Noel was well off, her family being involved with high financeand politics, and she spoke and acted in what Janet teased asNoel's "Pahk Avenue mahner." Noel lived in a stone house surroundedby eight-foot walls in the village of Orgeval just thirteenkilometers from St.-Germain-des-Prés.
Soon, Janet was spending more and more of her time with Noelin Orgeval. As Solita said"Genêt ... lives with me when sheremembers it." Solita saw Noel as "a careless, flamboyant Amazonin bright shorts and skirtsor something the peasants had neverseen before, either for costumes or formidable motoring energy."