Gurdjieff International Review

Kathryn Hulme

Ellen Reynard


inety years ago, in a time of conflict and contrast similar to what we are experiencing today, the teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff appeared in the West for the first time. Gurdjieff established the center of his organization in France, at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, in Fontainebleau’s Prieuré des Basses Loges. In addition, he met in Paris with other groups who were interested in his teaching.

By the mid-1930s, daily headlines described bombings, the fall of governments, and the rise of a terrible force in Germany. At the same time, the cafés and boulevards of Paris teemed with an international mix of creative thinkers who were searching for meaning in the midst of the growing chaos. It was just in this atmosphere that a small group of women, including Kathryn Hulme, encountered Mr. Gurdjieff. As Hulme later wrote:

In early January of 1936, he drew four of our company together—Miss Gordon, Solita, Wendy, and myself (four of the most contrasting types one could have handpicked from all Paris is those eccentric Thirties)—and formed us into a special work group, mutually supporting. In allegory he explained: we were going on a journey under his guidance, an ‘inner-world journey’ like a high mountain climb where we must be roped together for safety, where each must think of the others on the rope, all for one and one for all.[1]

These “Women of the Rope” met with Mr. Gurdjieff to participate in the great “adventure” Kathryn Hulme describes in her book, Undiscovered Country.[2]

Miss Hulme wrote of this adventure in the simplest terms, uncomplicated by commentary or interpretation; she left the description of the system of ideas to others. What comes through is her feeling for her teacher: she met him by chance, she says, and came to love him “as if by design.” By putting her trust in him, she was able to profit from his lessons, even those most difficult to bear because they exposed her weaknesses. She accepted from Mr. Gurdjieff with whole-hearted good humor the nickname of “Crocodile”—which reminded her to question those weaknesses connected with thickness of skin and quickness of tears. When she arrived at his door after years of separation at the end of the war, unsure whether he would remember her, his greeting of “Kroko-deel!” assured her that she had come home.

After his death, Miss Hulme did not wish to join any of the groups led by Gurdjieff’s advanced pupils in Paris or New York, for, “once having fed at the Source,” how could that ever satisfy her? Her personal story then went on to its own conclusion: her conversion to Catholicism, her continuing success as a writer and the publication of The Nun’s Story,[3] and finally, her death in 1981. In the meantime, Gurdjieff’s and Ouspensky’s books were translated into many languages, and the teaching spread over the globe. Today, internet chat groups exchange theories and interpretations concerning Gurdjieff’s ideas, and workshop attendees attempt to put them into practice. Information about Gurdjieff’s teaching is readily available to anyone who wishes to know more.

At the same time, as has been true with all great teachings, time separates the followers from the teacher. Many have tried to remember and repeat the master’s indications, but as life conditions change, and as the truths of Gurdjieff’s teaching appear to dim in the passage of time, understanding tends to become narrower instead of broader. Something is missing, and in the absence of the teacher, help is needed to reanimate the search.

Kathryn Hulme’s description of her experiences with Gurdjieff could be such a help. The story she tells outlives not only the author but also most of Mr. Gurdjieff’s original pupils. Through her gift as a storyteller, with a use of word, phrase, and image that bridges the gap between the oral and written traditions, it is as though Miss Hulme brings Mr. Gurdjieff into the present moment, in all his aliveness. In this way, since most of us are too young to have known him in person, we might also receive the impression first hand. □

Ellen Reynard, former editor at Parabola Magazine, has been in the Gurdjieff work her whole life. She currently lives in Nevada City, California where she is a member of the Sierra Gurdjieff Study Group.

[1] Kathryn Hulme, Undiscovered Country: The Search for Gurdjieff (1997) Lexington, Kentucky: Natural Bridge Editions, p. 73. Originally published as, Undiscovered Country: A Spiritual Adventure (1966) Boston/Toronto: Little, Brown, and Company.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kathryn Hulme, The Nun’s Story (1956) Boston/Toronto: Little, Brown, and Company.


Copyright © 2019 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: August 20, 2020