Gurdjieff International Review

Dorothy Darlington

Faithful Iconoclast

Clinton Smith


orothy Darlington, youngest of four children in a well-off family, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1889. Her father was a friend of Tolstoy. At the age of four she began to study the violin. She had a perfect ear for music and a French governess who spoke to her in French. Her father interviewed 90 women before finding one who spoke with the correct accent.

Dorothy became a concert violinist, playing a Stradivarius bought by her father. She contributed musical and dramatic reviews to the London Daily Telegraph and was commissioned during World War II to collect folk music sung by foreign armed services stationed in Britain.

She joined the London group at twenty-four. Shortly afterward, while working in the garden, she naively called out to P.D. Ouspensky, who chanced to ride by on his pony, “Mr. Ouspensky, how long will it be before I can remember myself?”

“Oh, about a month,” came the ironic and expedient reply.

She eventually abandoned her music career and left the House at Lyne for America.

Mendham, America and NY

At Franklin Farms, in Mendham, New Jersey, Madame Ouspensky wanted someone to take charge of the kitchen. Various candidates were asked to prepare Welsh Rarebit. Madame tasted outcomes and sent them back. Dorothy was up till two in the morning putting meat through the sieve. When Madame O. sampled her dish she said, “That’s right.” Dorothy was put in charge of the kitchen and worked there for fifteen years. She rose at 5:00 AM, went to the market and carried whole sheep carcasses on her diminutive shoulder back to the car.

Dorothy recalled that, while plucking chickens intentionally late one night in the silent kitchen, she had an epiphany. She said, “Energy came, just by working there. We must do the impossible. Conditions in the old days were hard. Ideas become weakened, pass into life. But there is nothing to say that the individual should not develop—carry his own crumb of truth. Things he learns through conditions that become manifest to him—and do not depend on Madame de Salzmann, Madame O. or anyone—are life.”

Once, while cooking for 200 people, she not only prepared the meal but also cooked the meatballs for the next day. When Madame O. reviewed the next day’s menu, she told her not to worry about the meatballs. Dorothy answered, “But Madame, I have already cooked them.”

Madame O. replied, “Why even I couldn’t do that.”

Later on, while supervising the kitchen in Australia, Dorothy told us, “You are in the kitchen for work, not to learn how to cook.”

During Madame O.’s final years, Dorothy was in charge of many practical aspects of running the house and also co-edited The Fourth Way.[1] She was present in the room when Gurdjieff visited Madame. She said, “The expression on his face I will never forget.”

She said, “Gurdjieff taught by his being. You learned more in an experience with him than in many conversations.”

Dorothy regarded Madame O. with great reverence and affection and had decisive moments with her. Though she admitted, “She was very hard to take. Even years later, in America, the old ones asked me what she was trying to give. They did not understand. The question is, who is interested in death? Madame O. said that I was not interested in personality but only truth. That very few were like this. She said once, ‘I hate Dorothy Darlington. But I love you.’”

She said that Madame O. died in her arms.

When the connection with the New York group was established, Dorothy became a regular member of the Gurdjieff Foundation and, after Madame’s death, went to Paris where Madame de Salzmann asked her what she wanted to do. Dorothy replied, with typical objectivity, that she would leave it up to her.

Activities in Sydney, Australia

In 1965, Dorothy was sent to Australia and eventually mentored the Groups established there by C.S. Nott, aiding them through the transition from UK to American guidance during the visits of Rina Hands, Charles Wright and the initial visits of James Wyckoff. Dorothy played the piano for Movements classes, directed kitchen work, and assisted group leaders whenever help was needed. Being radiated from her small body. The rigor of years in the early work shone through her. Those who knew her remember her enormous contribution. During the dark days of flawed hierarchy and factions in Sydney, she kept the creaking structure alive.

Dorothy’s connections with overseas groups remained strong. Once, someone even sent her Jane Heap’s couch—a huge overstuffed thing that took up space in the Group House for some time until we plucked up courage to sell the sacred artifact.

Dorothy was poor. She lived in a one room serviced tenement and supported herself to some extent as theatre critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, always hoping that the editors would never learn how old she was. I accompanied her to at least one production and later read her excellent and balanced review. She did much to promote theatre in Australia and was a close friend of Doris Fitton who founded Sydney’s Independent Theatre.

Jim Wyckoff and Dorothy worked well together. She told me, “He was not there in the old days but has it.” She supported us selflessly between his visits right through her eighties.

When it was known that Dorothy had terminal cancer, Madame de Salzmann recalled her to France, and they spent time together in Paris. Then, Dorothy returned to Sydney where she died in 1979.

I visited her in the hospice a day or two before she died. She was still fierce and in good form. She said, “I want a drink.”

I rushed to get her an orange juice.

She snarled, “I said a drink.”

Mortified, I fled to the nearest pub and managed to smuggle in a bottle of scotch for her.

Dorothy was a powerful iconoclast and refreshingly deficient in vanity. At formal group functions, she would wear a red plastic net to keep her hair in place—salvaged from the netting around bulk oranges bought in the supermarket.

Her impatience with fools matched her unreserved respect for the Work. She told us that, as soon as someone said, “I know,” you could be damned sure they didn’t.

Of those who knew her, there is probably no one who did not revere her, though she once called herself, “A bit of a bitch.”

Dorothy had in her room photographs of Mr. Gurdjieff and Mr. Ouspensky and did not see Mr. O. at all as the austere man his books imply. Sometimes when she looked at his photograph, she’d cry. So, there was a deep link there.

And a profound one with Madame O.

Saturday Evenings at Mendham

Dorothy left us a magnificent legacy—an account of Madame’s Ouspensky’s Saturday evening talks. She had not only her own notes of them but also notes taken by six of her contemporaries—notes, she said, corrected by Madame O. herself. She wished Madame’s teaching to be preserved.

She instructed me to work with her collating and editing the material, possibly because we were similar types and my work was with words. It was a painstaking process of comparison and evaluation, informed always by Dorothy’s knowledge of how Madame spoke and how she was. As well as precise sentence construction, we pondered over punctuation. Each full stop and comma was placed to represent Madame’s broken speech pattern and uncompromising approach.

We occasionally differed over the weighting of a sentence. I’m a reasonable editor and wished the text to be balanced and strong. Dorothy, additionally, was assessing sense and authentic voice. It was a slow and difficult process, working from parallel sources. She did not wish Madame’s flawed English and imperative voice to be sanitized.

The result, after months of work on Sunday ‘workdays,’ was a long-pondered text exactly reflecting what Dorothy considered authentic—unique source material, unknown to groups because unrecorded, from a seminal trusted compatriot relied upon by Gurdjieff.

But, twenty-five years after compilation, it still languished in manuscript form. I feared that her effort, and Madame’s searing voice, would be lost. So, in my eighties, I published it on my own website as an eBook.[2]

Dorothy, of course, is still around. Such an emphatic presence doesn’t die. □

Clinton Smith is a retired Advertising man and intermittent author. He has had five books published and has won fourteen awards for shorter fiction. He joined the Sydney Gurdjieff group in his 20s.

[1] P.D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Way: A Record of Talks and Answers to Questions Based on the Teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff (1957) NY: Knopf. Prepared under the general supervision of Madame Ouspensky.

[2] D. Darlington & C. Smith, Saturday Evenings at Mendham: Conversations with Madame Ouspensky (2018) Australia: Buzzword Books. Currently available only as an eBook. All income from the sale of this book, as Dorothy Darlington has decreed, goes to the Sydney Gurdjieff Society.


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Featured: Fall 2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (2)
Revision: January 1, 2021