Cover image for Ladies of the Rope : Gurdjieff's special Left Bank women's group
Ladies of the Rope : Gurdjieff's special Left Bank women's group
Patterson, Wm. Patrick (William Patrick)
Publication Information:
Fairfax, Calif. : Arete Communications, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 302 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS151 .P37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The First Book to examine a group of talented, dynamic women that was formed by Gurdjieff in the 1930s. Recognizing that the world would destroy itself unless there was an awakening in the West, Gurdjieff applied a fundamental shock by intentionally introducing the ancient esoteric Fourth Way teaching to the uninitiated. the conclusions reached by the author as to why Gurdjieff formed the Rope are as original as they are inspiring.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1935, a group of remarkable women began meeting in Paris with the extraordinary spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff. The group, which ultimately numbered seven, called itself "the Rope," because Gurdjieff told its members to help one another like mountain climbers making a difficult ascent. All except one were lesbian, most were American and nearly all were famous. Patterson (Eating the "I") is fascinated by Gurdjieff's mysterious decision to teach these women directly, since by that time Gurdjieff had virtually abandoned teaching to focus on writing. Shedding light on the Rope by meticulously pulling together material archived in libraries around the United States, he draws on the papers of the brilliant Jane Heap, co-founder with Margaret Anderson of the groundbreaking literary magazine, the Little Review; of the dramatically emotive Anderson; of Kathryn Hume, author of The Nun's Story; and of the beautiful, sensitive journalist Solita Solano. Patterson relies on Solano's notes to reconstruct the dialogues that took place during the lunches and dinners the women shared with Gurdjieff until 1939. He is reticent regarding his opinions about why Gurdjieff chose to lavish such care and attention on the Rope, but he finds resonance in Gurdjieff's comment to three of the women, "You very dirty... but have something very good‘many people not got‘very special." The narrative conveys the profundity, originality and surprising tenderness of Gurdjieff as he strove to open up the souls of these uncommonly intelligent and spirited women. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The First Growl Paris. 1930. Every Monday evening a small group of women--all intelligent, talented, some strikingly beautiful--walked through the narrow, winding streets of the Left Bank to a small apartment in Montparnasse. What brought these women together, the aim they shared in common, was an ancient esoteric teaching of awakening called the Fourth Way. George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, the man who had introduced it, no longer taught and the only way to learn about it was from someone he had authorized. He had authorized very few, and these only at the introductory level.     One was the occupant of the Montparnasse apartment to which the group of women came every week. Her name was Jane Heap. She was an artist working in collage and jewelry, and the former co-editor of the Little Review , an avant-garde arts magazine famous for having published James Joyce's Ulysses , as well as the work of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and many others. She was forty-seven years old, heavy-set with dark close-cropped hair, and a broad forehead. Her brown eyes were both warm and observant. Her mouth was large, always painted with a bright red lipstick. The initial physical impression of her could be jarring, for she appeared to be two genders at once. She had a strong sense of herself; her energy was magnetic, and her mind powerful, clear, capable of making fine distinctions and seeing broad patterns. Though she had studied the teaching for only six years, Gurdjieff had given her permission to lead the group.     Among the women who knocked at Jane's door was her old friend and former lover Margaret Anderson, the founder and co-editor with Jane of the Little Review ; Georgette Leblanc, a well-known diva, actress and former mistress of the Belgian playwright and poet, Maurice Maeterlinck; Solita Solano, novelist and editor; Janet Flanner, foreign correspondent for The New Yorker ; and Louise Davidson, an actress. Also, for varying periods of time, a number of other women attended the meetings at Jane's apartment. Among them was Jane's good friend the modernist writer Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas, as well as the novelist Djuna Barnes, author of Ryder and the Ladies Almanack .     It was autumn. Jane Heap's group had been meeting and studying the ideas of the teaching for some time. It was still too early really but the group had jelled and so Jane had given the task for each woman to speak sincerely and completely about her life. Of course, this was what everyone was always talking about-- themselves --in one way or another. But none did it consciously, with intention. Stories were told piecemeal, either spewing out in uncontrollable outpourings, or furtively, in small cameos, always framed in rationality or justified with grand generalizations. There was a kind of inner taboo about being truthful in talking about oneself. The anecdotes were really little pieces of personal propaganda meant 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 the reflection of everything was seen, and categorized, and judged. In this way the mirror--one's life story--made anything new instantly old. So no matter what "improvements" one might make ... all were made within the borders of the mirror. People lived and died within the mirror and never knew it. To begin to know 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 examine each colored piece of "glass"--their influences, memories, attitudes, and beliefs--as if in a kaleidoscope and see the patterns the pieces formed. If one gave enough attention, patterns would begin to emerge. Each one was then to tell the group about her life. The person who spoke was to speak as sincerely as possible and, at the same time, listen to herself inside, her own feelings, reactions, judgments. Those listening were to give their attention to the speaker and, at the same time, to their feelings, reactions, judgments.     Gurdjieff had given this same exercise to his first groups in Russia: In order to know one's type, one must make a good study of one's life, one's whole life from the very beginning; one must know why, and how, things have happened.... Let every one of you in the group tell about his life .     To tell one's life story naturally brought up a great deal of charged and dark material, that which no one wants to touch, much less deal with. In giving people the task of telling the story of their lives, Gurdjieff had given no exemptions, no way out:     Everything must be told in detail without embellishment, and without suppressing anything. Emphasize the principal and essential things without dwelling on trifles and details. You must be sincere and not be afraid that others will take anything in a wrong way, because everyone must show himself as he is ... and nothing must be taken outside the group.     As an example, Jane told the story of her early life.     She said she was born November 1, 1883, in Kansas. Her mother was Norwegian; her father English. She had grown up on the grounds of an insane asylum. Her father George worked as a civil engineer at the Topeka Asylum for the Insane [now the world-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 of life that is hard to forget. A man, once handsome and robust, a leader of men--now a shrunken doddering idiot--being led from an outing back into his--ward his white-haired wife standing with eyes shaded from the setting sun, watching him go. She comes every day at this time and follows him about, hoping he may sometime recognize her, but he only curses and jabbers at her."     Early on Jane had shown artistic talent and after high school had studied painting and jewelry design at the Art and Lewis Institutes of Chicago. She acted in plays and did set design. Then she heard of the Cordon--whose bylaws stated the group was "formed for the purpose of establishing a common meeting ground for lovers of independence and self-expression, whose vocations permit excursions beyond domestic bonds"--and immediately joined. The Cordon, meaning rope, was composed of young women from affluent families who had an interest in the arts and other women.     In 1908 Jane met the first love of her life at a meeting of the Cordon. 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 constantly to Florence, addressing her as "Tiny Heart." The letters often spoke of the great love she felt for Florence. Once she chided Florence for calling "our Love--Friendship--it has not got to that has it? Isn't it very like the Love our friends the poets sing about. I think it very strange and different from friendship or just love with a little letter--don'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 Little Review , Jane once wrote to Reynolds saying that artists would find relief from life if they "would seek within their own souls and create in their work a new beauty and a new idealism--one far and away beyond the reach of our contemporary life. They would find their relief [there] and not in religion--I don't believe there is relief there." In another letter she added, "I have been thinking very much these days of Beauty (poor name for anything so Holy). I know that if everyone felt Beauty strongly, felt that everything beautiful was God and all things not beautiful not God. That woman was the nearest symbol for Beauty. If one could see this--there would be no sin, or squalor, or unhappiness in the world."     In 1910 they decided to go to Europe and visit all the art museums. As Florence had a private income, they were able to stay for a year. Returning to Chicago, Jane got a job at the Art and Lewis Institutes teaching art. She continued to act and design sets for a local theater. After a time, her relationship with Florence wound down--though she and Reynolds remained good friends and even now often wrote to one another. Jane then fell in love with Alixe Bradley, a gorgeous woman who spurned her. Rejected and downcast, she had then met Margaret.     Georgette Leblanc told her story next. Georgette spoke in faltering English and so Margaret translated. Georgette was born in Rouen, France, in 1869. Her early life was as dramatic as her later life would be. Until recently, she said, she seemed to be unlucky in love. For example, when she was only sixteen her mother, dressing for a ball, had suddenly died in her arms. Some time later, a young suitor proposed to her but her father objected. The young man drank poison and died. She then married a Spaniard who squandered her dowry to pay off a gambling debt. But her greatest loss of love was to come much later.     Despite such horrible events, she had been blessed with a clear soprano voice and so in 1887 when she left Rouen for Paris, she was soon singing in the Opéra Comique in Paris. She was only eighteen. Jean Cocteau had said of her--"Georgette was the model for a lyric saint--one of those strange great beings who move through the crowd, headless and armless, propelled only by the power of their souls, as immutable as the Victory of Samothrace."     Georgette had read an essay about Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American Transcendentalist, by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. She soon found she could think of nothing else but Maeterlinck's mystic vision and poetic style. In him, Georgette said, "I had discovered a tendency of mind, a vision, ideas and even a being whose secret inner existence corresponded to my own. I had not tried to find out what he was like, how he lived.... I had staked my life on a purely spiritual intention." Relinquishing a promising position with the opera, she confided to a friend she was "going to Belgium to become the wife of the great Maeterlinck."     In Brussels, she arranged an invitation to a supper party at which Maeterlinck would be present. Adorning her forehead with a blue diamond, which she regarded as a symbol of happiness, she quickly captivated the sober and reclusive playwright. Shortly thereafter, the twosome moved to Paris and launched a salon which attracted the front ranks of writers, composers and sculptors. In their living room could be found people like Anatole France, Mallarmé, Debussy and Rodin. Georgette acted in Maeterlinck's plays and, being of a philosophical and mystical bent herself, provided him with both inspiration and ideas.     But with the passage of years their differences grew. He began to 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 , Georgette noticed Maeterlinck's attention was drawn to another member of the cast, an eighteen year old, Renée Dahon. At the playwright's invitation, the young woman moved in with them. Finally, in 1919, having spent some twenty years with Maeterlinck--the most productive of his career--Georgette finally left him. He soon married Dahon.     In 1923 when Georgette came to America, though her life with Maeterlinck had ended twelve years before, she still had not freed herself. She had come at the invitation of the Hearst newspapers which had offered a large sum for her memoirs and wanted her to become well-known to American audiences. Though she had been much acclaimed in Europe, particularly for singing Thais and Carmen and for her roles in Maeterlinck's plays, her career of late had begun to falter. When her poetry and singing recitals in Boston and elsewhere failed to win acclaim, Hearst withdrew 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 Margaret thirty-eight. Despite their age difference, she and Margaret had fallen in love and had been companions ever since. Margaret, who loved music and played well enough to have considered a career as a concert pianist, gave Georgette the encouragement she needed to resume giving recitals and accompanied her on the piano.     George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff she had first seen in February 1924, at a performance of his dance troupe. The following June she had gone with Margaret, Jane and Louise Davidson to meet him at his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré, located in Fontainebleau-en-Avon. However, no sooner had Georgette arrived than she left. Gurdjieff and his demands for work on oneself--to see oneself as one really is and not as one imagines--had been too great a shock. Within a few days, though, she saw she was in reaction and returned. Now, more open, Gurdjieff's being made an indelible impression on her. 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 Prieuré--Gurdjieff 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 people--newcomers to the Prieuré--did 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 joined Jane's group in the hope of learning about herself and becoming more present to life, rather than continuing her imaginings.     Jane told Georgette that by attempting to put her life into words, 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 past--her past--come alive. She had brought it into the present, made it active and real. With it came a vulnerability, a certain chaos, a feeling of being adrift at sea, alone and unprotected--what she had been avoiding all along because of the suffering it caused. And so her psychological structure, with all its defenses and buffers, had been shaken and had begun to break down. She no longer could calm herself with the idea that she knew . Now, she could be spoken to.     Jane said she would attempt to speak about the idea and experience of love. However, it would not be addressed in the usual indiscriminate way in which love is taken as being indivisible. Instead, she recounted how Gurdjieff had spoken of three types of love--instinctive, emotional and conscious. It is rare, Jane told Georgette and the rest of the group, that all three centers--physical, emotional, mental--function when one is in love. Usually, one is instinctively in love, emotionally in love or mentally in love. This love is fragmented, personal and subjective. It is the "love" of one center, not the love of three centers. Hence, it is not whole, impersonal, objective.     Jane asked Georgette: "Which of your three centers--intellectual emotional, instinctive--was in love with Maeterlinck? How much did you love the image of yourself that he created with his words?--love yourself in him? The `woman on a pedestal?'" Jane explained that "Infidelity is a sign that the physical center has grown indifferent." There could be a shift in the center of gravity so that "one was not, at the moment, mentally or perhaps emotionally in love with the beloved, thus taking one off one's guard and making one's organism unfaithful."     Jane continued--"Dismiss Maeterlinck from your mind and memory-- consciously . You are allowing a mortgage to stand against your own development. When you speak of resentment, calumny, hatred shown towards you ... they are only the negative side of something you thought divine when it was manifesting itself positively. Do not stand back and register horror, surprise, or the inability to understand."     Janet Flanner spoke next. She was thirty-eight years old, her hair prematurely white, her face with its observant eyes and large nose giving her the countenance of a wise owl. She was born March 13, 1892, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The second of three sisters, her father was a mortician. His suicide a month before her twenty-first birthday had been a shock so deep that she had spoken of it seriously only to Solita and Hemingway, whose own father had committed suicide. Her Quaker religion had given her no answers, or at least no answers she could accept, and so she supposed she had become an agnostic. She had gone to college for a while but dropped out. She felt trapped. What passed for thinking in Indianapolis was too small, its life too ordinary. She had needed to leave, but how? Then along came William Lane Rehm, nicknamed "Rube," a high school classmate. He was then living in New York and had come home on a visit to see his parents. She had 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 drama critic for the New York Tribune . She was an exotic dark-haired beauty with intense blue eyes and a shapely figure. But what really resonated was Solita's independence of mind, her literary interests--both she and Janet wanted to become writers--and their joint belief that in romantic relationships each must give the other "absolute freedom." They quickly became inseparable partners. At some point Janet and Rehm separated but, because of the way it would look back home, did not divorce.     Because she had deceived Rehm, she judged herself "criminally guilty." Her actions, she felt, could not be defended. In the late 1920s, he had come to Paris and they had gotten a divorce. He seemed quite happy. Whatever face he might put on it, nevertheless, she knew what she had done. It was a blot she continued to be ashamed of.     After separating from Rehm, Janet had moved into Solita's Greenwich Village apartment. Life was wonderful but they both came to feel they needed a fresh start. So in 1921 when National Geographic sent Solita on assignment to Constantinople there was no question but that Janet would accompany her. From Turkey they travelled to Crete and then around Europe before eventually settling in Paris. In 1925 Janet became a foreign correspondent for The New Yorker , writing a regular column called "Letter from Paris" under the name of Genêt.     In 1926 Janet published a novel The Cubical City . It received mixed reviews and she started another novel but couldn't sustain the interest, and so gave all her time and attention to her Genêt articles for The New Yorker . Janet ended her story by saying that she and Solita continued to live together at the Hôtel Napoleon Bonaparte.     Jane tried to work with Janet but it never evolved beyond intellectual jousts. Though raised a Quaker, Janet was a materialist, putting all her belief in science. She wanted concrete, factual answers and when feelings and emotions arose, as her friends often noted, she tended to rationalize them. Intellectually centered, Janet was defended at all times against feelings (possibly strengthened as a reaction to her father's suicide).     By 1932 Janet Flanner had stopped coming to meetings. She had fallen in love with Noel Haskins Murphy, a stunning widow nearly six feet tall with high cheekbones and hay-colored hair. Noel was well off, her family being involved with high finance and politics, and she spoke and acted in what Janet teased as Noel's "Pahk Avenue mahner." Noel lived in a stone house surrounded by eight-foot walls in the village of Orgeval just thirteen kilometers from St.-Germain-des-Prés.     Soon, Janet was spending more and more of her time with Noel in Orgeval. As Solita said--"Genêt ... lives with me when she remembers it." Solita saw Noel as "a careless, flamboyant Amazon in bright shorts and skirts--or something the peasants had never seen before, either for costumes or formidable motoring energy." (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 William Patrick Patterson. All rights reserved.