Katherine Mansfield

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Olgivanna

Olga Ivanovna Lazovich Milanoff Hinzenberg was one of the principals in the ‘sacred dances’ at Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. She was one of those chosen by Gurdjieff to give Katherine support.

She wrote of Katherine’s arrival in 1922: She stood in the doorway of our main dining-room and looked at all and at each with sharp, intense dark eyes.  They burned with the desire and hunger for impressions.  She wanted to sit down and eat with all the students, but someone called her to a different dining-room … I told Gurdjieff what a lovely face she had and how much I liked her ... When I left her room I leaned against the wall for a few seconds. Why had she to die… Something became outlined in my mind.  I understood her need.”

Katherine recorded her idealised impressions of life in the Institute kitchen:

“Nina, a big girl in a black apron – lovely, too – pounds things in mortars.  The second cook chops at the table, bangs the saucepans, sings; another runs in and out with plates and pots, a man in the scullery cleans pots – the dog barks and lies on the floor, worrying a hearthbrush. A little girl comes in with a bouquet of leaves for Olga Ivanovna. Mr Gurdjieff strides in, takes up a handful of shredded cabbage and eats it … there are at least 20 pots on the stove.  And it’s so full of life and humour and ease that one wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Each night Katherine watched the dances performed. ‘The Initiation of a Priestess: a Fragment of a Mystery’ touched her deeply.  Poignantly, it was one of her final impressions on the night of her death.

 

“There is one which takes about 7 minutes and it contains the whole life of woman – but everything! Nothing is left out. It taught me, it gave me more of woman's life than any book or poem. There was even room for Flaubert’s Coeur Simple in it, and for Princess Marya… Mysterious.”

 

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