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The Unknowable Jane Heap

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

This month we are drawing attention to Jane Heap’s work in London. She worked tirelessly to transmit Gurdjieff's teaching and eventually edited the English edition of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson along with A.R. Orage.

Few realize how instrumental she was in promulgating Gurdjieff’s teaching in Paris. After residing at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, she had much contact with Gurdjieff in the 1930s. An expert at bringing ideas to life, she presented the teaching to many guests at the “salons” hosted at her home. However, although she was urged to write a synopsis or account, she never did so. Margaret Anderson made her own attempt entitled The Unknowable Gurdjieff.

Jane had a regular group in Paris engaged with both theory and practice, open to all interested. Among those who came to know one another were a remarkable group of women, accomplished in business and the arts, most of whom were lesbians. They included among others journalist Louise Davidson, operatic soprano Georgette le Blanc, writers and editors Kathryn Hulme and Solita Solano, and Margaret Anderson, who together with Jane co-founded the avant-garde magazine The Little Review. Louise and Kathryn met Gurdjieff at the Café de la Paix serendipitously, and the comrades eventually had many pungent meetings around Gurdjieff’s table.

Kathryn and Solita took copious notes of their meetings with Gurdjieff in diary format. In addition, the book Undiscovered Country chronicles this period in Kathryn’s autobiography. Among other things, she lays out the formation of what Gurdjieff referred to as “the Rope,” a subset of four women pledged to work together “all for one and one for all” in the manner of mountain climbers roped together. Although these women were all part of each other’s lives, the Rope was a specific and intimate venture.

Gurdjieff gave everyone names illustrating their “animal nature.” Kathryn was “Crocodile”; Solita was “Canary.” When some drifted apart and after Gurdjieff died, they continued to refer to each other by their animal names and share written and oral accounts with one another. However, Jane was simply “Miss Keep.” She played a role in the history of Gurdjieff’s teaching which will never be fully known.

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