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The Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation Archives

Margaret Anderson (1886–1973)

Margaret Anderson  , Fourth Way, esoteric Christianity, The Work

Margaret Caroline Anderson was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1886 to a wealthy and cultured family. An enthusiastic, energetic and intelligent young woman, in 1903 she attended Western College for Women for one year before leaving to pursue a career as a pianist. In 1908 she moved to Chicago, supporting herself as a book reviewer. She later found work as the poetry editor of a literary review, The Dial. This position both taught her the mechanics of magazine publishing and gave her entrance into the city's literary circle.1 She became a book critic for the Chicago Evening Post in 1913, but was more inspired by the idea of starting her own magazine.2 In 1914 she published the Little Review, which championed new experimental art forms.3 It became an important outlet for artists and writers such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau.4

In 1916, Anderson met Jane Heap, with whom she had a productive business partnership and an intense love affair. They lived and worked together on the Little Review until 1923. The same year, Anderson's sister, Lois, was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Anderson and Heap took custody of Lois's two sons, Fritz and Tom. Although they were Anderson's nephews, Heap became responsible for the boys' upbringing.

In January 1924 the two women went to a lecture by A. R. Orage, who had been sent to spread word of the teaching. Meeting Gurdjieff later, Anderson decided to go to his Institute in France, taking with her the diva Georgette Leblanc, her new love, while Heap followed later with the two boys. Anderson and Leblanc lived first near the Prieuré, and then in Paris when the Institute closed. Later they moved to Normandy, then to Le Cannet, near Cannes, where Leblanc died in 1941 after a long illness. The following year Anderson left for New York. On this voyage, she met Dorothy Caruso, widow of the famed tenor. The two women began a relationship that lasted until Caruso's death in 1955. Anderson returned to Le Cannet, where she continued to write and edit until her death from emphysema on October 19, 1973.

Meeting Orage in 1924 was a turning point for Anderson. Overwhelmed with pressures from her work and relationships, she, like her sister, suffered a nervous breakdown and was deeply depressed. By questioning Orage about the teaching, Anderson said she "had learned that this doctrine would not fulfill our hopes, it would exceed them."5 However, shortly after the women's arrival in France, that June Gurdjieff was seriously injured in an automobile accident. After his recovery, his focus changed from the teaching of students to the writing of his legomonism.6 Gurdjieff closed the Institute that August and took over the group now consisting of Anderson and Leblanc, along with Elizabeth Gordon, Solita Solano, Kathryn Hulme, Louise Davidson, and Alice Rohrer. It was called the Rope.7 Gurdjieff often met with them daily, sharing meals, reading his writings, and answering questions.8 Anderson worked with Gurdjieff in this way until the coming of the war and Georgette's illness took them out of Paris. Anderson later returned to Paris in 1948 with Dorothy Caruso and worked with Gurdjieff again until his death on October 29, 1949.

Anderson wrote a three-volume autobiography, My Thirty Years' War (1930), The Fiery Fountains (1951), and The Strange Necessity (1962). She also wrote a memoir of her time with Gurdjieff, The Unknowable Gurdjieff (1962).

After meeting Gurdjieff for the first time, Anderson described him as
...a messenger between worlds, a dark man with an oriental face, whose life seemed to reside in his eyes. He had a presence impossible to describe because I had never encountered another with which to compare it. In other words, as one would immediately recognize Einstein as a 'great man,' we immediately recognized Gurdjieff as the kind of man we had never seen—a seer, a prophet, a messiah?... What philosophers have taught as 'wisdom,' what scholars have taught in texts and tracts, what mystics have taught through ecstatic revelation, Gurdjieff would teach as a science—an exact science of man and human behavior—a supreme science of God, world, man—based on sources outside the scope, reach, knowledge or conception of modern scientists and psychologists.9

"Learning to live demands no startling abdications. It leaves old delights in their place, but not their ancient power; it brings a new purpose, a new fire, and infinite new ways of seeing all things."10

"Everything is a mystery, and everything is a paradox. To understand this takes more than human comprehension, and more than human comprehension means: to know.

Gurdjieff knew. He knew from his 'being,' as he called it. And he knew all the time."11

The women in the Rope were each given a name based on their inner animal. Anderson was Yakina. Said Gurdjieff: "Yak have one specific, very original. Is heavy animal, too much have inside, yet always go where is most difficult, like goat. Choose to go where is stones, where no other animal would wish to, except goat who is light and for going is natural. But yak will turn from smooth path and choose steep high place with stones."12

At different times, Gurdjieff designated Anderson an Arch, Squirming, Round, and Square Idiot. He said to her, "You are official arch [Idiot], but now also squirming. Like when take fish from water and put on earth. For this I have formulation: Two chairs. You can never sit in same chair as when first come here, but you have possibility of next chair. Is now or never."13


1. William Patrick Patterson, Ladies of the Rope (Fairfax, CA: Arete Communications, 1999), 19–22.
2. Margaret Anderson, My Thirty Years War (New York: Horizon Press, 1951), 35.
3. Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Margaret Anderson," BookRags,
4. Patterson, Ladies, 22.
5. Margaret Anderson, The Unknowable Gurdjieff (New York: Arkana, 1991), 110.
6. Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts. (New York: Routledge, 2003), 245.
7. Wellbeloved, 242.
8. Patterson, Ladies, 83.
9. Anderson, The Unknowable Gurdjieff, 111.
10. Ibid., 142–43.
11. Ibid., 193.
12. Patterson, Ladies, 120.
13. Ibid., 118