Katherine’s Illness and Death

In January 1923, Katherine was living at the Gurdjieff Institute at Fontainebleau, trying to achieve spiritual peace in the hope that by healing the mind she could also heal the body. Aware that she was in the final stages of tuberculosis, she still hoped that she could be cured. Although she had already said a final goodbye to John Murry when she left England in the previous September, she invited him to visit her at the Institute – perhaps aware that she had very little time left. Ida Baker was working on a farm nearby so that she could be close to Katherine and her diary entries record her emotional confusion. Having devoted her whole life to loving Katherine, she couldn’t understand why her affection was not reciprocated at the same level and why Katherine always preferred the inadequate Murry to herself. On the evening of Murry’s arrival, Katherine tried to run up the stairs to go to bed, began to haemorrhage and died in the arms of the family doctor – James Young. Murry was stunned, and the burden of organising the funeral and dealing with Katherine’s belongings fell to Ida who tried diligently to carry out Katherine’s instructions.

After her death Murry had what he described as a mystical experience, believing that ‘Katherine’s love survived her own physical death’ and that her presence would accompany him always. He vowed that he ‘would not let her die’ and proceeded to idealise their relationship, while having an affair with her friend Dorothy Brett – begun while Katherine was still alive – and another with Frieda Lawrence. But in the emotional chaos of bereavement he forgot to pay for Katherine’s funeral so that her body had to be moved into a pauper’s grave.

Dorothy Brett believed he was going to marry her and Frieda Lawrence also had hopes of a lasting relationship with him. They were very bitter when he became abruptly engaged to Violet le Maistre within a few months of Katherine’s death. His second marriage was a strange repeat of the first. Murry could have collected an Oscar for emotional inadequacy. ‘I couldn’t love anyone but a girl,’ he wrote in his journal. ‘I don’t know what Woman is: and never shall. Not that I have avoided Woman. It is simply that I can’t see, can’t make contact with Woman. She doesn’t exist for me.’

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