Fontainebleau, France

Physical address: Cimitiere d’Avon, 66 Rue du Souvenir, 77210 Avon, France

Phone number: +33 6 80 18 74 57

Business hours: 8am-7pm daily

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The forests of Fontainebleau, a French commune south-east of Paris, have long drawn the eye of artists and poets, including Gustav Flaubert who set parts of his 1869 novel, Sentimental Education, in the area. It remains a popular weekend destination for harried Parisians wishing to escape their busy city schedules. Little remains, however, of the château where New Zealand-born author, Katherine Mansfield, spent the final months of her life.

After contracting tuberculosis in 1911, the Garden Party author’s health declined, and she spent long periods of time in sanatoriums over the following years. Although she was most prolific in her writing during the last years of her life, the limited success of conventional medicine must have taken its toll, as eventually, in 1922, she undertook an unconventional form of therapy, which involved receiving numerous x-rays to her spleen. Understandably, this therapy was also ineffective, and Mansfield retired to the Gurdjieff Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at a residence known as Le Prieuré in Fontainebleau.

An Armenian man by birth, George Gurdjieff spent a number of years studying in the East, and brought together a group of devotees at Le Prieuré to undergo his method of self-development, known as The Work. In a 1924 essay entitled “Talks with Katherine Mansfield at Fontainebleau”, Mansfield’s mentor, A.R. Orage, details his observations of the writer in her final months, concluding that the focus of her self-improvement had been personal, rather than literary, and noted that she wrote little during her stay at the Institute. In letters, however, Mansfield expressed happiness about her time there, including commenting that she had found “[her] people”.

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Katherine Mansfield was born today in 1888. Although she died at the age of 34, Mansfield is a pioneer of the modern short story, and even in life she was considered one of the most talented short story writers in the English language. Her images are sharp, evocative, and surprising. The themes are various and psychologically acute: the ambivalence of families and sexuality, the fragility of relationships, the struggles of the middle class, the social consequences of WW1, the beauty one can find in mundane, difficult experiences. In her diaries, Virginia Woolf wrote: “I was jealous of [Mansfield’s] writing—the only writing I have ever been jealous of.” She died of tuberculosis in 1923.

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After several months in Fontainebleau, on 9 January 1923, Katherine Mansfield suffered a fatal pulmonary haemorrhage while climbing the stairs. She was 34 years old.

The graves of both Katherine Mansfield and George Gurdjieff can be visited at the cemetery in Avon, Seine-et-Marne. Le Prieuré is now a private residence with no signage indicating its place in literary history.

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