Oct 10, 2012
Curtis Rogers

Woolsey Novel Published in the UK After More Than 75 Years

Gamel Woolsey’s Patterns on the Sand (Sundial Press) is a richly sensuous work imbued with a deep nostalgia for the South Carolina homeland of her youth. Set in Charleston and the Low Country, this haunting tale of youthful love and youthful death revolves around the vague yearnings and sexual awakening of Sara Warren, an outsider in the privileged Old South world of her friend Elizabeth Gordon and brothers William and Rush. As the First World War rages in Europe, it is the aftermath of an earlier conflict closer to home that is still most keenly felt, in the depiction of social and moral convention and the acceptance of racial distinction. Into this beautifully evocative story Woolsey also skillfully weaves a mystery of murder, and unexpected affections.

Gamel Woolsey, poet and novelist, was born in Aiken, South Carolina. Her distinguished family included presidents of Yale and Johns Hopkins universities, while Susan Coolidge, author of What Katy Did, was her aunt, and her half-brother John M. Woolsey the judge who ruled that Joyce’s Ulysses was not obscene. In her early twenties she moved to New York to pursue her artistic ambitions. She married Reginald Hunter, a journalist, in 1923 but they separated a few years later. She then met the writer Llewelyn Powys and his wife Alyse Gregory, the start of an extraordinary triangular relationship that continued after Powys had returned to Dorset in his native England. Gamel followed in 1929, but the strength of passions among all three often proved traumatic, and she soon threw in her lot with the writer Gerald Brenan, moving to Spain in the early 1930s and escaping back to England when the Spanish Civil War broke out. In 1952 they returned to Spain, where Gamel died in early 1968. She is buried in the English cemetery at Málaga.

Only a few of Woolsey’s works were published in her lifetime, among them a collection of poems, Middle Earth (1931), and a haunting memoir of the Spanish Civil War, Death’s Other Kingdom (1939). Her first novel, One Way of Love, based on her early marriage, was withdrawn by the publisher shortly before its scheduled appearance in 1932 for fear of prosecution over its purported sexual content. Patterns on the Sand, which she wrote in the 1940s, Gamel herself despondently withdrew after her initial attempt to find a publisher had failed. But in the early 1980s several volumes of her poems were published in the United Kingdom, as well as her letters to Llewelyn. One Way of Love finally appeared in 1987 and Death’s Other Kingdom has been reissued several times (in the USA as Malaga Burning ~ her first work to appear in her own country). No tribute would have pleased Gamel Woolsey more than her induction in March 2011 into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Now, with this first ever publication of Patterns on the Sand, her ‘lost’ novel at last sees the light of day and a new readership can discover this elegant and sensitive writer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/max.ulea Max Ulea

    Gamel Woolsey, American poet and novelist,author of Patterns on the Sand is buried in the English cemetery at Málaga (Spain) ,next to her husband,the Hispanist Gerald Brenan , beneath a plain stone with a single line from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline: Fear no more the heat o’ the sun.
    See pic below

    Other notables buried in the Cemetery ( the Anglican Cemetery of Saint George, avenida de Pries 1,Malaga city, Spain) include:
    the Finnish author Aarne Haapakoski. and ,the Spanish ,poet
    Jorge Guillen : In 1976, he was awarded the Premio Cervantes (the most prestigious prize for Spanish-language writers), He died in Málaga in 1984 .
    See pic below

    Poema escrito por Jorge Guillén

    Queda curvo el firmamento,
    compacto azul, sobre el día.
    Es el redondamiento
    del esplendor: mediodía.
    Todo es cúpula. Reposa,
    central sin querer, la rosa,
    a un sol en cenit sujeta.
    Y tanto se da el presente
    que el pie caminante siente
    la integridad del planeta.