Gamel Woolsey

Gamel Woolsey (born Elizabeth Gammell Woolsey; May 28, 1897 – January 18, 1968)[1] was an American poet, novelist and translator.

Early life and educationEdit

Woolsey was born on the Breeze Hill plantation in Aiken, South Carolina, as Elizabeth ("Elsa") Gammell Woolsey. In later years she took her middle name which she shortened to "Gamel", a Norse word meaning "old". Her father was planter William Walton Woolsey (1842–1909). Woolsey was a descendant of George (Joris) Woolsey, one of the earliest settlers of New Amsterdam, and Thomas Cornell (settler)[2]

The Woolsey branch of the New England Dwight family had influence in the law, the church and education.[3] Gamel's aunt, Sarah Chauncey Woolsey – better known by her pen name, Susan Coolidge – wrote the popular Katy series and other children's fiction. Gamel's half-brother John M. Woolsey was the judge who ruled that James Joyce's Ulysses was not obscene.

After the death of her father the family moved to Charleston, where Gamel went to day school.

("Perhaps one day it will be a pleasure to remember even this...")
Why should you feel remorse, regret,
For what was beautiful to me,
As uncommanded as the sea?
The winds blew and the waters sang
All summer: now that summer's done
I can remember still the sun
That lay upon the mountain grass,
And all the beauty that there was -
Only remember what was fair,
And what was wild and innocent;
The rest is blown upon the air.

Literary careerEdit

Despite weak health following an attack of tuberculosis in 1915, Woolsey left home for New York City in 1921, hoping to be an actress or a writer. Her first known published poem appeared in the New York Evening Post in 1922.[4] The following year she met and married Rex Hunter, a writer and journalist from New Zealand. They separated after four years.

In 1927, while living in Patchin Place, Greenwich Village, she met the British writer John Cowper Powys and through him his brother Llewelyn and Llewelyn's wife, Alyse Gregory. Llewelyn and Woolsey had a passionate and painful love affair, but Woolsey and Alyse became friends for life.[5]

She left New York for England in 1928, settling in Dorset to be near Llewelyn, where she came to know the whole Powys family and their circle. She parted from Llewelyn in 1930. In 1933, she began an enduring friendship with the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Shortly thereafter she met the writer Gerald Brenan. They moved to Churriana, a village near Málaga, just before the Spanish Civil War broke out, staying on in Spain until the city was occupied by Italian forces sent by Mussolini to support the fascist rebels. They befriended the 72 year old zoologist, Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell and, like Sir Peter, they provided safe haven to a right-wing sympathiser (in their case a member of the aristocratic Larios family) despite objecting to his political views. This interlude is documented in Sir Peter’s memoir, My House in Málaga,[6] and also in Woolsey’s memoir, Death’s Other Kingdom. The couple then returned to England and for many years afterwards they lived in Aldbourne in Wiltshire. They returned to Spain in 1953.[7]

Neither of Woolsey's novels were published in her lifetime. In 1931 Middle Earth, a collection of 36 poems came out, and in 1939 she published Death's Other Kingdom, an account of her experiences during the first few months of the Spanish Civil War. She translated two books from Spanish to English - Spanish Fairy Stories (1944), and The Spendthrifts (1951), a translation of La de Bringas by Galdos which sold 70,000 copies. Her science fiction short story, The Star of Double Darkness was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1955. It can be read on page 145 of the Powys journal (volume viii).[8]

She died in Spain in 1968 of cancer, and is buried in the English Cemetery, Malaga.[9]

One Way of Love, accepted by Gollancz in 1931, but suppressed at the last minute because it was considered too sexually explicit, was published by Virago Press in 1987. Death's Other Kingdom was re-released as Malaga Burning in 1998 by Pythia Press,[10] and is now available on e-readers and in paperback under its original title. Patterns on the Sand, which recalls Woolsey's South Carolina childhood, was published by The Sundial Press in 2012. Various volumes of poetry, including her Collected Poems, have also been published posthumously.::

A fuller record of Woolsey's life is contained in the e-reader version of Death's Other Kingdom. Gerald Brenan's account of their life together is published in his Personal Record.

When I am dead and laid at last to rest,
Let them not bury me in holy ground -
To lie the shipwrecked sailor cast ashore -
But give the corpse to fire, to flood, to air,
The elements that may the flesh transform
To soar with birds, to float where fishes are,
To rise in smoke, shine in a leaping flame -
To be in freedom lost in nothingness,
Not garnered in the grave, hoarded by death.
What is remembrance that we crave for it?
Let me be nothing then, not face nor name;
As on the seagull wings where bright seas pour,
As air that quickens at the opened door:
When I am dead let me be nothing more.

In popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ Chaplow, Chris; Lowry, Robina (Nov 25, 2011). "Malaga City - English Cemetery Residents". Retrieved Aug 3, 2020.
  2. ^ Cornell, Thomas Clapp Adam and Anne Mott: their ancestors and their descendants. A.V. Haight, 1890 Retrieved November 10, 2013
  3. ^ Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight (1874). The history of the descendants of John Dwight, of Dedham, Mass. 1. J. F. Trow & son, printers and bookbinders. p. 288.
  4. ^ Hopkins, Kenneth. "Bertrand Russell and Gamel Woolsey".
  5. ^ Kenneth Hopkins (Summer 1985). "Bertrand Russell and Gamel Woolsey". Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies. McMaster University: 50–58.
  6. ^ My House in Málaga. Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, Faber & Faber, London, 1938. Republished 2019, The Clapton Press, London.
  7. ^ The Queen of Spain's Literary Past The Olive Press, October 15, 2007. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
  8. ^ "THE POWYS JOURNAL Volume VIII". Issuu. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  9. ^ "Gamel Woolsey". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  10. ^ "GAMEL WOOLSEY: Eyewitness to the Spanish Civil War". Retrieved Aug 3, 2020.

External linksEdit

  • Eland Books Specialists in travel literature and publishers of Death's Other Kingdom