Gamel Woolsey (née Elizabeth Gammell Woolsey, May 28, 1897 – January 18, 1968) was an American writer.
She was the daughter of a cotton plantation owner and a Charleston socialite, and spent her childhood on the Breeze Hill plantation in Aiken, South Carolina. Susan Coolidge (pen name of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, who wrote the popular Katy series) was Gamel’s aunt.
When Gamel’s father died of tuberculosis, in 1910, the family moved to Charleston, where she attended Ashley Hall, a day school for girls. She led the editorial staff of the school literary magazine. At 20, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and spent the following year confined in a sanatorium.
In 1921, she left home for New York City, where she settled in Greenwich Village, and pursued a career as a poet. Her first known published poem appeared in the New York Evening Post in 1922. She started using her middle name, shortened to “Gamel”, a Norse word which means “old”.
In 1923, she married journalist Rex Hunter, but they separated after four years. In 1927, she met the British writer John Cowper Powys and his brother Llewelyn, with whom she had a love affair (he was married at the time to American writer Alyse Gregory). In 1928, she moved to England, to be near him, but they separated two years later, in 1930. In 1933, she became friends (and possibly had a love affair) with the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
Around 1930, she met the writer Gerald Brenan. He had just led a disastrous love affair with the painter Dora Carrington (who was then the wife of his friend, Ralph Partridge). In a letter to Powys, Woolsey wrote: “I am very fond of Gerald, but it has nothing to do with what I feel for you. We meet in some part of the mind where other people never come.”
Gamel and Gerald moved together to Málaga, where they lived through the Spanish Civil War. The couple then returned to England, where they lived until 1953, when they then returned to Spain. Gamel lived in Andalusia until her death in 1968. She never had children and underwent abortions and miscarriages. Gamel and Gerald stayed together until her death, for nearly 40 years.
In 1931, she published Middle Earth, a collection of 36 poems. In 1939, she published Death’s Other Kingdom, a memoir of her experiences during the Spanish Civil War. She translated two books to English: Spanish Fairy Tales (1944); and The Spendthrifts (1951, La de Bringas by Galdos). In 1955, she published a science fiction short story, The Star of Double Darkness, in the Saturday Evening Post.
Gamel also wrote two novels which were not published in her lifetime. One Way of Love, written in 1931-32, was ready for publication, when, following the prosecution of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), the publisher decided to suppress Gamel’s novel at the last moment, due to its sexual content. The novel was posthumously published by Virago Press in 1987 (bless Virago for that). The novel Patterns on the Sand, written in 1947 but rejected by her publisher at the time, came out in 2012 by The Sundial Press. Gamel’s Collected Poems have also been published posthumously.
She died of breast cancer in Spain in 1968.
- Middle Earth (1931, poetry)
- Death’s Other Kingdom (memoir, 1939)
- Also published as Malaga Burning (1998)
- Spanish Fairy Tales (1944)
- So wild a thing: letters to Gamel Woolsey by Llewelyn Powys (1973)
- Twenty-Eight Sonnets (poems, 1977)
- The Last Leaf Falls (poems, 1978)
- The Search for Demeter (poems, 1980)
- The Weight of Human Hours (poems, 1980)
- The letters of Gamel Woolsey to Llewelyn Powys, 1930-1939, edited by Kenneth Hopkins (1983)
- Collected Poems (1984)
- One Way of Love (novel written in 1931-32, published in 1987)
- Patterns on the Sand (novel written in 1947, published in 2012)
- Al sur de Granada (2003, IMDb), written and directed by Fernando Colomo
- Bertrand Russell and Gamel Woolsey, by Kenneth Hopkins (1985)