Death’s Other Kingdom

Gamel Woolsey


Death’s Other Kingdom

Gamel Woolsey


As Malaga goes up in flames in 1936 and the civil war begins its monstrous destruction, Gamel Woolsey, an American poet married to Gerald Brennan, watches fear stalk through a traditional Spanish village. The villagers, wishing simply to be left to cultivate their cabbages, are caught in a cycle of violence which provokes hatred, anger and a thirst for revenge in even the most peaceful of souls.

This humane and sympathetic account puts the people of Spain first, whatever their political persuasion, and gives a gripping and harrowing account of the emotional effects of war in general, and of civil war in particular.

With an afterword by Michael Jacobs.

‘A beautiful and moving book.’ - Times Literary Supplement
‘A gem.’ - Herald Tribune
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Death’s Other Kingdom: A Spanish Village on the Eve of the Civil War
Gamel Woolsey
ISBN: 978-0907871-19-4
Format: 160pp demi pb

Author Biography

Gamel Woolsey, poet and novelist, was born in 1895 in Aiken, South Carolina, Elizabeth (Elsa) Gammell Woolsey, but in later years took her middle name which she shortened to "Gamel" (a Norse word meaning "old"). Her father was a plantation farmer whose family had influence in the law, the church and education. After her father’s death in 1910 they moved to Charleston, where she went to day school. Despite weak health following an attack of tuberculosis in 1915, she left home for New York in about 1921, hoping to be an actress or a writer. Her first known published poem appeared in the New York Evening Post in 1922. The following year she met and married Rex Hunter, a writer and journalist from New Zealand, but they separated after four years. In 1927, while living in Patchin Place, Greenwhich Village, she met the writer John Cowper Powys and, through him, his brother Llewelyn and Llewelyn’s wife Alyse Gregory. She and Alyse became friends for life, while with Llewelyn she had a passionate and painful love affair.

She left New York for England in 1929, settling in Dorset to be near Llewelyn, where she came to know the whole Powys family and their circle. Parting from Llewelyn in 1930, she married the historian and writer Gerald Brenan in a private ceremony, and they lived together, mainly in Spain, until her death. In 1933 she began an enduring friendship with Bertrand Russell, who wanted to marry her.

Gamel Woolsey, primarily a poet, published very little in her lifetime: Middle Earth, a collection of 36 poems, came out in 1931, Death’s Other Kingdom in 1939 and Spanish Fairy Stories in 1944. Her Collected Poems have been published since her death. Patterns on the Sand (unpublished) recalls her South Carolina childhood; One Way of Love, accepted by Gollancz in 1930 but suppressed at the last minute because of its sexual explicitness, was published by Virago in 1987. Gamel Woolsey died in Spain in 1968 of cancer.

Extract from Chapter One

IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DAY of the summer – in all the rummage box of time there could hardly have been found a more beautiful day. The sky at dawn was cloudless and the ‘pink band’ of the tropics, the band of rosy light which ascends the sky from the horizon at twilight, rose to the zenith and faded into the growing light. Then the sun rose suddenly with a leap into the air: the long hot southern day had begun.

Enrique, our gardener, was already at work irrigating the tomatoes. As soon as the disc of the sun appeared, he stooped to tie up a straying tomato plant and went to shut off the water at the cistern. Then, without a moment’s rest, he began to dig up the caked earth around the roots of the rose bushes; for the garden was his pride and his joy.

Va a hacer calor hoy!’ he said, wiping his forehead. ‘Today it’s going to be hot!’ I saw him still working as I stood in my bathing-suit looking down from the landing, too late as usual to bathe in the cistern, for Enrique always would irrigate before dawn – he said the morning sun burned the wet leaves. So we could only take a shower-bath in the fountain, deliciously cold and shivery under the thin spray of cold water from the sierra.

I always loved waking in Spain. The sun fell in stripes from the slatted shutters on to the red and white diamonded tiles of the floor. Noises from the street below floated up; the pattering feet of the milk goats sounded like rain drops, and their plaintive Maaaaaaaaa trembled up, while they were being milked into our milk cans. A melancholy call ‘Pescao – de – lo – bueno –’ came up from the fish sellers, their hampers full of fresh fish just coming up from the sea on their lean donkeys. Another came crying the inevitable ‘Hay sardinas – y – boqueronis –’ the food of the poor, the cheapest of fishes.

More street cries ‘Hay uvas frescas y gordas –’ ‘grapes fresh and plump –’. ‘Tomates y pimientos gordos –’ ‘tomatoes and big pimentos’. Melons, lettuces, plums, squashes, peaches and pumpkins were passing, a perfect harvest festival going by on donkeys. All the delicious fruits of the rich vega of Malaga. From time to time we could hear Maria, our cook-housekeeper, bargaining, raising her voice in horror because melons were a farthing more today. But really we hardly bought anything in the way of fruit or vegetables, for Enrique’s pride was to produce more of everything than we could possibly eat and give the 

superabundance to our neighbours who had no gardens.

We ate breakfast as usual in the garden by the fountain. The late summer flowers were ablaze, enormous dahlias like bursting rockets, and beds of zinnias in all the colours of a pastel rainbow, and twice as big as English ones, beds of odd crimson cockscombs, beds of everlastings, beds of brown and yellow daisies, big sunflowers against the garden wall. They were all rich warm colours, all overblowing as if ripe for a harvest of flowers. Far away we could hear the sound of mules galloping around the threshing floor over a carpet of golden corn: later in the evening when the levante rose they would winnow the grain with winnowing fans.

That day lunch was rather a fiesta for we had little red salmonetes, the most delicious of all the Mediterranean fish, butvery dear – Maria groaned for they cost eightpence a pound. After these came the freshest of lettuces just picked in the garden and Enrique’s ripe red tomatoes. There was the wine of the country, a very good white wine, and the marvellous Spanish country bread, firm in texture and tasting of ripe wheat; and of course to end with great bowls of fruit, grapes and peaches and melons. I do not know why I should remember this so well except that it was the last day we ever had like that.

The heat in the afternoon was intense, but it was a lovely wide sunny heat spread from horizon to horizon under the blue cloudless sky. We had no one staying with us, and it was nice to be alone again, for we had had visitors all spring. So many of our friends had come out to see our newly bought farmhouse where we hoped to live cheaply and at peace on the produce of our own gardens and orchards, far from the troubles of Europe in this remote Iberia where nothing ever changed.

It was lovely to have nothing in the world to do, and simply bask in the day like lizards in the shade of the high white garden wall. The house itself was a rough two-story farmhouse, probably very old. The walls were four feet thick, built of stone and rubble and plastered outside and in. They insulated us from heat in the summer – I cannot say from cold in the winter, for the pure white walls (with occasional splashes of bright colour from old glass pictures of the saints, and shelves of old Spanish pottery) and the smooth diamond tiles under foot, looked and were singularly chilly on a wet dark day in winter. Then the only warm place was the inside of a huge old fireplace in which we sat. But in hot weather nothing is so lovely as a big Andalucian house, gay with 

bright flowers, fresh, immaculate and cool in any weather.

Before tea that day we bathed in the irrigation cistern which had filled again: it was just long enough for four strokes, and the fresh mountain water always running was cold and crystal clear. We looked at the sea as we stood on the balcony after dressing and longed to be swimming in it, but it was much too far away to walk to in such heat, though the Mediterranean looked more lovely, more classical than ever. It was blue and still as a lake, and along the shore with its lace edging of foam the little fishing boats were sailing home, distant tiny white-sailed butterfly boats, sailing through this still fixed classical beauty – Ulysses returning – the Argonauts sailing home with the golden fleece.

We sat in the patio for tea by the fountain in the shade of the house. As we sat drinking our tea, but eating nothing, for food and tea never seem to go together in Spain in summer, the servants gathered round and stood leaning on the fountain and the cistern talking to us like retainers in a Shakespearian play. As they arrived we asked them to join us in eating ‘Quieren ustedes comer?’ ‘Gracias, que se sientan bien.’ They politely refused. ‘Thank you, may it do you good,’ with the beautiful manners of Spain where even a beggar by the road eating dry bread offers it courteously to the rich passer-by and is as courteously refused.

‘Is there any news?’ we asked Enrique, who had been to visit a gardener friend. ‘Very little,’ he said. ‘The workers in the Oxide of Iron factory who struck and got twelve pesetas a day last month, are now striking for fifteen. It is too much – who can pay fifteen pesetas a day!’

It was a fabulous sum to Enrique who had earned three pesetas a day in the Alpujarras when he was lucky enough to be working at all, and now lived comfortably and put by money on the 120 pesetas a month he got from us. Of course he had his cottage and his electric light free, and all the vegetables and fruit he could eat from the garden.

He was twenty-five and still a bachelor – Maria our cook-housekeeper was his mother and lived with him in the gardener’s cottage. Her daughter Pilar, a melancholy widow, lived in our house with her ugly little girl and did most of the work. Gerald, my husband, had brought them from the Alpujarras and they were devoted to him. Maria’s father had been gardener to an uncle of his who had a house in the Sierra Nevada back of Granada where we had often stayed with him.