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 With an Introduction by BARBARA OZIEBLO

A 'beautifully evocative story' - Gamel Woolsey's second, previously unpublished novel.

gamel woolsey, patterns on the sand, barbara ozieblo, south carolina, gerald brenan, sundial press, east chaldon, chaldon herringPatterns on the Sand is Gamel Woolsey’s ‘long-lost’ second novel. Written in England during the 1940s, it is a tale of youthful love set in Charleston and the South Carolina Low Country of Woolsey’s youth. It centres on the vague yearnings and sexual awakening of her main protagonist Sara, an outsider in the privileged Old South world of her friend Elizabeth Gordon and her brothers Rush and William. But Woolsey also skillfully weaves a murder mystery and an unexpected denouement into this beautifully evocative story.

‘Woolsey’s narrative voice is laconic in its description of the young women’s vapid lives and in its suggestion of stereotypical southern languor, while the imagery, drawn from nature, gives the text a rich, sensual colourfulness.’ So writes Professor Barbara Ozieblo, who unearthed the work from the archives at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at Austin, Texas , in her informative introduction to the published volume. ‘It is also a novel which shows how difficult it is to escape from the constrictions imposed by society and how the past, although it has to be acknowledged, must also be surpassed.’

Woolsey tried to get Patterns of the Sand published in 1947 but after its initial rejection despondently withdrew it and it has essentially remained gathering dust every since. Neither of her two novels nor most of her poetry was published in her lifetime. It would, therefore, doubtless have pleased Gamel greatly to know that on March 18 2011 her achievements were recognized in her home state when she was posthumously inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. 


Price: £14.50   Hardback   ISBN-13: 978-1-908274-13-7  Book Dimensions: 210 × 148 mm   Publication Date: 24 September 2012

Paperback edition now in stock and available to order direct from The Sundial Press (see below).

Big breakers were rolling in, with white foam creaming at their green-glass edges, monotonously falling and receding, printing for a moment their intricate foam patterns on the sand. Hordes of tiny fiddler crabs skittered away backwards in front of the intruders, absurdly threatening them with inch-long claws before disappearing down their minute holes. Here and there flat sea-biscuits starred the beach among conch and cockle shells and little transparent ones like scraps of Venetian glass.

  Sara wanted to linger and gather these remembered childhood treasures, but they were all unconsciously hurrying towards the sea. Once she did pause for a moment and leaned down to pick up the first bit of coral she had seen, but she started back for just beyond it lay a huge horseshoe crab, its dark shield-shaped shell like a piece of abandoned armour."

From Chapter Two


gamel woolsey, patterns on the sand, barbara ozieblo, the sundial press, east chaldon, aiken, south carolina

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O Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun,

There are battles with Fate that can never be won!

gamel woolsey, patterns on the sand, barbara ozieblo, the sundial press, east chaldon, aiken, south carolina

"In Patterns on the Sand, Elisabeth Gordon, the representative of the Old American South in the novel, softly recites these two lines by the Unionist poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, doing so with barely a trace of bitterness. It is one of many poignant moments where Gamel Woolsey, whose second novel is here at last published for the first time, conveys her recognition that myths of grandeur and memories of defeat cannot sustain the present and that desire, illness, death, war – or simply inescapable fate – control our lives. Just as the War Between the States had to be fought, but could never have been won by the Seces­sionists, so we all, Woolsey tells us, have to fight our own losing battles.

From the Introduction by Barbara Ozieblo
The manuscript of Patterns on the Sand was discovered by Barbara Ozieblo in the Kenneth Hopkins Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, during her time there as a Visiting Research Fellow in 2000.

BARBARA OZIEBLO teaches American Literature at the University of Málaga, Spain. She is the author of Susan Glaspell: A Critical Biography (2000) .

* * * * *

During the years Gamel Woolsey and Gerald Brenan spent in England, before returning to Spain in 1952, Woolsey wrote a second novel, Patterns in the Sand, which, until now, has never been published. Here, she evokes the Charleston she had known as an adolescent, its pseudo-aristocratic mores which stifled all women’s ambitions and desires and made their days melt into one continuous session of waiting for something to happen behind drawn curtains, sheltered from the musty, cloying heat and from the busy, exciting life that men lead in the public sphere. When something does happen to Sara Warren it is the only thing that can happen to a woman in such circumstances: she falls in love and learns the pleasures of the body — and the perils of pleasure. Not directly based on Woolsey’s life, this short novel is more tightly structured than its predecessor, One Way of Love, and more moving. gamel woolsey, patterns on the sand, sundial press,charleston

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… written by a long-lost Bronte sister.”

One of the joys of going into a used bookstore is the possibility of finding some rare, forgotten treasure.  If you’re a bibliophile, like I am, you know the feeling I’m talking about: the excitement of taking something possibly magical home, the deep, satisfying joy of finishing that book, knowing that you’re maybe the first person in a long time to feel that deep, satisfying joy.
And that’s how Gamel Woolsey’s Patterns on the Sand felt.
Woolsey is a largely forgotten writer, and this is her lost novel.  A daughter of early 20th century Charleston society, she was part of America’s “Lost Generation” of expats living in Europe.  She witnessed the Spanish Civil War and was possibly Betrand Russell’s lover.  And she wrote poetry, and memoir, and fiction—including this gorgeous novel that went unpublished during her lifetime, seeing print for the first time only in late 2012.  And how lucky we are for this, as this novel begins so simply, so unpretentiously, and unfolds like something written not by a forgotten 20th century Southern writer, but like a novel of the South Carolina Lowcountry written by a long-lost Bronte sister.
Maybe I write in hyperbole here; certainly, it’s not Jane Eyre (but what is?).  But Patterns on the Sand is an incredibly lovely book, written in sparse, dreamy prose, with a plot that moves along so smoothly, so perfectly, you can’t help but continue reading, can’t help but be hypnotized by its beauty.  I read it in a sitting.  And then I read it again a few days later.  It is just that kind of book.
Patterns is the story of Sara Warren.  Sara is not wealthy, she is not poor.  “Middle-class” perhaps does not explain it, as her family are not tradesmen.  Rather, she is a member of that loneliest class of people—and that class that no longer exists—those who float on the periphery of high society, unable to associate with those in the classes below, but not with enough wealth or connections to exist comfortably within capital-S Society.  Yet, even though she can never be a full part of it, Sara exists in Charleston Society, alongside her comfortably-Society friend Elizabeth Gordon, and Elizabeth’s brothers, William and Rush.  And early on, this seems like little more than a novel of Pretty Young Things going to parties, involving themselves in romantic escapades and the intrigue of snubbing and being snubbed, things that are pretty to read but feel, largely, empty.
But that never feels like the whole story.  The Great War is still across the Atlantic, but on the minds of everyone.  There’s a darkness, a sadness underneath the surface that points to this not being an empty novel, but something more sober, more reflective, more contemplative, more meaningful.  And as Sara’s friendships and romances continue to develop throughout the novel, you start to find the meaning, and begin to recognize Woolsey’s great talent.  A conversation on an empty beach is one of the more gorgeous and romantic bits of dialogue you’ll read.  A flirtation in the haze of a Charleston night is chastely erotic in a way that suggests an odd marriage of James and Lawrence.  An unexpected tragedy late in the novel is a confusing, heartbreaking occurrence that leaves you gobsmacked.  You’ve been reading for five hours; the empty novel of parties and Pretty Young Things has unassumingly, subtly turned into something much more.  And you don’t know how it happened; but you feel so bloody lucky you were there to witness it.  And you tell a friend about this book, and you re-read it, and you pass it along to someone else.
Woolsey never gives us a simple conclusion to Sara understanding who she is, how she fits into a world she can’t help but be a part of, but to which she can never belong.  Woolsey never mourns the Lowcountry world that, like elite Society all about the West, is being dismantled by the Great War.  Rather, what she gives us is a wonderful evocation of a time and place, a social group, a single, intriguing, and interesting woman who lives through all of this.  It is a very good thing Patterns on the Sand has finally found publication; it is a beautiful, and too-long-forgotten romantic novel.

Reviewed by Matthew Simmons

The Southern Literary Review
Southern Literary Review

 19 July 2013 No 8755

Patterns on the Sand was completed in the 1940s but has only now found a publisher. It is a period piece in more ways than one. Written in England but set in Gamel Woolsey's native South Carolina in the 1910s, it depicts the social conventions of early twentieth-century Charleston and reveals a pervasive yearning for the "old days" before the Civil War.

… an intrinsically nos­talgic piece of writing: a loving recreation of a world already homesick for its own past. Woolsey's writing displays its own Southern charm chiefly through lyrical descriptions of the South Carolina landscape, seasons and flavours. She tells of the mist that makes "hori­zons in the South seem further away": her novel reproduces that experience, blurring our sense of destination and time as it carries us into the past on an irresistible emotional tide.” Lucy Carlyle


A Sonnet by Gamel Woolsey
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