Obituary: Kate Bosse-Griffiths

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The Independent Online
THE LITERATURE and culture of Wales have been enriched by many people born beyond its borders but few have made a contribution as distinguished as that of Kate Bosse-Griffiths. She not only learnt Welsh but made it the language of her home and wrote extensively in it on topics not usually treated by writers for whom it is the mother-tongue.

Born in Wittenberg-am-Elbe, Luther's town, a little to the north of Leipzig in what was to become East Germany, Kathe Bosse was of partly Jewish parentage but grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church and in a family noted for its high culture and liberal views; her father was an eminent gynaecologist.

After receiving her secondary education at the local Gymnasium and studying at the University of Munich, where she took a doctorate in Classics and Egyptology in 1935, she joined the staff of the Egyptology and Archaeology Department in the Berlin State Museums but was dismissed when it was discovered that her mother was a Jew.

She arrived in Britain in 1936 and found research posts in Egyptology, first at the Petrie Museum at University College London, and later at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It was in Oxford, where she was a senior member of Somerville College, that she met the Welsh scholar J. Gwyn Griffiths.

Their home at Pentre in the Rhondda Valley became the meeting place of the Cadwgan Circle of writers who included Pennar Davies, later Principal of the Independents' Theological College in Swansea, and Rhydwen Williams, the poet and broadcaster. It was largely the initiative of Bosse-Griffiths who brought a European perspective to its discussions of literature, politics, religion and Welsh society.

The war years were a dark time for her: her mother was to die in the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck; her doctor brother eventually escaped to Sweden. After the war, her husband joined the staff of the Classics Department at the University College, Swansea, where he was to remain for the rest of his career; he is now Professor Emeritus of Classics and Egyptology. Their home in the Sketty district of Swansea again became a meeting place for writers and political activists.

Bosse-Griffiths was as distinguished as her husband (who is also a poet and literary critic in Welsh) in her chosen field. For more than 25 years she was Keeper of Archaeology at Swansea Museum, where she gave special attention to the pre-historic and Roman collections and published a booklet, Twenty Thousand Years of Local History. In 1971 she was appointed Honorary Curator of the Wellcome Museum, formerly in the Department of Classics and Ancient History and now in the Egypt Centre at the University of Wales, Swansea, which is to be officially opened later this year.

It was Bosse-Griffiths who arranged for part of the Egyptian Collection made by Sir Henry Wellcome, the pharmaceutics millionaire, to be taken out of storage and rehoused at Swansea in 1971; she also compiled a catalogue of the 5,000 objects held there. The collection's centrepiece is the magnificently painted wooden coffin of Iw-s-hesw-mwt, a female musician of the 21st Dynasty, which the university acquired from the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter. She also tracked down, in the British Museum and the Brooklyn Museum respectively, a shabti figure and the musician's Book of the Dead from the Amun-ra temple at Karnak. Among her specialist publications are studies of the coffin, Egyptian amulets and ancient writing, articles in learned journals such as the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology and her book Tywysennau o'r Aifft ("Ears of Corn from Egypt", 1970).

She began writing in Welsh as early as 1942, starting with Mudiadau Heddwch yn yr Almaen ("Peace Movements in Germany", 1943). It was followed in 1951 by Bwlch yn y Llen Haiarn ("A Gap in the Iron Curtain"), which addressed the question of a united Germany at the height of the Cold War, and a travel book, Trem a Rwsia a Berlin ("A Glimpse at Russia and Berlin", 1962), in which she gave her clear-eyed impressions of the Soviet Union and her native country. Although of left-wing sympathies, she was highly critical of Stalinism and the Communist regime in East Germany.

Her main contribution to Welsh letters was her two novels, Anesmwyth Hoen ("Uneasy Colour", 1941) and Mae'r Calon wrth y Llyw ("The Harp is at the Wheel", 1957), and her two collections of short stories, Fy Chwaer Efa ("My Sister Eva", 1944) and Cariadau ("Loves" 1995), published in her 85th year. All her fiction is cosmopolitan in its attitudes and subject- matter, and refreshingly libertarian about sexual matters, although she did not consider herself a feminist. One of her last books was a study of witchcraft and folk-medicine, Byd y Dyn Hysbys ("The World of the Wizard", 1977).

Although formidably rigorous and perfectly capable of holding a conversation on the most erudite subjects in her adopted language, Kate Bosse-Griffiths was a woman of vivacious personality and genial disposition who shared her husband's commitment to the cause of Plaid Cymru and was a staunch worker for the party at a local level. Both their sons, Robat and Heini Gruffudd, are notable prose-writers in Welsh; one is a leading publisher of Welsh books and the other a tutor in the Department of Continuing Adult Education at the University of Swansea.

Kathe Bosse, Egyptologist and writer: born Wittenberg-am-Elbe, Germany 16 July 1910; married 1939 J. Gwyn Griffiths (two sons); died Swansea 4 April 1998.