Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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BOSSE-GRIFFITHS, KATE (1910-1998), Egyptologist and author.

Kate Bosse-Griffiths was born in Wittenberg, Germany, on 16 July 1910, the second of four children of Paul Bosse (1881-1947), a doctor and head of Wittenberg town hospital, and his wife Käthe Bosse (née Levin, 1886-1944). Käthe Julia Gertrud Bosse was of Jewish descent through her mother, but was brought up a Lutheran. As Kate Bosse-Griffiths she made a unique contribution to twentieth-century Welsh literature by introducing modernist themes not discussed in Welsh previously. She is also remembered as an eminent Welsh Egyptologist.

Kate's interest in the classics was awakened by her education at Melanchthon School in Wittenberg, from where she went to study Archaeology and Egyptology at universities in Berlin, Bonn and Munich. In 1935 she was awarded a doctorate for a thesis on the human figure in late Egyptian sculpture, which was published in 1936. In the same year she was appointed to a post at Berlin State Museums. Berlin was ideal for an enthusiastic young Egyptologist, but for a woman of Jewish descent it was a very dangerous place to be in the late nineteen-thirties. In 1936, her father's contract with Wittenberg hospital was terminated, because his wife was Jewish and he refused to divorce her, and he opened his own clinic for pre-and postnatal care (which as the Klinik Bosse Wittenberg, is a memorial to him to this day). In 1944, his clinic was forcibly closed down, and Kate's mother and her two brothers removed to concentration camps. Her mother died in Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women north of Berlin, in 1944.

Kate Bosse-Griffiths escaped Nazi persecution in 1936. Her journey led her to Scotland, where she became assistant to the famous biologist, mathematician and classical scholar, Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, then to the Petrie Museum, London, and from there to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where she became a Senior Fellow of Somerville College. It was here that she met her husband, John Gwynedd Griffiths (1911-2004) who shared her interests in the Classics and in Egyptology. They were married in 1939, and moved to Pentre in the Rhondda Valley, where Gwyn had been appointed a teacher at Porth County School. Writers, poets and pacifists began to gather around them to form Cylch Cadwgan (the Cadogan Circle). Members of the group, like William Thomas (Pennar) Davies and Rhydwen Williams, must have been impressed by Kate, who brought an unfamiliarly open approach to their discussions and who was already mastering the Welsh language. Her continental, modernist background and her classical education, informed by the discussions and pacifist principles of the Cadogan Circle, soon expressed themselves in the poems, novels and short stories she composed in Welsh. She published a series of innovative poems and stories in the journal Heddiw in 1940 and 1941. Her first novel, Anesmwyth Hoen (Uneasy Passion), appeared in 1941, the collection of short stories Fy Chwaer Efa (My Sister Eva) in 1944, her second novel Mae'r Galon wrth y Llyw (The Heart is at the Wheel) in 1957, and the late short story collection Cariadau (Kinds of Love) in 1995. Her early work drew attention for its combination of a feminist approach with intense spirituality, and particularly for her frankness in discussing parts of women's lives still taboo in Welsh literature, such their sexuality, and related subjects like adultery and abortion. Anesmwyth Hoen won the Llyfrau'r Dryw competition in 1941, yet in his review E. Tegla Davies asked if the author could ‘moderate and economise upon those areas which could cause misunderstanding and pain’. In her more factual popular books, Mudiadau Heddwch yn yr Almaen (Peace Movements in Germany, 1943), Bwlch yn y Llen Haearn (A Gap in the Iron Curtain, 1951), and Trem ar Rwsia a Berlin (A Look at Russia and Berlin, 1962), she travelled in space and time to analyse her relationship with Germany and Eastern Europe, introducing these unfamiliar worlds to the Welsh reader. During the 1950s, she also contributed to early Welsh-language broadcasting with programmes on classical German works like Die Leiden des jungen Werther and Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grisha. Her interest in the in ancient religion and the supernatural led her to write a factual account of folk beliefs and medicines, which was published as Byd y Dyn Hysbys (The World of the Wizard) in 1977.

After a short period in Bala, where Kate and Gwyn, together with Rev. Euros Bowen and William Thomas (Pennar) Davies, co-founded the journal Y Fflam (The Flame), the couple moved to Swansea, where Gwyn had been appointed Lecturer in Classics and Egyptology in 1946. It was here that they raised their two sons, authors and publishers Robat Gruffudd (b. 1943) and Heini Gruffudd (b. 1946), while Kate was working as Honorary Curator of Archaeology at Swansea Museum. At the end of the nineteen-sixties the couple spent a year in Egypt, where Gwyn was visiting professor at Cairo University. Kate used the time to write a book that combined her knowledge of Egyptian history with a description of its modern society, Tywysennau o'r Aifft (Ears of Corn from Egypt), published in 1970.

In 1971, an opportunity to return to Egyptology arose when the greater part of the Wellcome Collection of artefacts from Egypt was offered to the Department of Classics of Swansea University College. The college accepted and Kate Bosse-Griffiths was appointed Curator of its Wellcome Museum. It was here that she spent the rest of her life, doing what she loved best: cataloging, organising and researching the collection of Egyptian artefacts. From 1972, articles based on the treasures in the collection began to appear in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, as well as in French and German journals and scholarly volumes. Illustrated catalogues by her, such as A Musician Meets Her Gods and Five Ways of Writing between 2000 BC and AD 200 explained different parts of the collections to the public. She had the pleasure, at the end of her career, of seeing the near completion of the Egypt Centre in the new Taliesin building of Swansea University. It opened in September 1998. A volume of collected essays, some of which had been published before, was published in 2004 as Teithiau'r Meddwl (Travels of the Mind).

Kate Bosse-Griffiths died in Swansea on 4 April 1998 and is buried at Morriston cemetery. Most of her manuscripts and her diaries remain in the family, but some manuscripts relating to her work for Welsh radio are held at the National Library of Wales.

Sources:

  • Private correspondence Marion Löffler and Robat Gruffudd, 1998; and John Gwyn Griffiths, 1999;
  • E. Tegla Davies, ‘Cystadleuaeth Nofel Fer Llyfrau'r Dryw’, Heddiw 7/2 (1942), 55-9;
  • J. Gwyn Griffiths, ‘Meibion Darogan: Pennar Davies a Chylch Cadwgan’, Heddiw , I Ganol y Frwydr. Efrydiau Llenyddol (1970), J. Gwyn Griffiths, pp. 214-22;
  • Heini Gruffudd, ‘Kate Bosse-Griffiths (1910-98)’ [obituary], Taliesin 102 (Haf 1998), 100-9;
  • Heini Gruffudd, Yr Erlid. Hanes Kate Bosse-Griffiths a'i theulu yn yr Almaen a Chymru adeg yr Ail Ryfel Byd (2012);
  • Heini Gruffudd, A Haven from Hitler (2014);
  • Bethan Eleri Hicks, ‘Astudiaeth o Yrfa Lenyddol Kate Bosse-Griffiths’, Traethawd MA Prifysgol Cymru Abertawe, 2001;
  • Alan B. Lloyd, 'Kate Bosse-Griffiths’ [obituary], The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 84 (1998), 191-3;
  • Marion Löffler, ‘Olion yr Ugeinfed Ganrif’ [obituary], Barn 424 (Mai 1998), 36-7;
  • Marion Löffler, ‘A Tribute to ‘Dr. Kate’’ [obituary], Minerva . The Journal of Swansea History VII (1999), 4-7;
  • Marion Löffler, ‘Kate Bosse-Griffiths (1910-1998)’, Bernhard Maier and Stefan Zimmer (eds), 150 Jahre ‘Mabinogion’-Deutsch-Walisische Kulturbeziehungen (2001), pp. 165-83 [in English];
  • Meic Stephens, ‘Kate Bosse-Griffiths’ [obituary], The Independent , 16 April 1998;
  • Rhydwen Williams, ‘Yn Cofio Cylch Cadwgan’, Barddas 60 (Chwefror 1982), 6-8.

Author:

Marion Löffler, Aberystwyth

Published date: 2016