Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Remembrances: Rachel Bromwich

On 15 December 2010, our colleague, noted Celtic scholar Rachel Bromwich, passed away at her nursing home in Aberystwyth.  CSANA invites those who knew her to use this forum to share their remembrances of her life and career.  Please send them to this address.

From Elizabeth A. Gray:

Rachel Bromwich was a daunting person when I met her as a very junior Celticist—around her immense capacity and scope as a scholar I fell silent, although I’d very much have liked to know her better.  When ITS was in the process of publishing Cath Maige Tuired, the first (and second, and third) set of proofs were very problematic.  Eventually Rachel stepped in and took over finalizing the work herself, being geographically closer to the printer and vastly more experienced in these matters.  Along the way, when I sent her the results of my requests for a second proof, in something like desperation, it was in the days before electronic communication, and “snail mail” seemed very slow.   I worried that the material had been lost on the way to her, and followed up with a telegram.  She let me know quickly by airmail that telegrams were not appropriate—that for her generation, a telegram meant bad news, and I should simply have faith in the regular mails.  Her willingness to take on the task of cutting through that evergreen and flourishing thicket of printer’s errors meant a great deal.  Doughty is the word that comes to mind, and I cherish her kindness to a young scholar.

From Juliette Wood:

I can't remember exactly when I first met Rachel, probably as a student at Aberystwyth. Although one had the impression that she was personally somewhat shy, she was very encouraging about my own work and the role of folklore studies. I do remember some lovely chats at her home in Aber, once she retired, and some amusing anecdotes about getting the proofs ready for the re-edition of the Trioedd.

From John Bollard:

I first met Dr. Bromwich in 1968 when I was a graduate student on a visit to Cambridge.  A friend arranged for me to meet with her, and she invited me alone to afternoon tea.  Though I was awed simply by her presence, she quickly put me at ease as she helped me to think about my own future.  I met her rarely after that, but she was always very thoughtful and welcoming.  In just a few words she was able to suggest directions in which to explore or paths to avoid.  Two moments stand out in my memory as highly significant to me, though she may never have known.  At a talk I gave to the Cylch Trafod Rhyddiaith in Oxford some years ago, I suggested an extension of the implications of one of the Triads of the Island of Britain.  As I made my point I saw her head nod just once, slightly but approvingly.  She was present at another lecture I gave one summer in Aberystwyth.  Afterward as people were milling around, she came up to me, touched me on the shoulder, very quietly said, "Pwysig iawn," and slipped from the room.  To me these small gestures have served as major rewards which have sustained me and continue to remind me to take my own work and thinking seriously.  I suspect many of us who knew her either personally or through purely scholarly connections will have similar memories of one of the great Celtic scholars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  And we will all be supported by the foundations she laid for us for many years to come.

From Patrick K. Ford:

I believe that I first met Rachel Bromwich at a meeting of the British branch of the International Arthurian Society in Aberystwyth sometime in the early ‘70s.  My first impression of her was that she was stern and difficult to approach.  Of course I was familiar with (and awed by) her monumental Trioedd Ynys Prydein, which had been published in 1961 (and now, in its third edition, still one of the most indispensable works of scholarship for anyone working in early Welsh or Arthurian Studies), and many of her subsequent papers.  Her 1974 annotated bibliography of medieval Celtic literature (U. Toronto Press) demonstrates well the breadth and depth of her learning at that time.  I came to know her quite well in later years when she was retired and living in Aberystwyth, and I visited her in her flat a number of times.  She was always very genial on those occasions—there was always tea and cookies, and plenty of conversation about scholars and scholarship.  Like everyone else who knew her, I was saddened to see her memory begin to weaken.  After she was moved to the home, I visited her several times, once in her small room there—space only for a bed and a handful of books.  But she was still strong enough to carry on a conversation.  The last time I saw her and spoke with her was when she came to hear a paper I was giving at the Canolfan.  She rarely came out of the home by then, but she asked her long-time friend Morfydd Owen to bring her to the Canolfan so she could hear Patrick Ford’s paper.  It is the finest compliment I have ever had as a scholar or friend.  Rachel Bromwich will be remembered as one of the finest scholars of our discipline and a true friend to many.

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