In memoriam: Robin St. John Conover (1944 – 2008)

It’s her birthday today, so I thought I would say a few words about my first Internet friend, Robin St. John Conover. We met in an online Brontë forum. I was the amateur, just reading my way through all the sisters’ novels, not just the famous ones, and contemplating graduate school. She was the pro, working on her Ph.D., an analysis of Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia. Turned out she was also on the other side of the continent, studying at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

We hit it off, so our conversations gradually expanded to cover other topics in our lives. I was trying to cope with beginning graduate school in New York City. She was hunting for a son she’d given up for adoption years before. (She found him, which made her very happy.) We talked about politics, literature, and life. It was fun, the way I’ve always hoped the Internet could be.

I met her only once. Robin had been an “Ada” at Smith College, recipient of a special scholarship for “nontraditional” undergraduates, and wanted to attend her class reunion. But she had been cruelly felled by a stroke just after completing her dissertation. Managing such a trip would strain her resources in many ways. I was living in Amherst, only a few miles from Smith College, and offered to let her stay in our apartment while she attended the reunion. We didn’t get much chance to talk, but that was understood from the start: Robin needed to conserve her energies for the reunion. All I could really do, then, was to offer her a place to rest. And that she got.

Not long after, we somehow fell out of touch on the Internet. So it wasn’t until several years afterward that I discovered Robin had died, appropriately through an Internet search turning up her obituary. And I learned there was a lot about Robin I didn’t know but would like to have known. We hadn’t exhausted all the things we could have talked about. Isn’t that true for every friendship?

So here’s to the memory of my first Internet friend. I have no picture of you, Robin, so I’m going to post a picture of the person at the heart of your dissertation, instead.

Charlotte is usually identified as the sister on the right. (Anne to the left, Emily in the middle.)

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About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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