Brenda Moon is dead
Brenda Moon is dead. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bereft at the loss of a stranger as when I flipped casually through the latest issue of The Book Collector and unsuspectingly tripped over the obituary for one Brenda Moon. I read the words and thought, Brenda Moon is dead even without processing what that really meant. I couldn’t believe it. After years of futilely searching for her and academically aching to know who this mysterious kindred spirit was, it all ended in the middle of a class dealing with examples of bibliographic journals when The Book Collector was flippantly tossed at me by the tutor. And there Brenda Moon was. Dead. Search over.
Brenda Moon and I have a long history for two complete strangers who know nothing about each other. I discovered Brenda Moon during my undergraduate career spent working on Amelia Edwards’ A Thousand Miles up the Nile. Brenda Moon had written one of only two available biographies of Amelia Edwards—in fact, the only two secondary sources about her at all, biographical or otherwise—and my little Edwards-loving heart beat afresh at the discovery of someone who was clearly a kindred academic spirit.
But who was Brenda Moon? I assumed she was a professor somewhere, ideally still currently working on Edwards, and idealistically dreamed that we could come some kind of academic penpals, swapping new-found tidbits about Edwards and mutually enjoying the inky company of someone else who loved Edwards’s work.
These assumptions were all well and good, but a cursory internet search revealed no such reality. Brenda Moon was clearly not a professor anywhere, nor had she been since the late 1990s when most universities uploaded their faculty directories and helpfully listed professors emerita.
So Brenda Moon wasn’t a professor. Then why else would she write a book on a relatively obscure nineteenth century woman? Professors were constantly doing such things, but the idea that some random citizen would do so seemed a bit of a stretch. I assumed that random citizens, like me, were far more content to enjoy their pet-project from an armchair, fondly thinking on their subject without ever feeling the compunction to publish. But Brenda Moon was published. She was legit. But still the question remained: who the devil was she and how could I get in touch?
My quest to discover Brenda Moon continued with equal fervor throughout my senior year of college and sporadically thereafter. After I had firmly decided against a career in academia, Brenda Moon seemed even more interesting and I wanted to contact her even more. Here we were, two women interested in Amelia Edwards (more than merely “interested,” surely) and neither of us affiliated with any university. What did Brenda Moon do for a living, I wondered. Could I do it, too?
As the years went on, my search became more random and lackadaisical. It was a trudge towards the apparently impossible dream of discovering who Brenda Moon was. I thought she might have been in Scotland at one point, maybe involved with a library there, but couldn’t be sure. And that was all I managed to come up with. Brenda Moon did not publish again, on Edwards or any other subject, and she remained a mysterious catalogue entry with no further entries.
So Brenda Moon faded from my immediate mind and into my collegiate past. I bought her book on Edwards (naturally), but that didn’t provide any clues. Cut to this week, in an airless classroom on the ground floor of Senate House Library, with me listlessly listening to the differences between various bibliographic journals. The Book Collector appears in my hands. I flip through, pleased with the title and the contents. My hands randomly skim and flip until I’m at the back, in the obituaries. I continue skimming without a real reason and then the words that stop me dead in my tracks: “Brenda Elizabeth Moon, 1931-2011.” Brenda Moon is dead.
I voraciously skimmed the obituary as everything I’d ever wanted to know about Brenda Moon was unexpectedly revealed to me. She had been a librarian in Edinburgh and had retired in the early 2000s. She had never been a professor, but apparently Edwards was a long-standing interest of hers, culminating in the biography published in 2006. I ate up the words, wanting more than the few given to describe her life and the loss of those who actually knew her. I had found Brenda Moon! But I was just three months too late.
Brenda Moon’s sudden appearance and biographic completeness in my life took some time to process. I had gotten used to her as a sort of academic ghost, vaguely haunting the peripheries of my work. Now I knew all about her, and she frankly sounds even more marvelous than I had imagined at first, but this knowledge came at the price of never being able to contact her. I would very much have liked to just be able to tell her how important her book was to me, if nothing else.
All there is to say to that sentiment, I guess, is “Ah well, such is life.” Some questions get answered and some remain elusive, while the answers you get may not be the ones you want when you want them. In terms of Brenda Moon, I think I’m glad to know her now, even if our acquaintance must by necessity remain wholly through her book and Edwards’. It would have been great to actually know her, face-to-face, but it’s hugely satisfying to know her even in this limited way.
So here’s to Brenda Moon and the serendipitous wonders of bibliographic journals. Eventually “meeting” her was a once-in-a-lifetime event.