The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff – 7/10

“They don’t understand skyscrapers here. In New York they don’t understand anything else.”

In a direct sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff finally gets on a plane across the Atlantic and sees the London of her dreams. While there is a certain bittersweet feeling as Important Things have happened to 84 CC Rd and to a crucial character there, and so things are not as they would have been had she visited in the mid-1950s, but nevertheless she is courted around London by publicists and fans alike, and finally gets to see the “England of English literature” she longed to in 84 CC Rd.

The tone is a little different as this is written in diary entries rather than in epistolatory form, and the text does lose something being in one voice, although a sassy and amusing voice. Hanff relishes London – Russell Sq, the Tower of London, St Paul’s, Claridge’s, and even fits in a few trips to Windsor, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Stoke Poges.

Her tone is as sweetly comic as in 84 CC Rd and seeing 1970s London through this Anglophile’s eyes has tempted me to rush around following in her footsteps when I get home to London.

“It always aggravates me, when I’m writing to some telephone-company supervisor or insurance man, to have to begin with ‘Dear Sir’ when he and I both know nobody on earth is less dear to me.”

“Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate address to the passing world. The sign orders flatly:

COMMIT NO NUISANCE

The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers. From dirtying the streets to housebreaking to invading Viet Nam, that covers all the territory there is.”

“I am so tired of being told what a terrible place New York is to live in by people who don’t live there.”

To be read directly after 84 Charing Cross Road. Ideally (as in my case), the two slim books should be in the same volume.

Additional info:
I bought this at Gould’s Books in Newtown, Australia
Publisher: Futura, 216 pages (paperback in double edition with 84 Charing Cross Road)
Order this from Amazon* 
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link; proceeds go towards giveaways.
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5 thoughts on “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff – 7/10

  1. Annie 14 May 2011 at 6:46 pm Reply

    Now read ‘Q’s Legacy’, which is the story of how Hanff got into reading in the first place, as well as the record of a second visit to England. I thick it’s my favourite.

  2. Constance 30 May 2011 at 1:04 am Reply

    Been reading your Gould’s posts- yes there is a cat, I think there’s a few, and they’re in all sorts of strange places. It was cold the day we went so perhaps they found a heater. Also, I have Q’s Legacy, and it’s brilliant, so would you like me to bring it WHEN I COME!!!? And finally, Bob Gould died the other day at the age of 74. He had a fall in the shop. I posted the SMH obituary on his wall.

    • readingwithtea 30 May 2011 at 9:16 am Reply

      Thanks for the link, which I will post here soon. Bring Q’s legacy when you come to visit. Also bring the recipe for those cinnamon swirly things because I am going to *need* them to get through my revision courses in July.

  3. […] Helene Hanff’s third volume (after 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street), she returns to the start of her career, in which she decided to teach herself writing, picked up […]

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