The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

by Helene Hanff

Paperback, 1995

Status

Available

Publication

Moyer Bell Ltd ,U.S. (1995), Edition: 2nd ed., 144 pages

Description

Nancy Mitford meets Nora Ephron in the pages of The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Helene Hanff's delightful travelogue about her "bucket list" trip to London When devoted Anglophile Helene Hanff is invited to London for the English publication of 84, Charing Cross Road--in which she shares two decades of correspondence with Frank Doel, a British bookseller who became a dear friend--she can hardly believe her luck. Frank is no longer alive, but his widow and daughter, along with enthusiastic British fans from all walks of life, embrace Helene as an honored guest. Eager hosts, including a famous actress and a retired colonel, sweep her up in a whirlwind of plays and dinners, trips to Harrod's, and wild jaunts to their favorite corners of the countryside. A New Yorker who isn't afraid to speak her mind, Helene Hanff delivers an outsider's funny yet fabulous portrait of idiosyncratic Britain at its best. And whether she is walking across the Oxford University courtyard where John Donne used to tread, visiting Windsor Castle, or telling a British barman how to make a real American martini, Helene always wears her heart on her sleeve. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is not only a witty account of two different worlds colliding but also a love letter to England and its literary heritage--and a celebration of the written word's power to sustain us, transport us, and unite us.… (more)

Rating

(301 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member readingwithtea
"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
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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.
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LibraryThing member elenchus
Charming and a worthy follow-up to 84, Charing Cross Road. For me, however, it does not stand on its own. Not that the story can't be followed on its own, merely that neither characters nor developments are compelling to me except as the "further adventures of". It is clever but not gimmicky that
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the epistolic format continues: Hanff keeps a travel journal, and the edited entries form the basis of the book. The dust jacket of my edition (from the library) depicts a ruled page with handwritten words from one of the entries, verbatim (and with no strikeouts or corrections), but I assume that's not meant to be an original from her journal.

On the other hand. The secondary characters (which I'll define as: everyone but Helene Hanff and those few individuals from the first book, mostly relatives of Frank Doel) are quite fun, and there are scads of anglicisms, my favourite of which: "Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate addressed to the passing world. The sign orders flatly: COMMIT NO NUISANCE. The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers."

Is that (or was that ever) a typical English or even British phrase? Love it.

I'll look for the third book in the series, but without quite as much haste as I'd imagined after reading the first. I will say I still envy Hanff her ready, in-depth knowledge of British literature and history. I haven't that level of familiarity with anything, not even my biography.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I was rather underwhelmed by this memoir of Hanff's first visit to London. If you've read her better-known first book, 84 Charing Cross Road, you'll know that she is a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile and passionate booklover. There, the New Yorker charted her long correspondence-cum-friendship with
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British bookseller Frank Doel. Once the book starts bringing in royalties as well as more paying work, Hanff decides to fly to London for the book's English launch. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, written in diary form, charts not only the places she visits but the people she meets, including the now-deceased Frank's wife and daughter. I had hoped that it might stir my own fond memories of earlier visits, and at times, it did. But Hanff spends more time describing and criticizing the various people she meets--most of whom are trying to show her a good time or who are expressing their delight in her book--than detailing her first impressions of all the glorious sites of London that she has longed to see. She comes off, I think, as a rather self-obsessed and cranky woman and, oddly, while she seems a bit of a misanthrope, she apparently delights in listing all of her invitations and acquaintances--complaining all the while. After awhile I found myself skimming the pages for the "good stuff" and ignoring the rest. All said, however, not a bad read for a single afternoon.
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LibraryThing member Kasthu
You decide to stop using the word “anachronism” when a seventeenth-century carriage drives through the gates of Buckingham Palace carrying twentieth-century Russian or African diplomats to be welcomed by a queen. “Anachronism” implies something long dead, and nothing is dead here. History,
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as they say, is alive and well and living in London (p. 82)

In 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff collected the letters she and Frank Doel, a bookseller in London’s famous Charing Cross Road, exchanged for twenty years, from just after WWII up until his death. Helene Hanff had always wanted to travel to England, but until the summer of June 1971, after 84 Charing Cross Road had been published and she went on tour to publicize the book, she had never had the opportunity to do so. This short book is a diary that Helene kept for the three weeks that she was in London and environs, meeting Frank Doel’s family and some of the many people who enjoyed 84, Charing Cross Road.

I went on vacation to London (and York) for a week at the beginning of the month, so I thought this would be the perfect book to get me in the mood for the trip. It’s a short book; I finished it in a couple of hours on the plane ride. Helene Hanff went everywhere and did everything, it seems: Bloomsbury (personally, my favorite part of London), the site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (which hadn’t yet been reconstructed by Sam Wannamaker), Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London. Some of those were places I went, too, so it was fun for me to read about what she saw and did. Helene even got so see some of the sights outside London: Eton and Oxford (only Helene could have a hissy fit in the middle of Wadham Yard!).

The same funny, witty tone of voice she used in 84, Charing Cross Road comes right across in this novel, and I enjoyed reading some of her insights into England and the English (some of them ironic, as in):

I find the treatment of royalty distinctly peculiar. The royal family lives in palaces heavily screened from prying eyes by fences, grounds, gates, guards, all designed to ensure the family absolute privacy. And every newspaper in London carried headlines announcing PRINCESS ANNE HAS OVARIAN CYST REMOVED. I mean you’re a young girl reared in heavily guarded seclusion and every beer drinker in every pub knows the pricese state of your ovaries (p. 77-78).

I must admit that I have a soft spot for Helene Hanff; we both have a Philadelphia connection, plus we are/were massive Anglophiles. I love the blunt, direct way that she addresses her readers, almost as if she’s telling her story to you in person. She also has some great insights into London: how you can tell a city’s character based on its parks:

All the parks here are every serene, very gentle… lying in peaceful St. James’s, I realize how much a city’s parks reflect the character of its people. The parks here are tranquil, quiet, a bit reserved, and I love them. But on a long-term basis I would sorely miss the noisy exuberance of Central Park (pp54-56).
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LibraryThing member PensiveCat
This is a sequel of sorts to 84 Charing Cross Road. Instead of two decades of correspondence between a London bookseller and Helene Hanff, she is finally in London herself. It comes to her attention that she should keep some sort of travel journal, and that is the main source of Duchess. At last
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Helene meets some of the people she has known through letters, as well as Bibliophiles, old friends, eccentrics, and the son of Marks (from Marks & Co.) She maintains a frank humor thoughout the book, and manages to complain without seeming like a whiner. This is definitely worth a reading or two - it's not very long but full of love for London and books.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Interesting, amusing, pleasant, and not a patch on 84 Charing Cross Road. This is the story of Helene going to England, a trip paid for by the British publisher of 84CCR. She's very short of money, of course, and that informs a lot of the events - she spends a lot of time considering what she can
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afford, and how to enjoy and extend her trip by (with their enthusiastic approval) mooching on various old and new friends. Her encounters with London and England are delightful, the people she meets are fun to hear about, but overall it was not as much fun as 84CCR. Glad I read it, I might, someday, read it again - I have and will reread 84CCR many times.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
When I read 84, Charing Cross Road in 2009 I was completely in love with it. Helene Hanff’s first book is a collection of letters between herself and the British bookseller, Frank Doel. For years the two wrote back and forth, never meeting in person but sharing a deep love of literature.

In this
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sequel Hanff finally had the opportunity to visit London for the first time. Unlike her first book, this one is written in journal form as she chronicles her time there. Her quick wit and acerbic nature make the whole thing so much fun. The nonfiction account hit a soft spot for me. I’m such an anglophile that when she describes her lifelong desire to visit London (see below) it was like I was reading my own thoughts.

“All my life I’ve wanted to see London. I used to go to English movies just to look at streets with houses like those. Staring at the screen in a dark theatre, I wanted to walk down those streets so badly it gnawed at me like hunger. Sometimes, at home in the evening, reading a casual description of London, I’d put the book down suddenly, engulfed by a wave of longing that was like homesickness. I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die. I used to tell myself this was natural in a writer and booklover born to the language of Shakespeare.”

I felt the need to visit London from a young age. I just always knew that one day I would go. When I was 19 I planned my first trip to Europe, hopped on a plane by myself and met a friend in London. During that trip I visited Bath, Windsor and London, and then traveled to Ireland and explored Dublin and some coastal towns. It was absolutely everything I imagined it would be. Seeing poets corner in Westminster Abbey, Twelfth Night performed at the Globe, dinner in a pub, etc. I loved everything about it. Later I moved there for a few months to do a semester abroad and my love of London grew ten-fold.

Hanff’s experience was similar to my own (except she was a bit of a celebrity because of her first book). She was in awe of everything see saw and all she wished for was more time. She made friends along the way, pinching every penny so she could spend just one more day in her beloved city.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved it so much! If you’re an anglophile or you loved 84, Charing Cross Road don’t miss this one!

“I seem to be living in a state of deep hypnosis, every time I mail a postcard home I could use Euphoria for a return address.”

p.s. Hanff wanted to personalize every book she signed and at one point she has to sign a stack of books for a bookseller to take to his shop and she said…

“I still couldn’t bring myself just to write my name and let it go at that, it seems unfriendly. Wrote “To an unknown booklover” in every copy.”

I wish so badly that I could get a signed copy of this book!
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LibraryThing member trinityofone
This is even better than I remembered—I think I recalled it being a bit of a disappointment after "84." It's not; it's just different. And it especially resonated now that I've actually been to London and recognize some of the places Hanff describes and the feeling of finally being in the city
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you've read about so many times even more. (Although Hanff wasn't exactly going, "Just like it's described in 'Neverwhere'!" She's rather more classical than I am.) Like "84," this book is realistically bittersweet—it acknowledges lost opportunities and lost friends—but Hanff's are consistently a wonderful pair of eyes to see the city, and the travel experience in general, through.
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
Just as I did with "84, Charing Cross Road", I recently (and delightedly) found this volume as a used book. "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street" is a sequel to "84, Charing Cross Road". In 1971, Helene Hanff is invited to London after the success of her first volume and she records her experience in
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diary form. She meets the wife and daughter of her late correspondent Frank Doel -- this correspondence between Helene the book-buyer and Frank the used book dealer -- was the essence of "84,Charing Cross Road". Helene also meets up with many of her readers who specifically ask to host her and take her to various sight-seeing sites. She gets to stay in London for about 6 weeks, having this journal published in 1973.

This volume was amusing in many parts -- the conversations she had with those she met in London were amusing. I also enjoyed comparing her notes to my memories of my week-long visit to London in 2001, thirty years after her stay there. She did get to see much more because she was there longer, and this only makes me want to go back again to revisit and also to see some of the spots Helene saw but I didn't.
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LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
In 1970 Helene Hanff wrote a short novel, 84, Charing Cross Road about her correspondence from New York with a bookseller in London. The correspondence lasted over twenty years and now, finally, Helene has a chance to visit London. This is her diary from that trip. I have to admit that I didn't
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really enjoy 84, Charing Cross Road when I read it five years ago, and that I definitely don't share most of Ms. Hanff's enthusiasms for London, but this was a fun little book to read, all the same.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Helene Hanff kept up a correspondence with a book friend in London for twenty years. Finally, after publishing a book composed of letters between the two, Hanff gets an opportunity to travel to London. Of course, she will never get to meet her friend, who died before her letters were published.
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Nevertheless, she makes the trip and meets many fans of her book.
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LibraryThing member bookmagic
84, Charing Cross Road is an epistolary true story of a correspondence between the author living in New York and Frank Doel, the manager of Marks and Co. a bookstore in England. They correspond for twenty years as Helene buys books from the store and sends them food as they are under British
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rations. The story in that book ends at the death of Frank in 1969.

After Hanff's book is published, she finally gets a chance to go to England, something she has longed to do her entire life and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is her journal of that trip.



my review: This was a short but delightful read, much like it's predecessor. Hanff holds nothing back and tries to experience England to it's fullest in the short-time she will be there. She finally meets Frank's family face to face and many of her fans and pen pals. This book also reads like a guide for a true anglophile on a trip to Britain and is a nice follow-up for those that read 84, Charing Cross Road.
Both stories are charming and delightful, cleansing your reading palate between larger, more complex reads.

my rating 4/5
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LibraryThing member sdunford
Elegantly written, and still timely, bu only if you've read its predecessor 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD
LibraryThing member MinaIsham
-- To visit London is on author Helene Hanff's bucket list. When her dream comes true DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET is the result. Book is in the form of a diary. Entries include admirers, sites, & food. They also include this New Yorker's delightful observations on English people & customs.
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Published 40 yrs. ago book is a classic. Now I must read 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD. --
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LibraryThing member gbelik
This is the story of Helene Hanff's trip to England for the British publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. It's presented as a journal and is charming, but forgettable.
LibraryThing member lkernagh
Written in diary format, this book captures Hanff's trip to England in 1971, when she finally travels across the pond to promote her book, 84, Charing Cross Road and to satisfy her lifelong dream, to find, "The England of English literature". Beautifully told with charm and candor, I was
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transported back in time to a world that is wonderfully timeless. This is a story about a personal journey, about old friends who finally meet, about new friendships made and about the changes in perspective such a monumental journey can bring about. As this one is in diary format, it lacks some of the spellbinding charm of 84, Charing Cross Road and the wonderful correspondence between Hanff, Frank Doel, the other members of Marks and Co and Frank's patient and loving wife, Nora. Reading 84, Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street back to back is the perfect way to really experience this second book... the magic of the first book carries this second book and gives it meaning. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is filled with anecdotes that made me smile and transported me back in time to an era where air travel wasn't subject to the rigid scrutiny that it is today. I loved how Hanff was met on the tarmac coming off the plane by a fan who happened to work at London Airport, and was walked by this gentleman right past the Immigration and Customs tables with a flippant "Friend of Mine" called over the shoulder. No one stopped them or questioned anything.

It is amazing the memories a book can conjure up. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is the perfect read for anyone who loves 84, Charing Cross Road, is a book lover, and anglophile or just loves to armchair travel.

Favorite Quote: "Got so carried away by my own eloquence that when we were driving home I began to wonder whether in explaining the American affection for Gray, I stumbled on a clue to the English passion for Dickens. They may admire Shakespeare more but it's Dickens they love. Maybe the average Englishman, being neither king nor peasant, identifies less with the kings and peasants of Shakespeare than with the lower and middle-class upward-mobility types in Dickens."

Food for thought, indeed.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
While this sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road made me laugh out loud several times, the writing style (diary entries) was not as charming as the epistolary style of the original. But I loved the descriptions of all the places and people she encountered during her trip to England.
LibraryThing member porch_reader
A follow-up to the charming 84, Charing Cross Road, in [The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street], Helene Hanff finally gets the chance to visit London. 84, Charing Cross Road is a hit in London, and she does interviews and book signings while packing in as much sightseeing as possible. Hanff is humble and
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repeatedly surprised by the reception that she receives in London. She is delighted by almost every part of the trip, and her delight is contagious. If you enjoyed 84, Charing Cross Road, this is a lovely opportunity to reconnect with Hanff.
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LibraryThing member John
I liked Hanff's book 84, Charing Cross Road very much. It was charming and personal in its description of a 20-year postal love affair from Hanff in New York with a bookseller, Frank, in London. They never met because Frank died but in 1971 Hanff travelled to London, a city she always wanted to
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visit. She spent time with Frank's wife and daughter and a host of other people from friends of friends who loved her book, to perfect strangers who heard she was in town and wanted to entertain her, to the obligatory book signings.

The book is a diary of meals eaten and sites seen in London and elsewhere, including the Cotswolds and Oxford. It has little to sustain it other than an interest in Hanff but I could not maintain even that and skipped through the last third or more.

Two things did emerge. First, the generosity of people in opening their homes and their lives to a stranger based on their appreciation of her book. Second, remembrance of the days or air travel when onerous and paranoid security did not blight the experience....Hanff's arrival in, and departure from, London were from a world long gone.

Not a book I would recommend. Enjoy 84, Charing Cross Road if you haven't read it and leave it at that. I liked Hanff's book 84, Charing Cross Road very much. It was charming and personal in its description of a 20-year postal love affair from Hanff in New York with a bookseller, Frank, in London. They never met because Frank died but in 1971 Hanff travelled to London, a city she always wanted to visit. She spent time with Frank's wife and daughter and a host of other people from friends of friends who loved her book, to perfect strangers who heard she was in town and wanted to entertain her, to the obligatory book signings.

The book is a diary of meals eaten and sites seen in London and elsewhere, including the Cotswolds and Oxford. It has little to sustain it other than an interest in Hanff but I could not maintain even that and skipped through the last third or more.

Two things did emerge. First, the generosity of people in opening their homes and their lives to a stranger based on their appreciation of her book. Second, remembrance of the days or air travel when onerous and paranoid security did not blight the experience....Hanff's arrival in, and departure from, London were from a world long gone.

Not a book I would recommend. Enjoy 84, Charing Cross Road if you haven't read it and leave it at that.
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LibraryThing member hanibalito
A very nice, quick read, written in a funny, witty style.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
n a follow-up to her hugely popular 84 Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff takes us to London. The book is written as diary/journal entries on her first (and last) trip to the city she had dreamed of visiting. Alas, her favorite bookstore, which she immortalized in her earlier book, was no more, but
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the success of that first book resulted in instant friends.

I loved how enthusiastic she was about seeing the literary landmarks she had so long dreamed about. I loved her reactions to differences and how she managed to “go with the flow” - particularly loved her exchange with the front desk when she wanted her dress pressed and her first experience ordering a “martini” (Hubby and I shared quite a laugh over that episode). Just makes me wish I had known Hanff in person and had the chance to travel with her … no matter where. I think we would have found something to captivate and enthrall us.

Definitely read 84 CCR first, but you’ll want to read this one as well … especially if you’re planning a trip to London.
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LibraryThing member susandennis
A delightful sequel to one of my favorites 84 Charing Cross Road.
LibraryThing member rmarcin
I really enjoyed this book about Helene Hanff's trip to London. After years of longing to go to London, yet having various things get in her way, she finally gets to make the trip. Due to the success of her book 84, Charing Cross, Helene is able to travel to London and meet the friends with whom
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she corresponded for years. Additionally, due to the book and other friendships, Helene is able to meet many people in London who take Helene under their wing and show her the sights. It would be wonderful to have guided tours and friendly dinners the way Helene did. It is also nice to see London through her eyes -- someone who has been in love with London for years.
An enjoyable book, I actually enjoyed this one more than 84, Charing Cross.
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LibraryThing member varielle
After years of extensive correspondence with a bookseller in London, Helene Hanff finally made it there in person. Alas, her bookseller had passed away and his bookshop had closed. This didn’t stop her from meeting his people and enjoy her celebrity in Britain. A wonderful read about boooks and
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book lovers. If you’ve not seen the movie version of the preceding 84 Charing Cross Road—watch it. Anne Bancroft starred as Hanff and was absolutely fabulous.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Since I acquired this book I also read Q's Legacy by Hanff. To tell the truth I had forgotten that this book was on my TBR pile (maybe that should be a warning about the size of the mountain) or I would have read it before reading Q's Legacy which takes place after this book. But it doesn't really
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matter because each book is sort of like sitting down with a friend and listening to their stories.

This book concerns Hanff's first visit to London after 84, Charing Cross Road was published. Her English publisher wanted her to come over to help publicize the British launch of the book. Hanff who had always wanted to visit London jumped at the chance even though it involved spending some of her own money and quite a bit of her time. From the moment she arrived at the airport she was feted and coddled which gave rise to her calling herself The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. She even had her portrait painted by Elena Gaussen-Marks who was married to the son of one of the owners of 84 Charing Cross Road. I couldn't find that picture online but I did find this one by the same artist also of Hanff in Central Park.
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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1973

ISBN

155921144X / 9781559211444
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