✰ [BOOKS] ✸ The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street By Helene Hanff ✽ – Peakpopa.info
In a followup 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 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. Having just read and enjoyed, 84, Charing Cross Road, I decided to jump right into her second novel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Unfortunately this book wasn't as enjoyable. The book definitely reads like a travelogue of Helene Hanff's trip that she finally makes to England to see the bookstore, Mark's & Company, which because many years had passed, was out of business, and a few people that she acquainted during her over twenty years of correspondence with Frank Doel of Mark's & Company, who had died a few years before Helene's visit. Humorous in parts but the humor was very sporadic making the reading of the book drag on some. And although now a shell and just an empty space, I would have liked her to expound more on what her feelings were when she walked into Mark's & Company. Three stars.
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I'm not a particularly emphatic person, when it comes to experiences I haven't personally gone through. But the fact that I found myself unable to sympathize with Ms. Hanff getting to see the Englad she'd dreamed about forever... was unexpected, to say the least. It's not like I don't recall going around London all googlyeyed, and swooning over everyone's amazing British accent. And yet, the author's attitude only served to make me all stressed about her ending up penniless somewhere in a ditch.
See, I have NEVER gone on a trip without making sure to have enough money and THEN some, for any emergency. Meaning I plan for the Armageddon taking place at the precise moment the
president Queen decides to ask ME to save the world. It's up to the two of us to do something, and she's better at managing.
Seeing Ms. Hanff plan her stay by winging things as long as her money lasted, made me break out in cold sweat. She didn't even buy a return ticket, hoping to make things last indefinitely. Add to that the fact, that she started budgeting around getting invited to free dinners... I think I must've died of shame at least 5 times, in her place.
Yes, I have a LOOOOOT of issues. And I'm also very jealous. Happy?!
Of course, I did often stop to remind myself that all this happened over 40 years ago, where not every second person was an axemurderer in disguise. And that during these times it was perfectly OK to instruct one's editor to pass through all dinner invitations. Or, erm... was it?
Things looked slightly better, when it came to the tourist sights, but even there Ms. Hanff was a much more cultured specimen than I could ever hope to be. My interest in Oxford lay solely in the awesome architecture, along with a hefty dose of fangirling in Christchurch College's Hall (insert witty Harry Potter movie reference).
What did I care about some guy who had once taught religion in one of those buildings?
Score: 3/5 stars
For all that I've spent this entire review moaning and moping around, objectively speaking there was nothing to dislike here. The narration is brisk and funny, the pacing is alert, all Londonaficionados can get a piece or two for reminiscing purposes...
The excitement from the prequel was gone, however. And without that, the book turned into just another nonfiction account like any other. And I prefer my novels to be fiction.
See my review for 84, Charring Cross Road. After 84 , Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff visites London in 1971. She leaves New York City on Thursday, June 17th, 1971. She returns on Monday, July 26th, 1971. The adventure she has in between is chronicled in a diary she kept from day one. The people embrace her as the Duchess at the Kenilworth Hotel on Bloomsbury Street where she stayed. Everyone there made sure she saw all the sites from Regent's Park, outside of the Tower of London, Russell Square, Marks & CO, Oxford, Stratford, CLARIDGE'S, Shakespeare's Pub, Harrords, Castles, Waterlow Park, St. Paul's Cathedral, St. James Park, statues, stately homes in England, Buckingham Place, and the country side.
Interviews with the Evening Standard, Readers Digest, etc. Her portrait was painted by Ena Marks, a painter and good friend. The adventure of a life time. Meet all her new friends from the Colonel, PB, Nora and Shelly Doyle, Mr.Otto, The Grenfells, the ticket taker, Marc Donnelly, Alvaro, Nikki's Barbara, Jean and Ted Ely, etc... To finally go to London and have all your dreams come true. Join Helene on her trip to London. It is about time....
Marc Connelly picked me up at one. I wore the brown skirt and white blazer, and he said. "Don't you look fine in your little yachting outfit," and saluted.
Mary Scott took me on a walking tour of Knightsbridge and Kensington, we went to Harrods first because I'd never seen it. It's an incredible store, you can buy anything from a diamond necklace to a live tiger, they have a zoo.
So from now on my function is to shoo away what New Yorkers call the Sidewalk Superintendents. In London you shoo them away by talking to them. In New York talking to them would just get you their life stories. This is not a 5 starbook for all and sundry, but for anglophiles who want to read every book written by a British author and who long to physically visit the places they have haunted in their dreams then this is THE book for you. For me it is a 10star book because I read it 20 year ago and deeply understood the emotions behind the book. I wondered if I would ever go to 'The England of literature" or if it would be "too late" as someone told Helene. If I went to England would I be disappointed? Helene wasn't.
I did, in fact, go to London and having forgotten all about the details of Helene's trip. I didn't plan the trip at all but followed along with friends since I only decided to go one week before I departed. My friends all had ideas for touring. Since everywhere I visited would be awesome I only had one extra place to add: 84, Charing Cross Road. My last morning in London I made my way there and I can truly say about my trip it was not too late. I was almost the exact age as Helene when she finally went and by some sort of divine providence, I stayed exactly one block from where she stayed right between Russell SQ and Bloomsbury SQ. I didn't know this until I reread her book this week with map of London in hand. My trip and hers were both etched in the plat of my mind. I even got to see The Tower which she missed but she saw The National Portrait Gallery which I missed but will not miss again if given the chance.
Helene was a hard, single, New York smoker with a dry witty edge. I am a Southern girl with nine children but we couldn't be more kindred spirits. Oh, to be in England...again. I had huge expectations from this one, especially after enjoying the snarky and wonderful 84 Charring Cross. However, I was disappointed. Where the sights and history of London is definitely interesting, the breezy nature of the writing, which was at times quite irritating and at other times quite insufficient made it lacklustre.
I don't compare books but this is one where I couldn't stop myself from making comparisons. While I accept that the book is a diary and as such diary entries don't really have the coherence of any other form of writing, I still felt that this one did not transfer to me the excitement and sheer joy that Ms. Hanff must have felt on visiting London. Her words seemed forced and her vigour even more so. Her interactions seemed rushed, which could be attributed to the form of writing, but nevertheless there was no development of relationships beyond these mere words. And I missed that a lot, given that 84 CC was one where you could find immense meaning and richness behind those words.
To me London is fascinating, for parts it is quite similar to what Ms. Hanff thought about the city and for others it is something more. Somehow, I couldn't feel myself relating to this experience of the city that I have grown to love through books and movies. Where it should have exhilarated and enhanced my wish to experience the city, it left me feeling unmoved.
I won't say that there aren't any good parts in this book but at the same time, I don't think I can clearly say what those are. All in all, I am quite disappointed with this one, especially as I took nearly a week to complete what should ideally have been read in a few hours. The fact that it almost put me off reading for these past few days made it even worse. It was with sheer determination to finish and not leave it half read that I have managed to do so today.
I need to go find a another book that will erase this memory, at least for now. Our revels now are ended.
These our actors
. . . were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air . . .
The cloudcapped towers, the gorgeous palaces. The solemn temples . . . dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on. . . .
thus ends Ms.Hanff her travellogue of visiting London and meeting the friends she made at the now closed old bookshop, 84,Charing Cross Road.
I was in a fugue this lazy Sunday ...travelling with Helene and enjoying, nay feasting upon the sights and pleasures that London, still a quaint backward regal city full of the spirits of dead writers, poets, aristocrats and royals. I walked through the alleys, gaped at the chapels and museums, made many friends, concreted my friendship with older friends, and had a ball...all in all.
The end of the book brought a surreal feeling of being transposed against my wishes from the beautiful trance I was in.
Surely a book to be read again and relished
P.Sto be honest, I didn't like it's predecessor 84, Charing Cross Road much. And I have resolved to read it again, slowly and steadily researching the literary facts ...as a teeny portion of my mind whispers that it was 'my kind' of book.
Thanks to all my buddies who urged me to try this one. 84, Charing Cross Road should have a warning sticker on the cover: "Be sure to have a copy of The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street on hand BEFORE beginning this book."
If you've read 84, you already know it takes maybe an hour to finish, including bathroom breaks and getting up to brew a cup of tea (and maybe trying to make that recipe for Yorkshire pudding, while you're at it). You also know it's impossible to read 84 and not want to read more of Helene Hanff's writing. Certainly you'll be longing to know what happened to her next. And oh, that bittersweet ending – you'll want a little antidote on hand to chase away any possible blues.
So get yourself a copy of Duchess, and find out what happens when – spoiler alert! – Hanff finally gets to go to London.
She writes another awesome book, is what happens. This one's a diary – okay, it's based on the diary she kept during the course of her visit. (A little editing never hurt anyone.)
This book's wonderful. It's funny and fascinating and touching and engrossing, just like 84but richer in some ways, because Hanff can give us all sorts of little details a structure like 84's doesn't leave room for.
She's brilliantly insightful at times:
I don't know where I was. I could find no name to the street, I'm not even sure it was a street. It was a kind of enclosed courtyard, a culdesac behind Clarence House and St. James's Palace. ...A footstep is loud and you stand without moving, almost without breathing. There is no reek of money here, only the hallowed hush of privilege.
And sometimes she's just her usual wry, witty self:
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.
Read this book if you're a New Yorker:
I am so tired of being told what a terrible place New York is to live in by people who don't live there.
...or if you're addicted to reading and love to hear the confessions of another bookaholic:
I'm always so ashamed when I discover how wellread other people are and how ignorant I am in comparison. If you saw the long list of famous books and authors I've never read you wouldn't believe it. My problem is that while other people are reading fifty books I'm reading one book fifty times.
(I can relate to that far too well.)
Read this book. It's lovely, it's lovable, and it's less than 150 pages. Just be sure to read 84, Charing Cross Road first.
This is Helene Hanff’s follow up to 84 Charing Cross Road and it is an account of her first visit to Britain in 1971, three years after Frank Doel’s death. It is in daily diary form. The visit combined some book promotion of 84 Charing Cross Road, meeting Doel’s wife and daughters and a number of other friends and acquaintances. As in the previous book Hanff’s personality and enthusiasm shine through. Her delight in visiting historical sites where some of those she admires first trod is also obvious, although she can be cutting about things that irritate her:
“Nothing infuriates me like those friendly, folksy bank ads in magazines and on TV. Every bank I ever walked into was about as folksy as a cobra.”
And this thought when walking in a park and greeting a dog with the owner close by:
” Please don’t do that!” she said to me sharply. “I’m trying to teach him good manners.”
I thought,” A pity he can’t do the same for you”.
And a very perceptive remark about being taken to lunch at the Hilton:
“You look at the faces in the Hilton dining room and first you want to smack them and then you just feel sorry for them, not a soul in the room looked happy.”
Hanff is great at the one liners although I did miss Frank Doel’s dry and reserved responses. This is a delightful tourist’s account of London and its surrounds told with Hanff’s zest for life.