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Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff

Q's Legacy (1985)

by Helene Hanff

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Definitely a keeper. This is the story of her quest to become a writer. Not able to afford college, she went to the library and started in the 800 section (English Literature) under "A." She examined every author trying to find one she could understand and who had something to say. There was only one author under "Q," Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, M.A., a Professor at Cambridge. Thus begins her education, and her memoir.

Hanff's warm personality and humor shine in this. It is a wonderful example of how to pursue something you want very much. I was impressed with her courtesy towards her fans and her stick-to-it-iveness. I'm a big fan of homeschooling, and this is a terrific example of a motivated person getting an excellent education. The story loses a bit of its edge towards the end, but her humor keeps it pleasurable. ( )
1 vote MrsLee | Mar 31, 2014 |
Re-reading this book is like re-visitng an old friend. This companion to 84 Charing Cross Road may not be quite as luminous as the original, but it is still wonderful and dear nonetheless. ( )
  bookwoman247 | Jul 26, 2013 |
While I enjoyed this story elaborating the story of "84, Charing Cross Road", It was really only more of the same. Ms. Hanff is something of a one trick pony, which she admits in this book. But She has scored big with that pony. While I enjoyed both of these books, I may not be inclined to read "The Dutchess of Bloomsberry Street" by Hanff. ( )
  Denverbook | Feb 19, 2013 |
Q’s Legacy is Helene Hanff’s account of how she came to write 84, Charing Cross Road and its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (so I guess this book is a part of that series). She starts with the day at the Philadelphia Public Library when she discovered Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing, which led her to begin reading the books he mentioned. That led to Helene collecting those books, which led to her correspondence with Frank Doel at Marks and Co. in London…

Helene talks about the books she read less than I would have expected her to, but what’s undeniable is that she definitely has her own distinctive narrative voice, seen in 84 and The Duchess, and continued in this book. She’s funny, smart, honest, and direct, all of the qualities that I love in her writing. Helene covers a large amount of time in this book; from the day at the Philadelphia library in the 1930s when she was just a student (officially or otherwise), up until the 1980s, when 84 had become a major Broadway production. Helene was a diehard Anglophile, so her trips to England are the highlights of this memoir—including her infamous trip to see Quiller-Couch’s study.

Throughout her trips are sprinkled various anecdotes, some of them not apparently connected with Helene’s story but that display her love for English culture—i.e., rambling about Thomas and Jane Carlyle and their house in Cheyne Row, London. But the tangential rambling are all a part of Hanff’s charm. In all, I enjoyed this memoir, although I would have liked Hanff to have included a reading list or something that tied the title and subject of the book together better. On a side note, as a big Persephone fan, Hanff has connections with two Persephone authors: Diana Athill, who worked with Helene’s publisher, Andre Deutsch; and at one point Helene mentions to Andre that he should publish Judith Viorst’s It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty, of which Andre says “it won’t travel.” ( )
2 vote Kasthu | Feb 16, 2012 |
“I was shocked just the same, at sitting in his chair with his favourite hat in my hands. There was a kind of violation in being so familiar with his ghost.”

In 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 a volume by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (the titular “Q”) and found so many references to books that she simply had to have, that she struck up a correspondence with a famous London bookshop. She takes us right through Q’s legacy, i.e. her writing success, through the events of 84, then the fame it brought her, leading to the events of The Duchess, and subsequent trips to London for adaptations of 84 for the TV (by the BBC, who else) and the stage.

This slender memoir is really two books hopelessly entangled. On the one hand there is a sweetly told story of being a struggling writer in New York in the 1940s to 60s

“I couldn’t return Harper’s $1,500, having flung it all away recklessly on food and rent.”

which has charm and character and a strong sense of the time at hand which reminded me of Rules of Civility. Why shouldn’t she evoke the 50s if she lived through them, I hear you grumble at your screen. Well, Q’s Legacy was written in 1985 by which stage Ms Hanff was nearly 70. Maybe I don’t sufficiently appreciate the strength of memory.

Anyway, the other half of the book is a fairly irritating, smug recollection of what happened after 84 Charing Cross Road, all the fan mail and visits to England and watching the various adaptations of her work, and it made me quite annoyed.

“I was gratefully aware that Rosemary was reading my letters with extraordinary warmth, wit and comprehension. But I’d read those letters in Hugh Whitemore’s TV script and heard them read over and over every day for ten long days of rehearsal; I’d had to read them again, in scripts submitted for my approval by amateur theatre groups from Massachusetts to Hong Kong; I’d had to read James’ script before it opened in Salisbury and again after he’d made changes in it for London. Now, at the Opening Night in London when I most wanted to relive the correspondence for my own personal reasons, I was finally sick to death of it.”

I think it’s best to stick just with the original 84. There is a charm and innocence to it which is not replicated in its sequels. ( )
  readingwithtea | Jan 14, 2012 |
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In grateful memory of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
"Not to pay a debt but to acknowledge it."
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Q and I first met on a summer morning when I was eighteen, at the main branch of the Philadelphia Public Library where I'd gone in search of a teacher; and I took him home with me despite certain doubts about his fitness for the post.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This ebullient memoir chronicles the author's lifelong love of books, which began with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's "The Art of Writing" and developed with works by Izaak Walton, Cardinal Newman, and Milton.

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