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The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene…

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973)

by Helene Hanff

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8533215,195 (3.96)1 / 223
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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. ( )
  leslie.98 | Oct 23, 2015 |
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 84 -- but 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 cul-de-sac 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:


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 well-read 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.
( )
2 vote Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
Een erg leuk vervolg op 84 Charing Cross Road in dagboekvorm. Amerikaanse Helene Hanff gaat eindelijk naar Londen, een lang gekoesterde wens gaat in vervulling. Dit boekje geeft een prachtig beeld van Londen in het begin van de jaren 70. Het aparte van de Engelsen, hoe aardig ze zijn en ook hoe vreemd. Ik genoot van dit boek. ( )
  elsmvst | Feb 7, 2015 |
A very nice, quick read, written in a funny, witty style. ( )
  hanibalito | Jan 28, 2015 |
I wish I remembered 84 Charing Cross a bit better, but The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street was delightful all the same. Helene Hanff's account is a perfect model of gratitude and graciousness in the face of unexpected opportunity; the publication of her book led to many offers from friends, acquaintances, and strangers, all of which she accepted during her once-in-a-lifetime trip to London.


Coming abroad, where nobody knows them, [they] have rid themselves of a lot of social inhibitions. Coming abroad, where nobody knows me, I've acquired a whole set of inhibitions I never had at home. (30)

I tell you it's insidious being an ersatz Duchess, people rushing to give you what you want before you've had time to want it. If I kept this up for more than a month it would ruin my moral fiber. (53)

84, Charing Cross was no best seller, you understand; it didn't make me rich or famous. It just got me hundreds of letters and phone calls from people I never knew existed; it got me wonderful reviews; it restored a self-confidence and self-esteem I'd lost somewhere along the way, God knows how many years ago. It brought me to England. It changed my life. (56)

I despair of ever getting it through anybody's head I am not interested in bookshops, I am interested in what's written in the books. I don't browse in bookshops, I browse in libraries, where you can take a book home and read it, and if you like it you go to a bookshop and buy it. (73)

"Anachronism" implies something long dead, and nothing is dead here. History, as they say, is alive and well and living in London. (85)

It's appealing how people regard the Royal Family as relatives....So everybody feels free to criticize them, what else are relatives for? (96)

[Writing about British slang vs. US slang] And when they pronounce it the same they spell it differently....as Shaw once observed, we are two countries divided by a common language. (104)

I'm always so ashamed when I discover how well-read other people are and how ignorant I am in comparison....My problem is that while other people are reading fifty books I'm reading one book fifty times. (111)

I tried to tell her that if you've dreamed of seeing the Abbey and St. Paul's and the Tower all your life, and one day you find yourself actually there, they can't disappoint you. (112)

And for at least that moment, I wouldn't have traded the hundreds of books I've never read for the handful I know almost by heart. (113)
  JennyArch | Jan 3, 2015 |
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To the people of London.
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Theoretically, it was one of the happiest days of my life.
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:


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. [83-84]
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. [56]
All the rare-book dealers regaled me with stories of the trade. They told me that after the war there were too many books and not enough bookshop space, so all the dealers in London BURIED hundreds of old books in the open bomb craters of London streets. Today the buried books would be worth a fortune if they could be recovered, if the new buildings could be torn down and the rebuilt streets torn up. [115]
I'm in the bar again. I don't normally drink after dinner but in this hotel they think you're strange if you drink before dinner. So at 10 P.M. I'm having a martini. More or less.
The first night I came in here I said to the young bartender: "A martini, please." He reached for a bottle of Martini & Rossi vermouth and poured a glass full of it before I could scream WAIT A MINUTE!
"Would you put the gin in first, please?" I asked.
"Oh!" he said. "You want a gin martini."
He got the gin bottle and a shaker, and I said:
"Would you put some ice in the shaker, please? I like it cold."
"Right-o!" he said. He put an ice cube in the shaker, poured a jigger of gin on it, added half a cup of vermouth, stirred once, poured it out and handed it to me with a flourish. I paid him and shuffled over to a table telling myself sternly:
"Don't be like all those American tourists who can't adapt to another country's customs, just drink it."
Nobody could drink it.
The next time I came in it was dinner time, the bar was empty and the bartender and I got chummy; he said Wasn't I the writer? and told me his name was Bob. I said Did he mind if this time we used my recipe instead of his and he said Right-o, just tell him exactly what I wanted.
I said First could we start with four ice cubes in the shaker. He thought I was crazy but he put three cubes in (he was short on ice). He poured a jigger of gin in the shaker, and I said:
"Okay, now another jigger of gin."
He stared at me, shook his head in disbelief and added a second jigger of gin.
"Okay, now one more," I said.
"MORE gin?" he said, and I said:
"Yes, and lower your voice."
He poured the third jigger, still shaking his head. He reached for the vermouth bottle, and I said:
"I'll pour that."
I added a few drops of vermouth, stirred vigorously, let him pour it out for me and told him it was perfect.
Now he makes it by himself but he never can bring himself to add that third jigger of gin, he thinks he'll look up later and see me sprawled face down on a bar table sodden drunk.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 155921144X, Paperback)

A zesty memoir of the celebrated writer's travels to England where she meets the cherished friends from 84, Charing Cross Road.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:15 -0400)

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