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The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973)

by Helene Hanff

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: 84 Charing Cross Road (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,0794116,174 (4.01)1 / 239
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)
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» See also 239 mentions

English (39)  German (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
A delightful follow-up to [b:84, Charing Cross Road|368916|84, Charing Cross Road|Helene Hanff|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1287338794l/368916._SY75_.jpg|938626], in which Helene Hanff finally makes her way to London. It felt very much like I had finally made it there myself. I was so caught up in her travels and all the people she met. I loved shopping with her at Harrad’s and dining at the Savoy. Mostly, I loved the genuine way she delighted in all the small things that I know would thrill me as well. That sense of wonder.

I mean I went through a door Shakespeare once went through, and into a pub he knew. We sat at a table against the back wall and I leaned my head back, against a wall Shakespeare's head once touched, and it was indescribable."

I laughed aloud, knowing I would be just as foolish. I’m not a celebrity worshipping kind of person, unless, of course you get me back past 1850.

Speaking of 1850, imagine how surprised I was to find Hanff did not admire Dickens. Her first mention: the porter will show you the room where Dickens wrote Great Expectations. Doesn't seem the time to tell her I found Great Expectations very boring. Yikes, she just panned not only one of my favorite writers but my very favorite book. She managed to mention her disdain for Dickens twice more before the end of the book. It was almost the end of our relationship, but I have a hard and fast rule to tolerate differences of opinion in regard to literature. :)

Her unique sense of humor added an element of joy that would have been missing with a straight narrative. She is a New Yorker, and that theme also appeared. For instance, when people on the street hovered with she was having her portrait painted:

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 a story about dreams coming true; about waiting much of your life for an event you live vicariously, over and over again. And, it is a story about how sweet realizing that dream can be. No disappointment, just fulfillment at last. I needed that. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Loved it. I need to read all of HH's backlist now. ( )
  Tosta | Jan 9, 2022 |
Helene Hanff finally managed to get to London - after Frank Doel had died. She was told to keep a diary which she did. This is the story of Helene`s trip to London in 1973 as a result of her famous book, 84 Charing Cross road. For a travel book in England in the early 1970s, it is actually pretty good. Me re-reading this I found it a bit boring. It is great for a first read through, but boring in a re-read, IMO. ( )
  Robloz | Sep 23, 2021 |
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 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. ( )
1 vote jjmcgaffey | Sep 14, 2021 |
A bittersweet memoir, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street recounts writer Helene Hanff's trip to England in the summer of 1971, her first trip outside the United States. Hanff's voice is charming, and you can't begrudge her the clear and unvarnished joy she takes in visiting places she's read about for so many years even if, like me, you absolutely cannot enter into her ardent Anglophilia. ( )
  siriaeve | Jun 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Helene Hanffprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buzzard, MadelynNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To the people of London.
First words
Theoretically, it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Quotations
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. 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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Wikipedia in English (3)

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.

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