Monday, August 22, 2016

84 Charing Cross Road

You may recall me mentioning the book, 84 Charing Cross Road, in my blog post of August 2nd. One of the Dr.'s at the pediatric clinic where my daughter works gave it to her for me to read.

84 Charing Cross Road was the address of a small London antiquarian book shop, Marks & Co.   

The book is a collection of actual letters written by American writer, Helene Hanff [who lived in New York City], to Frank Doel, chief buyer for the bookstore, requesting rare, out-of-print British literature.  The letters spanned two decades - 1949 thru 1969. Helene had the correspondence [97 pages worth] published in 1970, after Frank Doel's death. Even though the two never met in person, a strong bond of friendship existed between them.

In addition to Helene's requests for books, the letters discussed World War II war rations, the death of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, and other subjects of the time. 

A movie was made of the book in 1987 starring Anne Bancroft as Helene, and Anthony Hopkins as Frank, so I ordered it.  It's very true to the book, but even better.  Judi Dench plays the role of Frank's wife, Nora.  There's a few tea scenes at the book store and the Doel home, but none at Helene's NYC brownstone apartment - she preferred gin over tea! ;-)

The movie ends with Helene's visit to England and the empty building that once housed Mark's & Co. bookstore.  

Things got even better when I discovered there was a sequel to 84 Charing Cross Road called Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.  It was published in 1973 and is a chronological diary of Helene's first visit to London.

I felt a bit like Helene's experience with Marks & Co. when I ordered the book, because my used copy came from Cherry Creek Books - a seller of rare and vintage books in Denver, CO. When the book arrived it had a card pocket from Camarillo [California] public library affixed to the front page, and on the next page a sticker stated the book was a gift from Camarillo Pleasant Valley Republican Women's Club in memory of Louise Noren. I suppose the library eliminated the book to make room for newer books, so I made a silent pledge to take good care of it in Louise Noren's memory instead.

The book is 137 pages and very quick reading.  Helene was 54 when she finally made it to England in 1971.  The Duchess in the title refers to Helene, and the Kenilworth Hotel [where she stayed] is located on the corner of Bloomsbury St. and Great Russell.

Having been to London three times myself, I loved reading about the places she visited that I had the privilege of visiting too - except for Claridges, which is definitely on my list if I ever get back to London, as well as a stop at 84 Charing Cross Road. Even though the store closed somewhere between Frank Doel's death and Helene's visit, a bronze plaque is affixed to the front of the building that reads:  The booksellers Marks & Co. were on this site which became world renowned through the book by Helene Hanff.

I highly recommend both books and the movie.   Many thanks to the kind doctor who began this fun adventure.

For the record, Helene Hanff passed away in 1997 at 81 years of age.  


  1. I'm glad you shared these books with us! I think I'd enjoy reading both of them.

  2. Helene Hanff also wrote a third book in that series, called "Q's Legacy." I had all three books and we corresponded a few times, but sadly, all the letters were lost in a house fire. I was able to replace all three books, but not the letter, of course.

    Her major source of income for years was writing textbooks and she wrote some biographies for children of historical characters that were fun to read.


  3. I have been wanting to read that book and see the movie for some time, Phyllis. Thanks for giving such a great review.


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