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Speaking of Epistolary Tomes, 84, Charing Cross Road is Truly...

By Shannawilson @shanna_wilson
Speaking of epistolary tomes, 84, Charing Cross Road is truly...

Speaking of epistolary tomes, 84, Charing Cross Road is truly one of the best, most classic of the genre. One of my favorite books (and movies) of all time, it opens with a letter from the Manhattan dwelling, cigarette and gin swirling, book loving writer, Helene to the staff at Marks & Co. Bookstore in London in October 1949. Exotic, to be giving and receiving personal correspondence to another country, Ms. Hanff requests antiquarian books, not available (imagine!) in America. She’s hoping for the store can solve her problems. 

What ensues is a long term relationship between the staff in the store, specifically, Mr. Frank Doel. It’s post-war England, rations are still in place, the women can’t bake cakes for their children, and life is precious, solemn, and peaking through to a brighter episode. Over a twenty year period, Helene develops an intimate relationship with this staff, bridging a lifelong trust across a very large pond. In the 1970 first publication, the New York Times blurb on the back reads:

Here is a charmer. A 19th-century book in a 20th-century world. Will beguile an hour of your time and put you in tune with mankind.

In 1973, she wrote a follow-up, chronicling her long yearned for trip to London, decades after the first letter she sent Marks & Co. Sadly, Frank Doel has died, and none of Hanff’s dreams of becoming a famous, or at least marginally successful playwright come to fruition. So there’s an undertone of a life lived in hope that never comes, despite her final joy of reaching England’s shores. Equally charming, Hanff examines the minute details that make London exotic to her, despite the eggs being the same yolk and white of the American kind. Illusory of how her starving artist existence in New York was the sort that had never ventured outside it. She died in 1997, and her New York Times obit can be found here.

There are many lines in her books that signify her acerbic brain:

I tell you its 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.

And exhibiting her deep-rooted joy, at finally being immersed in her imagined London:

I seem to be living in a state of deep hypnosis, every time I mail a postcard home I could use Euphoria as a return address.

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