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The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

Title: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.
Author: Helene Hanff.
Genre: Non-fiction, memoirs, diary, travel.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: January 1, 1973.
Summary: A zesty memoir of the celebrated writer's travels to England, where she finally meets the cherished friends from 84, Charring Cross Road, and searches for the London of beloved literature.

My rating: 8.5/10.


♥ The pub was crowded. People were standing at the bar and all the tables were full. I was suddenly irritated at all those obtuse citizens eating and drinking without any apparent sense of where they were, and I said snappishly:

“I could imagine Shakespeare walking in now, if it weren’t for the people.”

And the minute I said it I knew I was wrong. He said it before I could:

“Oh no. The people are just the same.”

And of course they were. Look again, and there was a blond, bearded Justice Shallow talking to the bartender. Further along the bar, Bottom the Weaver was telling his ponderous troubles to a sharp-faced Bardolph. And at a table right next to us, in a flowered dress and pot-bellied white hat, Mistress Quickly was laughing fit to kill.

♥ The two desk clerks are students from South Africa. One of them has to go back in a few days, and the other advised him conversationally:

“If the police come after you, eat my address.”

♥ Tonight when I came in there was only a man at the desk writing letters, he just left. He asked me for a light, and when he heard my American accent he told me he’d lived in New York for a year.

“And then one day I was walking down Fifth Avenue with an American friend and I said to him: ‘Why are you running?’ And he said: ‘I’m not running!’ And then I knew it was time to come home.”

♥ 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. The anonymous white buildings on it might be the backs of palaces. The white stone glows sumptuous and the street is absolutely still. 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. Your mind fills with stories of the fairy-tale splendor of monarchy, the regal pomp of England’s kings and queens. And then suddenly you remember Karl Marx in an untroubled grave in Highgate, and Queen Mary welcoming Gandhi as she had welcomed the rajahs before him, as George III had been forced to welcome as Ambassador to the Court of St. James old upstart John Adams. You are awed by the contrasts - by the fact of St. Jame’s and Clarence House resting serenely in Socialist England.

You decide to stop using the word “anachronism” when a seventeenth-century carriage drives through the gates of Buckingham Palace carrying twentieth-century Russian or African diplomats to be welcomed by a queen. “Anachronism” implies something long dead, and nothing is dead here. History, as they say, is alive and well and living in London.
Tags: 1970s - non-fiction, 1st-person narrative non-fiction, 20th century - non-fiction, american - non-fiction, british in non-fiction, diary, memoirs, my favourite books, non-fiction, sequels, tourism, travel and exploration
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