84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Epistolary work

Source – Personal Copy

I sometimes like a change and like most of us book bloggers, we all love books that are about books and book people. Here is a great epistolary work that contains the letters sent and received from the 50s through to the late sixties by New yorker Helene Hanff she was a playwright her early books covered her struggling to get a foot in the New York theatre scene. Later she wrote scripts for Elery Queen. Marks and co a bookshop of the title based at 84 Charing cross road published and advert in the Saturday Review of Literature that they could get hold of ut of print books this leads to the letters that form the book as Helene a well-read woman had struggled to get certain books. I have tried to find the advert in the online collection of the Saturday Review of literature but haven’t found it just love to see the original advert.

14 East 95th St

November 18, 1949

WHAT KIND IF A BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS? Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words.

It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself. But I have a catholic sister-in-law, a methodist sister-in-law, a whole raft of presbyterian cousins (Though my Great Uncle Abraham who converted) and an aunt who’s a Christian science healer, and I like to think none of them would counternance this Anglian Latin bible if they knew it existed(As it happens, they don’t know Latin existed)

The Bible incident the wrong Bible was sent they later sent a better copy.

What follows is a series of letters that see Marks finding the books well FPD as they sign themselves in the early letters, Boks from the likes of Hazlitt Stevenson. The cost of these old but as Helene says fine books too good for her Orange crate bookshelves far better than their modern counterparts she has brought in the US. There is humor at times when they send a bible she calls a Black protestant bible and says it had ruined the Latin version in the translation to English as she said she was Jewish but has Methodist and Presbyterian relatives. As the book moves on Helene finds she is talking mainly to Frank Doel who is the main buyer for Marks and co. She discovers the hardship of post-war Britain makes her choose to send a food parcel from Denmark here she writes after sending it with concerns about if the owners are Jewish as she sent Ham to the bookshop but no everything was ok she receives letters from other staff on the side thanking her and wishing her well and looking forward to meeting her. But the main body is her and Frank as he hunts down the books she wants but life means she struggles to get to the UK.

Dear Miss Hanff,

We are glad you liked the “Q” anthology. We have no copy of the Oxford Book of English Prose in stock at the moment but will try to find one for you.

About the Sir Roger de Coverly papers, we happen to have in stock a volume of eighteenth century essays which includes a good selection of them as well as essays by Chesterfieldand Goldsmirth. It is edited by Austin Dobson and is quite a nice editon as it is only $1.15 we have sent it off to you by book post. If you want a more complete collection of Addison & Steele let me know and I will try to find one.

There are six of us in the shop, not including Mr Marks ancd Mr Cohen

Faithfully yours,

Frank Doel

For Marks and Co

Her love of Q lead to a later book I’d love to get about how Q influenced her reading

I love this book I have a special VMC hardback I brought a number of years ago it has the follow-up. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Which finally saw Helene make it to the UK. This is a window into a bygone world Marks and co is gone and most of the shops that made up Charing Cross road have gone over time. It’s hard to split the book now from the film for me though I did feel the film was well cast the humor of Helene that came across in the letters a sort of deadpan wit was well portrayed by Ellen Burstyn. Frank equally was played as a straight-laced English man by Anthony Hopkins. I have a number of books she mentions I have been a fan of Arthur Quiller couch or Q as he was known as the editor of Oxford book of English Verse which I have had for a long time as it was often mentioned on Rumpole of the Bailey which I loved as a kid. This is one of those books that reminds us why we all love books and reading and the bygone age when we had to hunt for books which we still do, well I do there are so many translations I would love to find like Helene I’d love to find an 84 Charing Cross road. Have you have read it?

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