The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff, is a sequel to her earlier epistolary publication, 84 Charing Cross Road (which I review here). It is advisable to read them in order. The copy of the book I was gifted, pictured above, unexpectedly contained both works.
‘Duchess’ is a memoir of the author’s visit to London following the publication of ’84’. It is based on diary entries written during her stay and chronicles the events she attended, the people she met and her impressions of a city she had long dreamed of experiencing.
As with her first book, the appeal of this journal are the characters who emerge through her words. Her observations on those she encounters are entertaining as are her impressions of the places she searches out.
As a financially stretched, obscure writer she is amused by the interest she generates. For a brief time she is treated as though famous, wined and dined by the great and the good. Her desire to relish every aspect of her trip shines through.
There are now numerous, humorous travelogues and this short offering is, perhaps, a precursor to these. The anecdotes and musings are both charming and perceptive. It was both a joy and an education to see a familiar city through new eyes.
I missed the understated contributions of Frank Doel which I felt counterbalanced Helene Hanffs writing style in ’84’. Like her first book though, the kindnesses offered this lone traveller suggest a benevolence that can so often appear to be lacking in society. This is a vivacious and engaging quick read.