Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: Letter from New York
Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: Queen of England

Helene Hanff Appreciation Week: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

Although Helene wrote to the Marks & Co. bookstore for twenty years, starting in 1949, she didn't actually get to travel to London until 1971, when she did things up right and stayed there for a month, getting to know a wide variety of people and being (as far as I can tell) incandescently happy.

Bloomsbury Although I loved The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, and loved all that I learned from it about London and Great Britain, my favorite part of it was actually reading Helene's memories of how she first started educating herself through books:

"But Oxford I have to see. There's one suite of freshman's rooms at Trinity College which John Donne, John Henry Newman and Arthur Quiller-Couch all lived in, in various long-gone eras. Whatever I know about writing English those three men taught me, and before I die I want to stand in their freshman's rooms and call their names blessed.

Q (Quiller-Couch) was all by himself my college education. I went down to the public library one day when I was seventeen looking for books on the art of writing, and found five books of lectures which Q had delivered to this students of writing at Cambridge.

'Just what I need!' I congratulated myself. I hurried home with the first volume and started reading and got to page 3 and hit a snag:

Q was lecturing to young men educated at Eton and Harrow. He therefore assumed that his students--including me--had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the 'Invocation to Light' in Book 9. So I said, 'Wait here,' and went down to the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3, when I hit a snag:

Milton assumed I'd read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I'd been reared in Judaism I hadn't. So I said, 'Wait here,' and borrowed a Christian Bible..."