Guest Author - Christine Wilcox
When I was growing up, I was always fascinated by England. My ancestors on both sides of my family were, in some capacity, from the area, so it's not completely out of bounds of reality for me to want to go. But I wanted to do more. I wanted to forge a link back to England that would keep it alive in my thoughts. When I went to school, I studied Elizabethan literature and had an affinity for British authors. Then, in 1987, I found a kindred spirit who felt the same way - Helene Hanff.
Granted, Ms. Hanff's affinity for London had occurred before I was even born. In 1970, Ms. Hanff published a little book called 84, Charing Cross Road. It was twenty years of correspondence between herself and a book seller, Marks and Co., which served to feed her love of books, Brits, and all things that made her literary mind revolve, create, and thrive.
While 84, Charing Cross Road was the impetus to my finding Ms. Hanff, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street has crafted my London travel map.
Ms. Hanff was not an intrepid solo traveler. She lived in New York City, and was afraid of going to Queens for fear of getting lost. But when 84, Charing Cross Road got picked up by a British publisher, Ms. Hanff had the opportunity to leave the relative safety and security of her 1970s life in Manhattan for a few glorious weeks in London.
She stayed at The Kenilworth - which, if my research is correct, is still around, although remodeled. As Ms. Hanff made her way through London and the surrounding countryside, she did so with the help of friends she made along the way. And she always kept an eye on the places that she wanted to go that she had always read about - The Tower of London, Regent's Park, Russell Square, The Strand on the Green, the house on Wimpole Street where Robert Browning called upon Elizabeth Barrett, the pub where Shakespeare drank. It was all there waiting for her. She was as dizzy with excitement to have found it all as I hope I'll be, too.
And even though it's nearly 40 years after Ms. Hanff became the self-proclaimed Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, her path is the one I want to follow, too, when I go to London. In your own literary history, is there a book you can draw upon for inspiration to plan your next vacation? It's worth perusing your bookshelves to find out.