Original date of publication: 1985
My edition: 1986 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read: I enjoyed 84, Charing Cross Road
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, December 2011
Q’s Legacy is Helene Hanff’s account of how she came to write 84, Charing Cross Road and its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (so I guess this book is a part of that series). She starts with the day at the Philadelphia Public Library when she discovered Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing, which led her to begin reading the books he mentioned. That led to Helene collecting those books, which led to her correspondence with Frank Doel at Marks and Co. in London…
Helene talks about the books she read less than I would have expected her to, but what’s undeniable is that she definitely has her own distinctive narrative voice, seen in 84 and The Duchess, and continued in this book. She’s funny, smart, honest, and direct, all of the qualities that I love in her writing. Helene covers a large amount of time in this book; from the day at the Philadelphia library in the 1930s when she was just a student (officially or otherwise), up until the 1980s, when 84 had become a major Broadway production. Helene was a diehard Anglophile, so her trips to England are the highlights of this memoir—including her infamous trip to see Quiller-Couch’s study.
Throughout her trips are sprinkled various anecdotes, some of them not apparently connected with Helene’s story but that display her love for English culture—i.e., rambling about Thomas and Jane Carlyle and their house in Cheyne Row, London. But the tangential rambling are all a part of Hanff’s charm. In all, I enjoyed this memoir, although I would have liked Hanff to have included a reading list or something that tied the title and subject of the book together better. On a side note, as a big Persephone fan, Hanff has connections with two Persephone authors: Diana Athill, who worked with Helene’s publisher, Andre Deutsch; and at one point Helene mentions to Andre that he should publish Judith Viorst’s It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty, of which Andre says “it won’t travel.”