84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2
This was the address of the famous, antiquarian booksellers Marks and Co. It isn't in business anymore. It is now an All Bar One. The plaque below commemorates this book shops former location.
There is a place where Marks and Co. still exists however. In the autobiographical tale by Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. This story was made into a play, and later, a movie.
I watched the film yesterday. It had haunted me since my teens when I swooned over Sir Anthony Hopkins, all soulful eyes and poignant delivery, as he quoted Yeats' He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.
"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
Friends, you know I am a fool for words like these. People don't write this way anymore, however much I wish they did. Helene Hanff felt the same. In 1949, she sent an inquiry to Marks and Co. and it caught the eye of Frank Doel. Ms. Hanff wanted books she couldn't find in America. She wanted old books that were out of fashion even then, and Mr. Doyle searched these treasures out for her. Platonic soul-mates, Hanff and Doyle corresponded for nearly 20 years until Frank's death in 1968 from peritonitis. Their letters are the heart of 84 Charing Cross Road. This story is for the romantic who has a passion for literature, history, England, star-crossed friendship, and old book shops.
It's also about putting ink to fine, stiff paper and mailing your words across the world to a person you care about. Helene and Frank shared one another's lives without ever having met. Their relationship was a true meeting of the minds. As a poor New York writer, Helene could not afford to travel to London, though it was her fondest dream. A bookman of the highest order, Frank Doel brought England to Helene by sending her some of its best literature.
Emails would not suffice in this story. They are too immediate and sterile. They cannot be long-anticipated, received and pored over, wrapped in a silk ribbon, and put away in a special box. They cannot be cherished and touched while being re-read.
What do you think, friends? Do you still enjoy receiving letters or writing them? Are you sad that hundred-year-old book shops are being crowded out these days? Have you ever been to Charing Cross Road?
Choose any question you like or invent another, I'd just love to hear from you.