When I brought 84 Charing Cross Road to the librarian’s desk, she picked it up, kind of stroked the cover and exclaimed that she absolutely loved the movie. She then looked me dead in the eye and said “if you like books, you must like this movie.” (I was a little intimidated. I mean, I know I like books… but what if–dear god– I don’t like the movie. My entire self-identity was called into question!) Luckily, the movie is rather wonderful … so all is well.
Anne Bancroft is Helene Hanff, a writer in search of obscure books that are unavailable in her price range in New York City. Anthony Hopkins is Frank Doel, an antiquitarian bookseller (whose shop is located at the titular address in London) to whom she applies for the books she requires. A decades-long friendship develops between Hanff and Doel… conversations about books and poetry and history and politics ensue, all through the lovely medium of letters and parcels through the post. Anne Bancroft/Helene Hanff says she was told that tourists always find what they are looking for when they go to England: she wants to find the England of English literature–to sit where Elizabeth sat when she refused to enter the tower, to see where John Donne preached…. When I finally get to go to England, I want to wander around musty old bookshops like the one found at 84 Charing Cross Road.
Helene drinks and smokes constantly and elegantly, is passionate about John Donne and rants about incomplete editions and shoddy translations. Had Jennifer Cavilleri lived longer (and a few decades earlier), she would have been Helene. My kind of woman.
Although it’s not the sob-fest that Love Story is, 84 Charing Cross Road is quite the melancholy story–Helene keeps planning to visit London and her friends at the bookstore, but things keep happening to keep her from traveling. Jennifer Cavilleri taught me E.B. Browning 22: When our two souls stand up erect and strong…, and Helene introduced me to Yeats’s “He wishes for the cloths of heaven”
Had I the heavens’ 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.
Just as the Browning seems such an apt inclusion in Love Story (the perfection of earthly love, the love of soul for soul), the Yeats selection seems a precise capstone to 84 Charing Cross Road. Both Hanff and Doel live in their minds, in worlds of literature, in their dreams… both of long-dead authors and of each other.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams.
How beautiful is that?