84, Charing Cross Road, published in 1970, is constructed from a collection of correspondence between the author and a London bookseller, Frank Doel. The relationship began as Hanff delved into the work of a professor at Cambridge University. Professor ‘‘Q,’’ as he is called, became the catalyst for Hanff’s letter writing. Her admiration for the professor fueled her pursuit of classic literature, resulting in the inquiries comprising this work. 84, Charing Cross Road spans a twenty-year period, incidentally chronicling events abroad, such as Winston Churchill’s 1951 election in London and the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination in 1960.
This story thematically touches on the ideas of lack and sufficiency, whether it be Helene’s bibliomania (obsession for books) or a black-market trade of eggs for a pair of pantyhose in London. It is a story of beginnings and endings as represented by each letter, from date to signature. The power of language figures prominently, presenting the challenge of inference in the white space of the text as Helene waits breathlessly for her next letter to arrive. Finally, it is a story of appearances for exactly the same reason: the only information the reader has is based on a series of letters, hardly the means by which one can accurately infer much about the characters. Despite what seem to be shortcomings, the appeal of this mysterious plot is what serves to entice and delight the reader’s imagination.