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Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist

Overview

Lois Gordon's absorbing biography tells the story of a writer, activist, and cultural icon who embodied the dazzling energy and tumultuous spirit of her age, and whom William Carlos Williams once called "one of the major phenomena of history."

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) led a life that surpasses Hollywood fantasy. The only child of an English baronet (and heir to the Cunard shipping fortune) and an American beauty, Cunard abandoned the world of a celebrated socialite and Jazz Age ...

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Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist

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Overview

Lois Gordon's absorbing biography tells the story of a writer, activist, and cultural icon who embodied the dazzling energy and tumultuous spirit of her age, and whom William Carlos Williams once called "one of the major phenomena of history."

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) led a life that surpasses Hollywood fantasy. The only child of an English baronet (and heir to the Cunard shipping fortune) and an American beauty, Cunard abandoned the world of a celebrated socialite and Jazz Age icon to pursue a lifelong battle against social injustice as a wartime journalist, humanitarian aid worker, and civil rights champion.

Cunard fought fascism on the battlefields of Spain and reported firsthand on the atrocities of the French concentration camps. Intelligent and beautiful, she romanced the great writers of her era, including three Nobel Prize winners, and was the inspiration for characters in the works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett, and Ernest Hemingway, among others.

Cunard was also a prolific poet, publisher, and translator and, after falling in love with a black American jazz pianist, became deeply committed to fighting for black rights. She edited the controversial anthology Negro, the first comprehensive study of the achievement and plight of blacks around the world. Her contributors included Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Zora Neale Hurston, among scores of others.

Cunard's personal life was as complex as her public persona. Her involvement with the civil rights movement led her to be ridiculed and rejected by both family and friends. Throughout her life, she was plagued by insecurities and suffered a series of breakdowns, struggling with a sense of guilt over her promiscuous behavior and her ability to survive so much war and tragedy. Yet Cunard's writings also reveal an immense kindness and wit, as well as her renowned, often flamboyant defiance of prejudiced social conventions.

Drawing on diaries, correspondence, historical accounts, and the remembrances of others, Lois Gordon revisits the major movements of the first half of the twentieth century through the life of a truly gifted and extraordinary woman. She also returns Nancy Cunard to her rightful place as a major figure in the historical, social, and artistic events of a critical era.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Gordon brings a literary sensibility, a historian's insight, and psychological fluency to her groundbreaking and alternately mesmerizing and shattering biography.

New York Daily News

Here is a fascinating life story, delivered in absorbing detail.

Vogue
A worthy biography of the Jazz Age beauty who mesmerized Pound and Elliot.

— Megan O'Grady

The Australian

This extraordinary life has been well served by Gordon.

Social Life Magazine
Gordon provides a perfect illustration of Cunard's fascinating, moving life...your perfect summertime read.

— Jen Ortiz

The Nation
[Lois Gordon] vividly reconstructs the Cunard legend and brings her back to life.

— Carla Kaplan

American Book Review
[A] fine biography-extremely well researched and felicitously written.

— Mary V. Dearborn

Rain Taxi

Lois Gordon's biography of Nancy Cunard arrives at a time when we sorely need exemplars for art and activism.

Modernism/Modernity

A fascinating and ultimately poignant story.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
[An] immensely detailed biography.

— Sarah Mower

Vogue - Megan O'Grady

A worthy biography of the Jazz Age beauty who mesmerized Pound and Elliot.

Social Life Magazine - Jen Ortiz

Gordon provides a perfect illustration of Cunard's fascinating, moving life...your perfect summertime read.

The Nation - Carla Kaplan

[Lois Gordon] vividly reconstructs the Cunard legend and brings her back to life.

American Book Review - Mary V. Dearborn

[A] fine biography-extremely well researched and felicitously written.

The Daily Telegraph (UK) - Sarah Mower

[An] immensely detailed biography.

Publishers Weekly

British-born heiress to the famous steamship fortune, Nancy Cunard (1896–1965) lived an extraordinary life. A famous beauty who became a flamboyant journalist and humanitarian, and an aspiring poet herself, she had such bold-faced lovers as Ezra Pound, who immortalized Cunard in the Cantos, and T.S. Eliot, who characterized her as an immoral siren with literary aspirations in The Waste Land. Edward, prince of Wales, wooed her to no avail; a fashion icon in Roaring '20s Paris, Cunard was photographed by Man Ray and played onscreen by Garbo; and she figured in the works of Waugh and Neruda. Cunard's long poem Parallaxwas published by the Woolfs' prestigious Hogarth Press, and her own Hours Press published Beckett, Robert Graves and Laura Riding. A scandalous romance with a black American musician severed her from family and inflamed her social conscience; she crusaded for blacks in her mammoth anthology Negro and against Franco's fascism as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. Although not written to appeal to a broad audience, this able, diligently researched biography by Fairleigh Dickinson English professor Gordon (coauthor of American Chronicle: Year by Year Through the 20th Century) revives the memory of a remarkable woman against the backdrop of major 20th-century events. Illus. (Apr.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231139380
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/20/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 504
  • Sales rank: 963,683
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lois Gordon, distinguished professor of English at Fairleigh Dickinson University, is internationally known for her work in drama and American culture. She is the author of the first book in the United States on Harold Pinter, and her most recent books include Pinter at 70; The World of Samuel Beckett, 1906-1946; Reading Godot; and American Chronicle: Year by Year Through the Twentieth Century, a classic reference on American culture.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     ix
Preface     xi
Acknowledgments     xv
Golden Girl     1
Coming of Age During a Revolution in the Arts     20
Counterpoint of War in London     51
Postwar Breakdown     71
Return to the World in Paris     90
Reluctant Icon     125
Nancy as Publisher     140
Prelude to Negro     156
Negro     181
Nancy as Journalist: Scottsboro, Ethiopia, Spain     196
On the front Lines in the Spanish Civil War     220
Exposing the Concentration Camps After Franco's Victory     242
Exile and Resistance in World War II     269
Surviving Reanville     300
Escaping La Mothe     322
The Last Great Glare     343
Epilogue     372
Notes     377
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2007

    Nancy Cunard? Who? Read this book and discover a fascinating woman...

    I just finished Lois Gordon's deeply moving tale of an unbelievably heroic, remarkable woman about whom I knew very little. I now feel I know the soul of Nancy Cunard, thanks to the author's wonderfully engaging, well-documented presentation. The book's fluent style and breadth of information are impressive. I agree with the many mainstream reviewers who have praised this fascinating biography. Buy this book, settle into your favorite chair, and prepare to meet the caring, complex, flawed, passionate woman who was Nancy Cunard.

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