Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist

Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist

by Lois Gordon
     
 

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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

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

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.)

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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.

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

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231511377
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
04/22/2007
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
504
Sales rank:
836,096
File size:
34 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

What People are saying about this

Alan W. Friedman

Lois Gordon's depiction of Nancy Cunard and her relationships is strong and vivid. Because Cunard was involved in many of the major events of the century, knew many of its artists personally and sexually, and was often represented in their work, this full-scale and highly detailed biography should have a readership appeal far beyond those interested in her complex and fascinating life and work.

Lawrence Graver

In Lois Gordon's tireless hands, Nancy Cunard comes across as a woman of remarkable intelligence, intensity, and romantic idealism.

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