Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris

St. Martin’s. Apr. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781250272560. $29.99. BIOG
This bed-hopping biography by de Courcy (Chanel’s Riviera) does an excellent job conveying the reckless, decadent Jazz Age in Paris, but it somehow fails to bring to life its subject: hard-living, free-loving heiress Nancy Cunard (1896–1965). Paris in the 1920s was a haven for U.S. and UK expatriates eager to live a creative, bohemian life that wasn’t possible at home. Chafing under the restrictions of upper-class British society and striking out at her mother, Maud “Emerald” Cunard, Nancy escaped to Paris in 1920. There she lived as she wanted and took (and discarded) many lovers, including Ezra Pound and Aldous Huxley. Her involvement with U.S. musician Henry Crowder opened her eyes to anti-Black racism, spurred her to take on an activist role, and permanently severed her relationship with Emerald.
VERDICT Readers who are curious about Cunard’s dissipation and decline or the “post-Nancy” lives of her many friends and lovers will appreciate this book’s lengthy bibliography. A good accompaniment to the multitude of other books about the Lost Generation and 1920s Paris.
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