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Nancy Cunard

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Nancy Clare Cunard [1] [2] (March 10 1896 – March 17 1965) was an English writer, editor and publisher, political activist, anarchist and poet. She was born into the British upper class but strongly rejected her family's values, devoting much of her life to fighting racism and fascism.

She became a muse to some of the 20th century's most distinguished writers and artists, including Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound, and Louis Aragon, who were among her lovers, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Constantin Brancusi, Langston Hughes, Man Ray, and William Carlos Williams. In later years she suffered from mental illness, and her physical health deteriorated. She died penniless at age 69.

1910s Edit

Her father was Sir Bache Cunard, an heir to the Cunard Line shipping businesses, interested in polo and fox hunting, and a baronet. Her mother was born Maud Alice Burke (1872-1948), and was an American heiress; as Lady Emerald Cunard, she became a leading London society hostess, and was later celebrated as a friend of Wallis Simpson.Template:Facts Her parents separated in 1910. Nancy had been brought up on the family estate at Nevill Holt, Leicestershire; at that point she moved to London with her mother. Her education was at various boarding schools, including time in France and Germany.

She had a short-lived marriage during World War I to Sydney Fairbairn, a cricketer, an army officer and wounded war veteran; it lasted less than two years before they separated. She was also at that time on the edge of The Coterie, associating in particular with Iris Tree.

She also contributed to the Sitwell anthology Wheels, providing its title poem; it has been said that the venture was originally her project.

Cunard's lover Peter Broughton-Adderley was killed in action in France less than a month before Armistice Day. She is said to have never fully recovered from that loss.


In 1920 Nancy Cunard moved to Paris, where she became involved with literary Modernism, Surrealists and Dada. Much of her published poetry dates from this period. During her early years in Paris, she was close to Michael Arlen.

A brief relationship with Aldous Huxley influenced several of his novels. She was the model for Myra Viveash in Antic Hay (1923) and for Lucy Tantamount in Point Counter Point (1928).[1]

It has been suggested that she became dependent on alcohol at this time, and may have used other drugs.[2]

The Hours Press and political activismEdit

In 1927 Cunard moved into a farmhouse in La Chapelle-Réanville, Normandy. It was there in 1928 that she set up The Hours Press, a small press. Previously it had been the Three Mountains Press, run as a hobby by William Bird, an American journalist in Paris, who had already produced work by Ezra Pound. Cunard wanted to support experimental poetry and provide a higher-paying market for young writers; her inherited wealth allowed her to take financial risks that other publishers could not. The press became known for its beautiful book designs and high-quality production.[3]

The Hours Press brought out the first separately published work of Samuel Beckett, a poem called Whoroscope (1930). It also published Pound's initial XXX Cantos. By 1931, Wyn Henderson had taken over day-to-day operation of the press, and in the same year it published its last book, The Revaluation of Obscenity by sexologist Havelock Ellis.[4]

In 1928 (after a two-year affair with Louis Aragon) she began a relationship with Henry Crowder, an African-American jazz musician who was working in Paris. She became an activist in matters concerning racial politics and civil rights in the USA, and visited Harlem. In 1931 she published the pamphlet Black Man and White Ladyship, an attack on racist attitudes as exemplified by Cunard's mother, whom she quoted as saying "Is it true that my daughter knows a Negro?"[5] She also edited Negro: An Anthology, collecting poetry, fiction, and nonfiction primarily by African-American writers, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. It also included writing by George Padmore and Cunard's own account of the Scottsboro Boys case.[6] Press attention to this project in May 1932, two years before it was published, led to Cunard's receiving anonymous threats and hate mail, some of which she published in the book, expressing regret that "[others] are obscene, so this portion of American culture cannot be made public."


In the mid-1930s she took up the anti-fascist fight as well, writing about Mussolini's annexation of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War. She predicted, accurately, that the “events in Spain were a prelude to another world war”. Her stories about the suffering of Spanish refugees became the basis for a fundraising appeal in the Manchester Guardian. Cunard herself helped deliver supplies and organize the relief effort, but poor health -- caused in part by exhaustion and the conditions in the camps -- forced her to return to Paris, where she stood on the streets collecting funds for the refugees.[7]

In 1937, she published a series of pamphlets of war poetry, including the work of W.H. Auden, Tristan Tzara, and Pablo Neruda. Later the same year, she distributed a questionnaire about the war to writers in Europe; the results were published by the Left Review as Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War.[8]

During World War II, Cunard worked, to the point of physical exhaustion, as a translator in London on behalf of the French Resistance.

Later lifeEdit

After the war, she gave up her home at Réanville and travelled extensively. She suffered from mental illness and poor physical health, worsened by alcoholism, poverty, and self-destructive behavior. She was committed to a mental hospital after a fight with London police. After her release her health declined even further, and she weighed only sixty pounds when she was found on the street in Paris and brought to the Hôpital Cochin.[9] She died there two days later.

Her body was returned to England for cremation and the remains were sent back to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris. Her ashes rest in urn number 9016.


  • Outlaws (1921), poems
  • Sublunary (1923), poems
  • Parallax (1925, Hogarth Press), poems
  • Poems (1930)
  • Black Man and White Ladyship (1931) polemic pamphlet
  • Negro: an Anthology (1934) anthology of African literature and art, editor
  • Authors Take Sides (1937) pamphlet, compiler
  • Los poetas del mundo defienden al pueblo español (1937, Paris), co-editor with Pablo Neruda
  • The White Man's Duty: An analysis of the colonial question in the light of the Atlantic Charter (with George Padmore) (1942)
  • Poems for France (1944)
  • Releve into Marquis (1944)
  • Grand Man: Memories of Norman Douglas (1954)
  • GM: Memories of George Moore (1956)
  • These Were the Hours: Memories of My Hours Press, Réanville and Paris, 1928-1931 (1969), autobiography


  1. Chisholm, Anne (1981). Nancy Cunard. New York: Penguin Books, 110-120. ISBN 0-14-00-5572-X. 
  2. Nancy Cunard, 1896-1965: Biographical Sketch, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center website (University of Texas at Austin)
  3. Benstock, Shari (1986). Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900–1940. Texas: University of Texas Press, 389-390. ISBN 0-292-79040-6. 
  4. Benstock, 393-394.
  5. Renata Morresi, Set Apart: Nancy Cunard, HOW2 vol. 1, no. 4, September 2000.
  6. product page for Negro: An Anthology
  7. Weber.
  8. Benstock, 418-422.
  9. Benstock, 423.
  • Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist, (2007) Lois Gordon
  • Those Remarkable Cunards, Emerald and Nancy (1968) Daphne Fielding
  • Nancy Cunard: Brave Poet, Indomitable Rebel 1896-1965 (1968) edited by Hugh Ford
  • Nancy Cunard: A Biography (1979) Anne Chisholm
  • Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank (2001) Andrea Weiss
  • The Rebel Heiress by Caroline Weber April 1, 2007 New York Times

External linksEdit

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