Nancy Cunard

Nancy Cunard was an heiress who rejected her family’s values and spent much of her life 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, Henry Crowder, and Louis Aragon, who were among her lovers, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Constantin Brancusi, Langston Hughes, Man Ray, and William Carlos Williams.”

She edited and published “Negro” (1934), an almost 900-page anthology of black history and culture and a call to “condemn racial discrimination and appreciate the . . . accomplishments of a long-suffering people.” In August 1936, she moved to Spain to cover the civil war there. Exasperated by the international community’s failure to intervene, she used her reporting to denounce Franco’s brutality and demand help for his victims.

In the end, Nancy Cunard declined into severe mental illness, exacerbated by heavy drinking. But she was the real thing, by all accounts.

She is the anti-Daphne Guinness, although Daphne may somehow conceive herself to be a renegade on a level with Cunard.   And look how Cunard rocks the biker jacket and turban, effortlessly cool without having to stumble around on 10 inch heels!

I’m sure you’re all well aware of Nancy Cunard. Nobody ever tells me anything! Better late than never.

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53 Responses to “Nancy Cunard”

  1. dust Says:

    People like her should be in history books, no kid should should be spared of knowing her name. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Make Do Style Says:

    Actually no, I had no idea but then when are women like this give the focus they should have. Such a shame re drink and illness. I need to know more now.

  3. Penny Dreadful Vintage Says:

    Wow, what a dame. I’d never heard of her, thanks Sister Wolf! *feeling a style icon post comin’ on*

  4. skye Says:

    Here she is on my blog way back in the mists of time (ie. two years ago), absolutely a legend and one of the various weirdos I grew up admiring!

  5. skye Says:

    That would be the link I forgot to add, because I am not real smart.

    http://skylarkandson.blogspot.com/2008/07/armful.html

  6. Stella Mayfair Says:

    i adore her. what a fascinating life, and she was incredibly beautiful too. she had a “salon” where a lot of the most interesting people of the early 20th century met to discuss ideas.

  7. Elena Abaroa Says:

    I didnt hear about her…But she seems great, i´m going to do a research… The Civil War in Spain was terrible, I cant belive she came here by herself just to help, these people who came from all different countries to fight against Franco were so brave and generous. Unfortunately it wasnt enough and Franco won the war :S

  8. Aja Says:

    Neither was I. Thanks for sharing, this woman’s story needs to be told.

  9. Cricket9 Says:

    I didn’t know about her either – my first thought after I started reading was “she’s anti-Daphne”! And she indeed rocks the look.

  10. sonja Says:

    Thanks for posting this Sister. I had not heard of her. Now I want to know everything about her. great photo. now that’s fashion.

  11. rebecca Says:

    I bet she and Virginia Woolf would have been good friends.

  12. Ann Says:

    I too had no idea! She’s a total badass (and her outfit is the hot shit). Commencing research.

  13. Sonia Luna Says:

    I didn’t know about her either, why? Love her already, must find a biography and find out everything about her, thank you so much for posting about her!

    On a completely different note I thought you might be interested in this:
    http://www.leonardo.info/isast/articles/duprat/duprat.html
    insects that MAKE jewellery!

  14. miss cavendish Says:

    She was actually part of my dissertation and was also famous for the miles of African bangles that she would pile on . . .

  15. MJ Says:

    I had heard her name but knew nothing about her – this was a very interesting and very cool post. Thank you.

  16. Bessie the Buddha cow: Says:

    She wasn’t in my “Women’s History” class. The book started with mythological female figures (great start for the history of women. Women who never existed. It actually started with Lilith). But that was over 25 years ago.

    I love all the bracelets w/the motorcycle jacket and turban; way ahead of her time. Thanks for the post!

  17. Andrea Says:

    What a fantastic gal.

    Have you read the Lois Gordon biography, Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Activist?

  18. Iheartfashion Says:

    I was only vaguely aware of her. What an amazing woman.

  19. Eliza Says:

    A large biography on Cunard came out a few years ago and got her mentioned on NPR, how I came into the know. You can read it all on Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=DxaARkEWM4kC&printsec=frontcover&dq=nancy+cunard&hl=en&ei=OFptTPStJIm5ngfE4IybCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  20. Lara Says:

    Love her!

    Oh Sister… totally unrelated but I thought you’d get a kick!
    So, you know Sea’s mom has been doing a lot of cooking posts. Well, one of her recipes actually looked like something I’d like to try. The Spaghetti w/ broccoli, walnuts & ricotta. I love walnuts on my steak and it looked light, simple and summery so, I gave it a shot.

    http://atlantishome.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/08/spaghetti-with-broccoli-walnuts-and-ricotta.html

    It was THE worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth (next to my ex-husband). Seriously, I am not being dramatic. I guess her taste buds are destroyed because I followed the recipe exactly (except I didn’t use that grainy whole wheat pasta and I added some grilled chicken on the side because well, I need meat) and it was so bland and boring and awful. I couldn’t finish my dinner (except for my chicken) and was so sad I had wasted the time and money.

    The boyfriend hated it and even my fat cat who’ll eat anything wouldn’t touch it.

    What a waste.

    Hope you’re doing well!
    xoxo

  21. Witch Moma Says:

    Thanks for the article – what a cool woman! I had no idea, now I’ll do my research.

  22. Alicia Says:

    No one ever told me about her. She sounds amazing. I hope I can find a book about her. Thanks, Sis.

  23. Alicia Says:

    There ARE!!!

    http://catalog.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/DoSearch?databaseID=965&index=W&terms=Nancy Cunard

  24. Erika Says:

    Thank you for the information. Her style is indeed awesome. I am particularly admiring of that stack of bracelets she has going there. I love hearing about women who buck the system. Keep it coming.

  25. David Duff Says:

    Hmmn! Another upper-crust Brit who became a “useful idiot”. To be that wrong that long about almost everything it can hardly be a surpise that she was a loony and a drunk. Orwell had her measure and in response to her silly questionnaire on Franco he replied:

    “Will you please stop sending me this bloody rubbish. This is the second or third time I have had it. I am not one of your fashionable pansies like Auden or Spender, I was six months in Spain, most of the time fighting, I have a bullet hole in me at present and I am not going to write blah about defending democracy or gallant little anybody…”

    He, of course, was a middle-class Brit who began life stuffed full of youthful nonsense but had sufficient intellectual rigor to grow up and see the monster that lurks behind the socialist mask.

  26. Sister Wolf Says:

    Skye – I need to go back and read your archives to see what else you’ve been withholding from me!

    Miss Cavendish – You too! Tell me everything.

  27. Sister Wolf Says:

    Lara – “It was THE worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth (next to my ex-husband)” =One of the greatest lines ever written. I need to create an award for this!

    Mrs. Aldridge owes you an apolopgy AND a free shopping trip to Tokyo.

  28. Sister Wolf Says:

    David – You’re SO CUTE when you’re mad. I read that Orwell quote and I admit I love it. However, it doesn’t detract from my admiration for this woman. Don’t tell anyone, but Spender was my ex-husband’s second cousin (ex’s mother was a Spender) They aren’t too keen on him, either.

  29. Sister Wolf Says:

    Eliza – Wow, thanks!

  30. patni Says:

    never heard of her and love the picture.

  31. HelOnWheels Says:

    First time hearing of her and, of course, it’s on here. Thanks, SW.

  32. HelOnWheels Says:

    P.S. – Oh, great. Sea of Jane is coming to my city this weekend. I hope I run into her. I’ll pass along everybody’s “regards”.

  33. mhdbass Says:

    So glad you posted this – she sounds amazing and I knew nothing about her! THIS is who we should be learning about in school, instead of endless dead white men! Really reminded me of Jessica Mitford’s story – she is also worth looking up for awesome-women-from-history inspiration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Mitford).

  34. Miss Janey Says:

    Miss J had hadn’t heard of her. Better late than never.

  35. Andra Says:

    The 1930′s has always been my favourite time. Wish I’d been around then – think Myrna Loy & William Powell in “The Thin Man”, the Marx Bros., Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, et al.
    Witty writing delivered with such flair.
    Affairs with the rich and famous.
    The Round Table at the Algonquin.
    Literary soirees in Paris and Berlin.
    Great clothes, music and architecture.
    Classy stuff.
    Damned sorry I missed it.

  36. Sister Wolf Says:

    mhdbass – I love Jessica Mitford!

    Andra – Same here. Very much.

  37. Dru Says:

    I don’t share the Daphne hate (can’t, sorry Sister!) but as mhdbass said, her great-aunt Jessica was another anti-Franco lady who went (actually, ran away) to Spain to fight and report, and was amazing in many,many ways. They were a complicated family, though, I’ll always have a soft spot for Mitford descendants even if you don’t- though I might cry a little inside if you tell me you hate Stella Tennant too.

  38. David Duff Says:

    Her main claim to fame was her opposition to Franco. Now, I admit that my knowledge of 20th century Spanish history is minimal but I do know the general outcome which was that the old brute shot a lot of communists (so not all bad, then, eh?) and then with great skill kept Spain out of WWII to the huge benefit of his people. I’m not sure of the exact body count of the number of internal victims who fell to his secret police but I am prepared to make a decent wager that had the communists won the civil war the figure would be at least 5x bigger and the country would have sunk into complete poverty. Both Spain (and Portugal under a similar Right-wing junta) came out of their dictatorships and emerged peacefully into democracy.

    The woman was a nutcase, im-pure and simple-minded!

  39. my favorite and my best Says:

    not well aware. thank you for sharing. she looks about as cool as any one individual can look.

  40. Tamia Says:

    See, now that’s style: individualism + activism + leather. Can’t forget the leather.
    My friend and I tried (unsuccessfully) to emulate Ms. Cunard in college before realizing we were nowhere near that cool.

  41. Winter Bird Says:

    Gawd…she is so fabulous I can’t stand it!

  42. Tricia Says:

    I want to say that the Lost Generation and its wealthy patrons trump Generation Me and its wealthy, publicity-seeking club-hoppers every time, but I guess the GE’s should get a little more time and historical perspective.

  43. lyn f Says:

    David Duff – Spain DID sink into complete poverty, you should read up a bit more on the Spanish Civil War I think. The country is still torn now, as they continue to find mass graves of ordinary civilians murdered by Franco’s men. Read about the ‘hungry years’, when Franco starved out entire towns and villages. Children would eat grass and weeds out of desparation. I have just returned to the UK to live after living 8 years in Andalucia. People in our village were still divided and afraid to talk out against the local council in fear of retribution and persecution. If Nancy was against Franco and all he stood for – no matter what her ‘class’ was – and had the guts to go to a country where no-one was safe – then more power to her!!!!

  44. helen Says:

    Hear,see or speak no evil. Karma strikes again and one of the Aldridge’s lips appear to have turned necrotic. Lucky escape Dolly.

  45. sketch42 Says:

    She looks awesome.

    Isnt it so strange how so many people from those lost generation ex pat circles went crazy?

  46. sketch42 Says:

    I actually love that you moderate comments now.

  47. Sister Wolf Says:

    Sketch – How come you love it?? I still feel bad about it.

  48. urbain Says:

    good choice for the photo, you didn’t take the most famous portrait of her made by Man Ray. Today, she’s more iconic among hipsters for her bangles addiction than for her fight. But yes, she has this malady of elegance and elegance of malady on her old days: her end was tragic

  49. sketch42 Says:

    Because I dont want to read that vile crap that those nut cases were spewing. Its not fair to you to take that kind of abuse.

  50. Sister Wolf Says:

    sketch42 – I guess you’re right. Hate and abuse aren’t really discourse. Thanks for not being scared away by it, xo

  51. subWOW Says:

    Sort of wandered around the interwebz and chanced upon your blog. Thanks for this post. I listen to NPR exclusively and that’s how I heard about her… Thank goodness for the Internet… Isn’t it amazing (sadly) that it takes the Internet for people such as Cunard to become better-known than she previously was (before the Internet)? Now we just need somebody to make a movie based on her life story! (Please please please don’t make Jolie play her…)

  52. OMGGMAB Says:

    Fighting racism is noble, brave. Bravo, Nancy Cunard. And thank you Sister for bringing her into the forefront. I shall read more about her.

    An observation: Frequently, individuals who have greatly influenced history (in any genre) are considered “nut cases” for one reason or another. Few people have the burden of having their lives dissected and studied under the microscope of historians and public opinion. That is the cost of fame; infamy if you will. Ultimately, our human history is written those whose voices, actions, and personas rise above the societal din.

    How many of us could have our lives minutely examined and remain unscathed in the nut case category?

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