Cover Image: Magnificent Rebel

Magnificent Rebel

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Member Reviews

I enjoyed reading this biography, I'm learning so much about art these days and this book was a fresh air to learn about so many artists and places I've never been.

it was Paris 1920 an era of magnificent art and many artists who were in their best element during those years.

I don't like writing reviews about biographies or real stories as I feel like they're experiences and the life of someone and the life of someone is not right to rate but I can say this book was beautiful, i enjoy reading stories about magnificent strong, and courageous women such as Nancy.

this will transport you to a magical era where everything was beautiful before WW2.

Thank you, NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the advanced copy of Magnificent Rebel in exchange for my honest review.

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This was a pretty solid read, it was a very detail account of Nancy Cunard’s life. I did find it enjoyable but it was also a bit of a slow read.

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I apologize but I was not able to read very far into this book. I work off my iPad and it crashed I guess I’d call it. I lost many books and was devastated. I will say that the little bit of what I did read hadn’t sucked me in far. I was hoping it would grow.

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An immensely entertaining and informative portrait of Nancy Cunard and her circle, even if it’s tough to truly like the principal subject of the book.

Nancy, while certainly on the right side of history ideologically, quickly presents as one of those people who confuses personal freedom with a license to act like an asshole to anyone close to her. While it’s easy to admire her positions on ethics and politics as well as her own attempts to contribute personally to the cause, I wouldn’t have wanted to know her and can’t truly say I admire her character when she spent most of her life mistreating those around her.

That said, her story is an interesting one populated by a host of interesting figures, many already familiar to the educated reader, others finally getting their due.

While it’s easy and probably appropriate to dismiss Nancy as a cruel, spoiled twit at least on some level, she certainly made positive contributions to her world and proves an intriguing if deeply flawed central character.

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I am a big fan of this author, as she brings history to life! I started the book, but I decided to not finish it, due to time constraints. I'm a big mood reader, so I hope to come back to this book when I'm in a mood to read about this. I LOVE the title of the book, and the cover is very eye-catching!

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I don’t usually read books about the “lives of the rich and famous”, but I do love stories about the “Jazz Age” in Paris. Nancy Cunard, of the wealthy Cunard family, is an unconventional poet of the period. This biography details her life and loves, mainly her Paris years, in the 1920s. I didn’t find her a likeable character, but did enjoy the references to the literati who lived and worked in Paris at the time.

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<B>The Publisher Says</b>: Anne de Courcy, the author of Husband Hunters and Chanel's Riviera, examines the controversial life of legendary beauty, writer and rich girl Nancy Cunard during her thirteen years in Jazz-Age Paris.

Paris in the 1920s was bursting with talent in the worlds of art, design and literature. The city was at the forefront of everything new and exciting; there was no censorship; life and love were there for the taking. At its center was the gorgeous, seductive English socialite Nancy Cunard, scion of the famous shipping line. Her lovers were legion, but this book focuses on five of the most significant and a lifelong friendship.

Her affairs with acclaimed writers Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, Michael Arlen and Louis Aragon were passionate and tempestuous, as was her romance with black jazz pianist Henry Crowder. Her friendship with the famous Irish novelist George Moore, her mother’s lover and a man falsely rumored to be Nancy’s father, was the longest-lasting of her life. Cunard’s early years were ones of great wealth but also emotional deprivation. Her mother Lady Cunard, the American heiress Maud Alice Burke (who later changed her name to Emerald) became a reigning London hostess; Nancy, from an early age, was given to promiscuity and heavy drinking and preferred a life in the arts to one in the social sphere into which she had been born. Highly intelligent, a gifted poet and widely read, she founded a small press that published Samuel Beckett among others. A muse to many, she was also a courageous crusader against racism and fascism. She left Paris in 1933, at the end of its most glittering years and remained unafraid to live life on the edge until her death in 1965.

Magnificent Rebel is a nuanced portrait of a complex woman, set against the backdrop of the City of Light during one of its most important and fascinating decades.


My Review</b>: How the hell do I rate and review this book? Author de Courcy writes very well, has clearly done research I have no reason to suspect contains careless errors (ie, I as a non-expert possess no knowledge that contradicts anything contained in here), and clearly understands the role of conflict and drama in non-fiction...yet I hated every minute of the read.

Let me explain.

Nancy Cunard knew everyone, went everywhere, did everything adventurous and fun one can dream up to do when there is a giant pot of cash under one's checkbook. She was also a narcissist, and probably a sociopath. She had no moral compass I could discern from any anecdote herein. She was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know," because she could and did turn on people who had given her no cause to dislike them.

And men flocked to her orbit! They wanted sex, of course, but quite a lot of them fell for her! All the mor amazing because of her one reasonably good quality, by modern standards: she never bothered herself to dissemble. As the great majority of people prefer to be told pretty little lies by their lovers, I'd say this shows that the men who fell for her really, truly fell, to accept her honest and usually very scathing opinion of them and keep coming back. Her "honesty" (which, as presented herein, is really just brutal unnecessary unkindness) comes in for a helping of praise I don't feel is warranted. She did many laudable things in pursuit of social justice, which no one should try to minimize. Her addiction issues and mental illness, which the author is careful to make unmistakable for the reader, is obvious in hindsight from the present century's ludicrously low "heights" of enlightenment, do not excuse the abusive and manipulative behaviors she displayed. To Author de Courcy's credit, she makes no excuses for the troubling behviors but goes out of her way to explain how the Cunards were less a family than threesome of selfish, oblivious rich people. How else could Nancy have turned out?

So I liked the book. But I loathed the subject. I am not glad I know more about her than my previous awareness of her name and sterling literary taste and activities. I the knowledge that this awful person is a feminist icon to some because she was as free as the male abusers and rotters of her day. Yuck! "But they were worse!" hardly seems like a justification for someone to behave badly.

I've settled on four stars, all for the felicity of Author de Courcy's discourse, and none for this awful, abusive human being.

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I received an advanced digital reader’s copy of Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris by Anne de Courcy in exchange for my unbiased opinion. I’d like to thank Ms. de Courcy, her publisher St. Martin's Press , and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. Although I read the book quickly and prior to its recent publication date of April 11, 2023, a family emergency and cross-country travel twice during the past two months interfered with my ability to submit a cogent review, for which I am sorry.

Ms. de Courcy’s forte’ is to delve deeply into researching her biographical subjects and writing excellent, juicy tidbits about well known, historical people that haven’t been “done to death.” She makes the readers feel as though we are there, experiencing life right along with her titled subjects; In this case, it’s Nancy Cunard, heiress to The Cunard Shipping Company and daughter of an American born mother who preferred to play hostess than be a mother and an older, British father, with whom she was close until her mother took her away to live separately while she was still young.

Very early on, Nancy determined she didn’t care to conform to societal norms; although she married young at her mother’s urging, she did so solely to extricate herself from her mother’s house. She quickly divorced her husband and from then on had many, many love affairs throughout her life, often simultaneously, much to the dismay of many of her lovers. She was a friend and lover to many of the most famous, important and influential artists, musician, writers, and politicians of the first half of the twentieth century. She moved back and forth from England to France and travelled to Italy, the United States and Africa, and other places, as well.

Ms. de Courcy’s biography paints Nancy Cunard as a fascinating woman, ahead of her time in many ways, but clearly demonstrates that she often was mean, callous, and indifferent to the feelings of those closest to her; she was selfish and self indulgent; and she was, for most of her life, a raging alcoholic, remaining perpetually drunk, day and night, day after day after day. On the other hand, she also could be and was extremely generous and fought for justice and equality for all people regardless of color, gender or societal background.

I found all of these contradictory details interesting and often disturbing, sometimes even distressing. Though she was thought by many to be one of the most beautiful and fashionable women of her time, it seems that she had a sad and lonely childhood leading to an unhappy and lonely adulthood.

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Heir to the Cunard Shipping fortune, Nancy Cunard was a study in extremes. Beautiful and rich, she inspired and helped to publish some of the greatest artists of the Lost Generation. She was a vocal advocate for equality. She was a gifted poet in her own right. She campaigned tirelessly against fascism and racism. Later she would work as a translator for the French Resistance.

She was also a spoiled, alcoholic, self-destructive brat with no regard for fidelity or other people's feelings. The list of broken hearts she left behind is immense.

Anne de Courcy does a fantastic job of capturing both sides of her personality. As I read about Nancy's exploits, I was in equal parts impressed and repulsed by her behavior. At times I even felt sorry for her. Her parents all but ignored her, which only fueled her outrageous behavior.

One thing I wasn't while reading this book was bored. Nancy was fascinating. I can see why so many people were drawn into her circle. Again, de Courcy paints a magnificent picture of post-WW1 Europe. Her side tangents about that world were as interesting as her main subject.

If you're into reading about the Jazz Age or the Lost Generation, you'll truly enjoy this book.

Barb's Book Reviews

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Delighted to highlighted this new release in “The Lives of Others,” a round-up of new and notable biography and cultural history titles in the Books section of Zoomer magazine for April. (see column and mini-review at link)

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I knew nothing about Nancy Cunard until I read this fascinating book. She lived the life she wanted as an heiress, icon, muse, poet, activist and nymphomaniac. I cannot think of any woman since her era who has lived a more unique life. Great details and strong writing by author who consistently writes well.Thanks to #NetGalley and #MagnificentRebel for advanced digital copy.

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If you read Nancy Cunard's obituary, you'd almost think that there were two women with the same name and the same station, but radically different lives. Magnificent Rebel looks deeper into the conundrum that was Nancy Cunard.

Cunard epitomized the poor little rich girl, the only child of and absent father and self-sbsorbed mother, infected with a chronic case of "I'll show you," but her tactics couldn't be further apart. On the one hand, there was Nancy Cunard, the poet, and publisher, a supporter of the arts and muse to many, reflected by a warped mirror of Nancy Cunard, the alcoholic and sex addict bent on self-destruction. Magnificent Rebel presents both sides of Nancy Cunard, not resolving them as there was no way they could be brought together.

Anne De Courcy was able to research Cunard via Cunard's own diaries, where Cunard provided colorful and frightening descriptions of how she provided a safe port for the arts and artists while drinking herself into oblivion. The reader may question whether Cunard was a reflection of Paris in the 1920s or whether Paris was the reflection of her bright and blinding light.

Magnificent Rebel is both engrossing and excruciating, where the readers will find themselves dazzled at what Cunard was able to achieve while disheartened by Cunard's self-destruction.

Highly recommended, four and one-half stars

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Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC copy of this book!
Really detailed perspective into Nancy Cunard's life- and what a whirlwind it was! Focuses on her many relationships with some pretty famous men in her life, as well as the women that influenced her life in Paris and beyond. It was a bit slow of a read, but because of all the detail included- de Courcy did a lot of research to write this book! Great read for those interested in the Bright Young Things or post-war European upper class culture. Seems like a pass to everyone else just because of it's slow detailed pace.

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A fascinating look at the life of Nancy Cunard during the Jazz Age in Paris who was at the center of all the creative arts - from famous writers such as Aldous Huxley and Ezra Pound, to artists such as Man Ray, Guevara and Brancusi and Dali to jazz musicians. And this is just to name a very few. She came from a life of privilege but was never really certain who her father was and had a roller-coaster relationship with her mother (eccentric in her own right). If Nancy lived in this century, she would surely be a social media influencer. She was courageous, moody and passionate. It's possible she had an underlying mental illness and thus self-medicated, but the author does not imply this, it is only my curiosity. She had many lovers including a Black American Jazz Musician and when she visited him in America, she was trying to push him to stand up for himself totally oblivious to the state of race relations and Jim Crow compared to Europe's more openness and acceptance of different races. To her credit, she did connect with writers such as Claude McKay from the Harlem Renaissance (although they had a terrible misunderstanding and falling out) and wrote articles and letters calling out racism. Sadly, during WWII, the German occupiers raided her house, burning her art collection, letters and rare first edition books (including a 1598 edition of Chaucer's works). Tragically, in the end she was arrested for erratic, violent behavior and deemed mentally incompetent. Her light burned bright for a time before it was extinguished. This book is meticulously researched and the author does a fantastic job describing the context of the times. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC and I am leaving my honest review voluntarily.

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I always enjoy reading about people I’ve never before been aware.
Nancy Cunard fits that description. I was familiar with the Cunard line but none of the family members.
I liked the author’s focus on Cunard’s relationships while she resided in Paris in the wild 1920s. She rubbed elbows with just about every famous name one can think during those years.
It is an illuminating read.

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A fascinating deep dive into Nancy Cunard life her time in Paris the people the fabulous high society she circulated in.At the same time her life had many difficulties many depressing moments. So written so well researched the author did an excellent job bringing her to life.#netgalley #st.Martins

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Recently I've been addicted to the much-lamented HeyGo, a site on which tour guides from all over the world gave walking tours as they spoke about their environment. In Paris, there was the delightful, charismatic Flo ( who tramped the streets of Montmartre and the Marais and other sites where artists and Bohemians and writers congregated--in those days, cheap digs, until the rest of the world found them.

While Flo would tramp those cinematic streets, telling anecdotes about famous creative figures, I'd be thinking about what I'd read, for I really enjoy tales about the Parisian creatives from the nineteenth century up to the Jazz Age.

So I grabbed this book, because I'd seen Nancy Cunard often mentioned in letters and biographies and memoirs of the twenties and thirties. What sort of person was she besides rich?

Anne de Courcy does an excellent job of showing you why we don't have much left behind by Nancy herself. This biography ended up slotting itself into what I call alien minds mode. (I might one day create a Goodreads category for that): biographies about people so utterly different that I might as well be reading science fiction.

Beware, this is an excellent, well-researched book, and the stories about the various Jazz Age figures are rich and plentiful. But Nancy Cunard was, um, a piece of work. I guess she could serve as the poster child for Riches Don't Make You Happy. Because she was born rich, neglected by utterly selfish parents, brought up by an iceberg of a governess, and became an utterly selfish person herself. Not a rebel in any real sense--she just fell in with a set who thought of themselves a rebels. According to this bio (which rings true with a lot of the bits about Nancy mentioned in letters and memoirs) she was 100% dedicated to herself and her own wishes and desires, while steadily drinking her way through her millions. The only rebelling she did was against any kind of self-awareness or trying to be the best human being she could be, with all her resources.

It's very depressing to read about her, but if you can read around her, it's an absorbing look at what kind of creativity sparks when artistic people hang together.

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I didn't know anything about Nancy Cunard, but the 1920s is an era I love to read about. I found the woman to be fascinating, but also awful. Her childhood was such a classic poor little rich girl upbringing. One without parental love and surrounded by servants for family. So it's no wonder her privileged life she spiraled into addiction. I've never been one to love a "character" who does things just to be disruptive or push buttons. "Look at me... I'm edgy" seems to have driven a lot of her life. But she was also strongly anti-fascist and fought for racial equality so there was some good there. To me Nancy is a great example of the rich, lost and searching generation that made the 20s roar and Anne de Courcy did a great job of bringing her to life.

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One of my favorite historical periods has to be the years between WWI and WWII. Nancy Cunard was one of the larger than life personalities living and loving in Paris in 1920. She was self-centered, cruel, passionate and creative and an alcoholic. By the time of her death in 1965 she was a mere shadow of her 1920's self. In the hands of gifted writer Anne de Courcy, a master researcher of the 1920-1930 period, Nancy Cunard's life makes for an eye opening read. It was a period when they wrote their own rules.
Nancy Cunard came from a family with a name that opened doors. It was hard to find anyone on the planet who hadn't heard the name. Her mother was American and both parents were emotionally absent for Nancy, not uncommon to the Upper Crust on either side of the Pond. As an only child raised mostly by servants she became selfish, ego centric and did whatever the heck she wanted whenever the mood struck her. Free love, booze, Jazz, art. literature - that was her world and she shone brightly. The book focuses on five of her famous lovers, her short lived publishing house and her actions against Fascism and the rise of the Nazi movement. She was also a great supporter African-Americans in Paris and their struggles and their art. A fascinating look at a woman who made a mark in life for better or for worse.
My thanks to the publisher St. Martin's and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

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This is the story of Nancy Cunard, the scion of the Cunard shipping line. Nancy Cunard had many affairs with famous men during her life. She was a woman who had rumor following her as the scent of perfume would for others. She was a woman who fought for what she believed in and lived a fearless life. This book is the true story of Nancy,

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