Five Love Affairs and a Friendship: The Paris Life of Nancy Cunard, Icon of the Jazz Age by Anne de Courcy - review by Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

La Jeune Fille Sophistiquée

Five Love Affairs and a Friendship: The Paris Life of Nancy Cunard, Icon of the Jazz Age

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 336pp £22 order from our bookshop
 

In many ways, as Anne de Courcy’s Five Love Affairs and a Friendship suggests, Nancy Cunard epitomised the Jazz Age, with her angular blonde beauty idiosyncratically accessorised with armfuls of ivory bracelets, her relentless flight from boredom, her devotion to modernity, her dependence on alcohol, her emotional emptiness and her desire to be a blazing talent in her own right. ‘Never for a second was it possible not to be aware of Nancy,’ Sybille Bedford observed. Interest in her has never abated: only four years ago Constantin Brâncuși’s gleaming brass abstract portrait of her, La Jeune fille sophistiquée (1932), sold for $71 million.

The story of her life offers the reader no happy endings. Born into great privilege in 1896, Nancy Cunard was a desperately lonely child whose sole friend was the novelist George Moore, her mother’s soon-to-be abandoned lover. A member of the fashionable Coterie set along with her friends Iris Tree and Diana Manners, as a young woman Cunard wrote poetry and pursued freedom from convention – recklessly, as her contemporaries would have put it. During the First World War, she married a man she barely knew to escape childhood and her mother; she was devastated that he, and not a paramour of three weeks whom she believed to be the love of her life, survived the war.

Divorced in the early 1920s, she became an elegantly squiffy fixture of the arty bohemian scene in London and Paris, her bedmates including T S Eliot (apparently his only one-night stand; he rewarded her by producing a bitchy portrait in an early draft of The Waste Land), Ezra

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter