‘Five Love Affairs and a Friendship’ by Anne de Courcy is the biography of the tumultuous life of Nancy Cunard, ‘It’ girl of the Jazz Age, writer, poet, publisher, beauty and spoilt wild child.
Nancy came from privilege, rejected the expectations of her class (though did not stop expecting an allowance from her family) and was a wild child who captivated her peers. Additionally, Nancy was also an alcoholic, and an unfortunate hysterectomy in her early 20’s allowed her pregnancy-free sex; a consequence-free licence for liaisons that matched her hyper-active libido and broke many of her lover’s hearts.
Remarkedly beautiful and gifted, Nancy could be both generous and appalling. Although she was a champion of African rights and culture, she was cruel to her African lover (the jazz musician Henry Crowder), thinking nothing of taking on a number of lovers (including other black men), and chastising Henry for not being black enough. Ouch!
While she was abusing Henry both verbally and by hitting him with an armful of carved African bracelets, she published a mayor tome regarding the mistreatment of African men and women (‘Negro’). Nancy seemed oblivious to her own behaviour, or perhaps, because she treated her white lovers with equal lack of sensitivity and equal physical and mental brutality, she felt she was showing no racial partiality.
Quite obviously, Nancy was no saint – particularly by the standards of her era – but most certainly Nancy was a muse to the many creatives of her era. Man Ray photographed her, Brancusi captured her spirit in a sculpture, Wyndham Lewis thought her a Goddess. Notably, Nancy had affairs with the 'who’s who' of her era: Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, Michael Arlen, Louis Aragon and many more.
Nancy avoided any contractual relationship that may have impeded her own personal freedom, though she appeared to addictively need a man at her side and in her bed. She had an insatiable appetite for men with whom she could drink, sleep, and talk!
I highly recommend ‘Five Love Affairs and a Friendship’. It is an insight into a truly complex human being.