A momentary meander away from bricks.
A comment yesterday from Hermine about the wearing of bracelets up to the elbows inspired me to mention the incomparable Nancy Cunard. A postcard version of this photograph by Man Ray has travelled around with me for decades, propped on one mantlepiece or other. I have not been Nancyless for a very long time.
I must admit I have always loved her for her bracelets (of course) and her fierce iconoclasm – a confession she would have used those very bracelets to beat me over the pate for. And she would be right, because she was far more than the sum of her parts, or the number of her bracelets.
Her name should give a clue – she was great-granddaughter of the founder of the Cunard Line and child of an American beauty and a British aristocrat. She was a publisher, a poet in her own right, a muse to and lover of countless literary luminaries including Pound, Eliot, and Wyndham Lewis. She was associated with Neruda, Beckett and Breton’s surrealists.
She was ever restless, insecure, ceaseless in her assault on injustice. In 1928 she became an activist, campaining on racial politics and civil rights in the USA. In the 30s she took up the fight against anti-fascism. Together with Auden and Spender she sent a questionnaire to 200 writers, asking “Are you for, or against, the legal government and people of Republican Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism? For it is impossible any longer to take no side.” George Orwell responded “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…”
She drank too much, ate too little, and after a fight with London police, was eventually hospitalised for “mental illness”. I sometimes wonder whether lives that have not been squeezed into some sort of shape by the necessity to work tend to run to un-checked extremes that resemble (and maybe become) madness. Of course, an excess of wealth and intelligence don’t always help. After her release from hospital, her health went downhill further and she weighed only sixty pounds when she was found on the streets of Paris and taken to hospital. She died two days later. Her body was returned to London and the remains sent back to France.