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Nancy Cunard, Perfect Stranger

A Critical Biography

Jane Marcus (Introduced, Edited, and with an Afterword by Jean Mills)

Nancy Cunard: Perfect Stranger reshapes our understanding of a woman whose role in key historical, political, and cultural moments of the 20th century was either dismissed and attacked, or undervalued. Here, Jane Marcus, who was one of the most insightful critics of modernism and a pioneering feminist scholar, is unafraid and unapologetic in addressing and contesting Nancy Cunard’s reputation and reception as a spoiled heiress and “sexually dangerous New Woman.” Instead, with her characteristic provocative and energetic writing style, Marcus insists we reconsider issues of gender, race, and class in relation to the accusations, stereotypes, and scandal, which have dominated, and continue to dominate, our perception of Cunard in the public record. In the wake of inadequate histories of radical writing and activism, Nancy Cunard: Perfect Stranger brings its subject into the 21st century, offering a bold and innovative portrait of a woman we all thought we knew.

Nancy Cunard: Perfect Stranger “provides readings of [Cunard’s] work and her role in transatlantic modernism. . . . Marcus takes new comparative approaches for understanding Cunard’s contribution [and] interest in her work continues to grow. Marcus’ passionate defense of Cunard will further energize these discussions.”
—Mercedes Aguirre, The Times Literary Supplement

Nancy Cunard: Perfect Stranger “is a tour de force in its scope and forensic detail. Marcus exhaustively mined all available archives—letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, and typescript drafts—as well as personal testimonies, conferences, and seminars held in several countries and continents over several decades.”
Jane Dowson, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

“Marcus died before her Cunard study was polished for publicationa task completed by her former student and now established literary scholar, Jean Mills. Mills uncovered notes, computer files, scribbles, and hints left by Marcus to assemble this unusual presentation of Nancy Cunard’s stunning bohemian creativity. . . . This is not a biography of Cunard. Editor Jean Mills points to works by Anne Chisholm and Hugh Ford for a chronological presentation of Cunard’s life. Instead, Marcus’ contribution clarifies the significance of Cunard’s seemingly chaotic life and work to both modernism and Black culture.”
Sandi E. Cooper,The Coordinating Council for Women in History

“As she did for Woolf, Marcus re-radicalizes Cunard and unveils her as the force that she was. In the process, Marcus also channels her own force and power into the work. Perfect Stranger reverberates with Marcus’s signature voice: bold, uncompromising, fierce, unflinching, and brilliant.”
Ashley Foster, Virginia Woolf Miscellany


About the Authors

Jane Marcus, one of the most insightful critics of modernism, was a Distinguished Professor of English at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A pioneering feminist literary scholar, she specialized in women writers of the modernist era, changing the way we read the work of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Nancy Cunard, among others, by focusing on the social and political context and implications of their writing. She published extensively in her field, including such foundational titles as Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy, Art and Anger: Reading Like a Woman, and Hearts of Darkness: White Women Write Race.

Jean Mills is a feminist scholar and literary critic specializing in Peace Studies, Virginia Woolf, intellectual history, feminist theory, and literary modernism. She is the author of Virginia Woolf, Jane Ellen Harrison, and the Spirit of Modernist Classicism. She is an Associate Editor of the journal Feminist Modernist Studies and is currently at work on a collection of essays, Literary Approaches to Peace and a full length study 1924: A Year in the Life of Virginia Woolf.

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Pages: 348 pages

Published: November 2020


ISBN: 9781949979299

ISBN: 9781949979305