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The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild by Hannah Rothschild

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In 2011, David Kastin released the award-winning Nica’s Dream, a jazz journalist’s take on the life of Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the European baroness who gave up home, husband and children to devote herself to jazz. Now, providing another side of the story is The Baroness by Hannah Rothschild, the acclaimed documentarian who happens to be the great-niece of her book’s subject.

Rothschild, whose cinematic works include The Jazz Baroness, a feature-length study of her notorious relation, presents the notion that Nica’s artistic self-banishment was not an unprecedented act of defiance. Rather, by chronicling the checkered history of her clan, she makes it clear that Nica’s choice was consistent with those family iconoclasts who trafficked in breaks from the norm. The Rothschild family’s very identity as banking giants was in opposition to its origins as denizens of Frankfurt’s cramped “Jews’ Lane” ghetto. Once the Rothschilds began to consolidate their influence over the world financial market, family life combined stunning extravagance with bracingly reductive views about proper conduct, particularly with regard to women; only Rothschild sons were permitted to operate the family businesses, and a cousin once described a wife as “an essential part of the furniture.” Nica was raised in, and later married into, a lifestyle of strictly regimented meals, leisure-even family interactions. (Rothschild says that Nica, like many of the family’s children of the time, was essentially raised without parents.)

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