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|Gabriele D´Annunzio (1863-1938)|
Italian poet, novelist and dramatist, military hero, and supporter fascist political ideas. D'Annunzio combined in his work naturalism, symbolism, and erotic images, becoming the best interpreter of European Decadence in post-Risorgimento Italy. His love affairs, relationship with the world-famous actress Eleanora Duse, heroic adventures during World War I, and his occupation of Fiume in 1919 made him a legend in his own time.
"O nere e bianche rondini, tra notte
Gabriele D`Annunzio was born in Pescara (Abruzzi), in Central Italy on the Adriatic coast. This environment provided him with inspiration for many his books. "On the soles of my shoes, the heels of my boots I carry the earth of Abruzzi, the mud of my estuary," D'Annunzion later said. His father was a wealthy landowner, dealer in wine and agricultural products, and later mayor of the town – originally his name was Francesco Paolo Rapagnetta. At the age of 13 he had been adopted by his uncle, Antionio D'Annunzio, and he legally added the 'D'Annunzio' to his name. In 1858 he married Luisa De Benedictis; they had three daughters and two sons.
D'Annunzio studied at the Liceo Cicognini in Prato – the school was one of the best in Italy at that time. As a poet D'Annunzio made his debut at the age of sixteen with Primo vere (1879). The poems were inspired by Giosuè Carducci's Odi barbare (1877). In 1881 he entered the University of Rome, where he fully participated in the capital's social and cultural life, and contributed to newspapers, particularly Fanfulla della Domenica, Capitan Francassa, and Cronaca Bizantina. After D'Annunzio's father was reluctant to give his blessing to his son's intention to marry his first love, Giselda Zucconi, D'Annunzio broke with him. It is also generally agreed that in Il trionfo della morte (1894, The Triumph of Death) D'Annunzio portrayed him as an incurable womanizer, as he was in real life.
In 1883 D'Annunzio married Maria Hardouin di Gallese, a duke's daughter. They had three sons; the marriage ended in 1891. His unfaithfulness drove her to attempt suicide – she threwn herself from the window of their apartment. During these years D'Annunzio produced much hack work in order to support the expensive life style of his titled wife. However, he also published several important books of lyrics. His last book, Teneo te, Africa, came out in 1936 in Tutte Le Opere; the title of the work, which hailed the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, referred to the words attributed to Ceasar, ("I have you, Africa!").
A new source of inspiration, in the form of Elvira Natalia Fraternali, came to D'Annunzio's life in 1887. Known better as Barbara Leoni, she appeared under the pseudonym Vittoria Doni in Elegie romane (1892), written during their love affair. Barbara was an accomplished pianist. She had left her husband after a few weeks of married life; the marriage had left her with a uterine illness. She died at the age of 86 in poverty in a pensione run by nuns. D'Annunzio's works in the 1880s, Canto novo (1882), Terra vergine (1882), and Intermezzo di rime (1883), expressed the sensuous joys of life. His short stories showed the influence of the popular French writer Guy de Maupassant.
Il piacere (1889, The Child of Pleasure) was D'Annunzio's first full-length novel. The story of a snobbish but weak-willed decadent was a parody of contemporary French 'decadent' fiction. "Elena was silent, wrapped in a cape of mink, with a veil covering her face, her hands in a muff. He breathed with delight the subtle odor of heliotrope emanating from the precious fur, while feeling her arm over his. They both felt far removed from the world, alone; but suddenly a black carriage of a prelate passed by or a herdsman or a group of clerics or beasts." D'Annunzio's next novel, L'innocente (1898, The Intruder), was a story where an unfaithful husband Tullio Hermil, forces his chaste wife, Giuliana, into adultery. Tullio arranges the death of her illegitimate baby. Feeling no remorse, he thinks: "Man's justice does not touch me. No earthly tribunal could judge me."
D'Annunzio's best-known novel, The Triumph of Death, featured Nietzschean hero as his next major novel Le vergini delle rocce (1896). In The Triumph of Death Barbara Leoni served as the model for the character Ippolita Sanzio, the mistress of the hero, a writer obsessed with death. At the end he kills himself, by jumping from a precipice, and takes Ippolita with him. After Barbara, D'Annunzio began a liaison with the Sicilian Princess Maria Gravina Gruyllas di Ramacca, the wife of Count Fernando Anguissola di San Damiano. Their daughter, Eva Renata Adriana, was born in 1893. D'Annunzio described Gravina's hair in the poem 'La passeggiata' as dark "as fallen leaves, / but vital and wild like the writhing / snakes of Gorgon ...." (Il poema paradisiaco, 1893) In 1893 D'Annunzio was condemned to five months in prison for adultery; the sentence was lifted in the next year.
The drama La figlia di Iorio (1904, The Daughter of Jorio) gained much attention and was enthusiastically imitated. The visionary, excited imagination of the poet, led him to an exaggerated nationalism, and ultimately, in the 1920s and 1930s, to his support of Mussolini: he saw the dictator in the light of mythical heroes, who embodied the spirit of the nation. D'Annunzio himself claimed to be the inventor of Fascism. His correspondence with Mussolini appeared in 1971.
In the early 1890s D'Annunzio moved to Naples, where his novel, The Intruder, was serialized in Il corriere di Napoli. After a long liaison with the Countess Gravina Auguissola, D´Annunzio began in 1894 an affair with the actress Eleonora Duse. Their relationship started after D'Annunzio's journey to the Aegean islands. Inspired by Duse, he wrote several dramas for her, including La Gioconda (1899) and Francesca da Rimini (1901).
In La Gioconda Lucio Settàla, a sculptor, has attempted suicide. He is recovering in the home of his wife Silvia, whom he had abandoned. Lucio's realizes that he is still in love with his mistress and creative inspiration, La Gioconda. When the two woman confront, La Gioconda tries to destroy Lucio's masterpiece – Silvia saves it but her hands are smashed. Lucio returns to his art and his mistress. The play was a fiasco. However, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa – or La Gioconda as it was called in Italy – remained D'Annunzio's obsession. He had already in 1889 composed a poem on mysteriously smiling dame, and republished its shortened version in Il Giornale d'Iltalia after the painting was stolen in 1911. "Ne la bocca era il sorriso / fulgidissimo e crudele / che il divino Leonardo / perseguì / ne le sue tele." Later D'Annunzio claimed that he had seen the painting before it was smuggled to Italy and wrote a treatment for a film, 'The Man who stole the Gioconda'.
In 1897 D'Annunzio was elected to parliament for a three-year term, aligning himself in the beginning with the extreme right but moving then to the left. In 1899 D'Annunzio settled in a luxurious Tuscan villa, La Capponcina. He was defeated in the elections next year, but continued to live over his income. Accumulating debts forced D´Annunzio eventually to flee in 1910 to France, in Arcachon near Cap Ferret. There he began a new career as a writer. Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911), a play-with-music, was made with the French composer Claude Debussy. In its premiere, starring Ida Rubinstein, the writer Marcel Proust considered Ida's legs were the most interesting thing about the event. The work is still performed because of the celebrated music.
When World War I broke out, D'Annunzio returned to Italy and
started successful career as a military leader. D'Annunzio had yearned
years for war which would change Italy's position as a second-rate
power. He made speeches, wrote articles exhorting his countrymen to
assist the Allied cause, and joined the air force, becoming one of
Italy's most celebrated heroes. In 1916, D'Annunzio lost the
sight of his right eye – he dashed his head against the forward
machine-gun while making an emergency landing on the sea at Grado. His
prose pieces in Notturno (1921), deciphered by his daughter
Eva Renata, were composed when he was recovering from the
injury and his both eyes were bandaged. After participating in the
Beffa di Buccari, a daring motor torpedo boat attack into Dalmatia, he
was given another bronze medal for valour.
Annoyed that Italy
had lost the town of Fiume, D´Annunzio's troops occupied the contested
port in 1919. D'Annunzio ruled his miniature state as a dictator for
eighteen months until 1920. Lenin allegedly described D'Annunzio
as the only man in Italy capable
of starting a revolution, but most likely he did not believe that
was a real comrade, a model communist. Noteworthy, the Soviet Union was
the only state that recognized the existence of Fiume. Also the Dada
Club in Berlin supported Fiume.
Many of D'Annunzio's legionaries shaved their heads
to resemble "the Comandante" himself; D'Annunzio called them "Iron
Heads". The near absolute
power which he held was, for him, a means to fulfill his desires. There
were plenty of women to choose from and under his rule, drugs became
widely avilable. Most of his evenings D'Annunzio
spent at the Restaurant Ornitorinco, where he drank champagne. At one
declared war against Italy but was finally forced to retreat. Following
the Treaty of Rapallo, Fiume was ceded to Yugoslavia and the premier of
Italy ordered D'Annunzio's residence to be bombarded. After
D'Annunzio left Fiume, he had a greedy cocaine habit. The Irish travel
writer Walter Starkie said in The
Waveless Plain: An Italian Autobiography (1938): "Poor
decript old bard! I pity him. The youth of Italy has turned away from
him." (Gabriele D'Annunzio:
by John Woodhouse, 1998, p. 350)
Although Mussolini was much influenced by the tactics of D'Annunzio, the writer never held an important post in the Fascist government. D'Annunzio retired to his home on Lake Garda and spent his last years writing. In 1924 he was created Prince of Monte Nevoso and in 1937, following the death of Marconi, he was made president of the Italian Royal Academy. D'Annunzio died of a stroke at his desk on March 1, 1938. He was given a state funeral by Mussolini. D´Annunzio´s collected works were published in the 1950s.
Stern: Joyce said that the three great talents of the nineteenth century were Tolstoy, Kipling and – can you guess?
D'Annunzio's fin-de-siècle works are now mostly
forgotten and his plays are rarely performed. His aim at a kind of
aesthetic perfection has been labelled as hollow and unconvincing, but
on the other hand, the poet Eugenio Montale once said, that "not to
have learned anything from him would be a very bad sign." After World
War II his reputation declined in the new literary atmosphere. However,
his life has fascinated several biographers.
Among D'Annunzio's more enduring works is Il fuoco (1900, The Flame of Life), where the writer portrays himself as Stelio Effrena, a young writer infatuated with a famous actress. The novel is a fictionalized account of his love affair with Duse, and created a onsiderable scandal at the time of its publication. Their relationship ended in 1910, when the Marchioness Alessandra di Rudini-Carolotti found an admirer from the author.
For further reading: Wingless Victory: A Dual Biography of Gabrie D'Annunzio and Eleanora Duse by F. Winwar (1956); D'Annunzio: The Poet as Superman by A. Rhodes (1960); Gabriele D'Annunzio in France by G. Gullace (1966); D'Annunzio by P. Jullian (1972); The First Duce by M.A. Ledeen (1977); The Italian Stage from Goldoni to D'Annunzio by M. Carlson (1981);Gabriele D'Annunzio by C. Klopp (1988); Gabriele D'Annunzio by Charles Klopp (1988); Decadent Genealogies: The Rhetoric of Sickness from Baudelaire to D'Annunzio by Barbara Spackman (1989); Gabriele D'Annunzio: The Dark Flame by Paolo Valesio, et al (1992); D'Annunzio and the Great War by Alfredo Bonadeo (1995); Nationalism and Culture: Gabriele D'Annunzio and Italy After the Risorgimento by Jared M. Becker (1995); Gabriele D'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel by John Woodhouse (1998); Gabriele D'Annunzio – Poet, Seducer & Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013); Portraits of the Artist: Dionysian Creativity in Selected Works by Gabriele D'Annunzio and Thomas Mann by Jessica Wood (2017) - Other writers with nazi or fascist sympathies: Ezra Pound, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Curzio Malaparte, Knut Hamsun.