Gabriele d'Annunzio

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Gabriele D'Annunzio speaking

Gabriele d'Annunzio (March 12, 1863, Pescara – March 1, 1938, Gardone Riviera, province of Brescia) was an Italian poet, writer, novelist, dramatist and daredevil, who went on to have a controversial role in politics as a precursor of the fascist movement. His literary output was marked by the embrace of sensuousness and a kind of amoral, Nitzschean embrace of life beyond boundaries. He lived according to his philosophy, in extravagant and bold gestures that included emigrating to France to escape his debts and during World War I helping to retake the port city of Fiume, which he ruled as dictator until 1920. His attitudes would ultimately influence Benito Mussolini and the rise of fascism in Italy.

D'Annunzio's cultural ideas, arising from a philosophy based on the ego, sensuous pleasure, and glorification of self, exalt a certain type of person, making them into an elite and denying the oneness of all human beings as a global family.


Gabriele d'Annunzio was of Dalmatian extraction. He was born in Pescara (Abruzzo), the son of a wealthy landowner and mayor of the town, whose name was originally Francesco Rapagnetta, to which he legally added d'Annunzio. His precocious talent was recognized early in life, and he was sent to school at the Liceo Cicognini in Prato, Tuscany. He published his first poetry while still at school at the age of 16 with a small volume of verses called Primo Vere (1879), influenced by Giosuè Carducci's Odi barbare. Side by side with some almost brutal imitations of Lorenzo Stecchetti, the then-fashionable poet of Postuma, were some translations from the Latin. They were distinguished by such agile grace that Giuseppe Chiarini, on reading them, brought the unknown youth before the public in an enthusiastic article. In 1881 d'Annunzio entered the University of Rome La Sapienza, where he became a member of various literary groups, including Cronaca Bizantina (see Carducci) and wrote articles and criticism for local newspapers.

Here he published Canto Nuovo (1882), Terra Vergine (1882), L'Intermezzo di Rime (1883), Il Libro delle Vergini (1884), and the greater part of the short stories that were afterwards collected under the general title of San Pantaleone (1886). In Canto Nuovo we have admirable poems full of pulsating youth and the promise of power, some descriptive of the sea and some of the Abruzzi landscape, commented on and completed in prose by Terra Vergine, the latter a collection of short stories in radiant language about the peasant life of the author's native province. The Intermezzo di Rime introduces the beginning of d'Annunzio's second and most characteristic manner. His conception of style was new, and he chose to express all the most subtle vibrations of voluptuous life. Both his style and content began to startle his critics; some who had greeted him as an enfant prodige—Chiarini amongst others—rejected him as a perverter of public morals, while others hailed him as one bringing a current of fresh air and the impulse of a new vitality into the somewhat prim, lifeless work hitherto produced.

Costume design by Léon Bakst for D'Annunzio's play The Martyrdom of St Sebastian.

Meanwhile the review of Angelo Sommaruga perished in the midst of a scandal, and his group of young authors found itself dispersed. Some entered the teaching career and were lost to literature; others threw themselves into journalism.

Gabriele d'Annunzio took this latter course, and joined the staff of the Tribuna. For this paper, under the pseudonym of "Duca Minimo," he did some of his most brilliant work, and the articles he wrote during that period display originality and exuberance. To this period of greater maturity and deeper culture belongs Il Libro d' Isotta (1886), a love poem, in which for the first time he drew inspiration adapted to modern sentiments and passions from the rich colors of the Renaissance.

Il Libro d' Isotta is interesting also, displaying most of the germs of his future work. In Intermezzo melico as well as certain ballads and sonnets we find descriptions and emotions which later went to form the aesthetic contents of Il Piacere, Il Trionfo della Morte, and Elegie Romane (1892).

D' Annunzio's first novel Il Piacere (1889)—translated into English as The Child of Pleasure—was followed in 1891 by L' Innocente (The Intruder), and in 1892 by Giovanni Episcopo. These three novels created a profound impression. L' Innocente, admirably translated into French by Georges Herelle, brought its author the notice and applause of foreign critics. His next work, Il Trionfo della Morte (The Triumph of Death) (1894), was followed shortly by La Vergini delle Rocce (1896) and Il Fuoco (1900), which in its descriptions of Venice is perhaps the most ardent glorification of a city existing in any language.

D' Annunzio's poetic work of this period, in most respects his finest, is represented by Il Poema Paradisiaco (1893), the Odi Navali (1893), a superb attempt at civic poetry, and Laudi (1900).

A later phase of d' Annunzio's work is his dramatic production, represented by Il Sogno di un mattino di primavera (1897), a lyrical fantasia in one act; his Città Morta (1898), written for Sarah Bernhardt, which is certainly among the most daring and original of modern tragedies, and the only one which by its unity, persistent purpose, and sense of fate seems to continue in some measure the traditions of the Greek theater. In 1898 he wrote his Sogno di un Pomeriggio d' Autunno and La Gioconda; in the succeeding year La Gloria, an attempt at contemporary political tragedy which met with no success, probably due to the audacity of the personal and political allusions in some of its scenes; and then Francesca da Rimini (1901), a perfect reconstruction of medieval atmosphere and emotion. Magnificent in style, it was declared by one of the most authoritative Italian critics—Edoardo Boutet—to be the first real tragedy created for the Italian theater.

In 1883 d'Annunzio married Maria Hardouin di Gallese, and they had three sons, but the marriage ended in 1891. In 1894 he began a love affair with the famous actress Eleonora Duse which became a cause célèbre. He created leading roles for her in his plays of the time such as La Città morta (The dead city) (1898) and Francesca da Rimini (1901), but the tempestuous relationship finally ended in 1910.


The inhabitants of Fiume cheering D'Annunzio and his raiders.

In 1897 d'Annunzio was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for a three-year term, where he sat as an independent. By 1910 his daredevil lifestyle had forced him into debt, and he fled to France to escape his creditors. There he collaborated with composer Claude Debussy on a musical play Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, 1911, written for Ida Rubinstein.

After the start of World War I, d'Annunzio returned to Italy and made public speeches in favor of Italy's entry on the side of the Allies. He then volunteered and achieved further celebrity as a fighter pilot, losing the sight of an eye in a flying accident. In February 1918 he took part in a daring, if militarily irrelevant, raid on the harbor of Bakar (known in Italy as La beffa di Buccari, lit. the Bakar Mockery), helping raise the spirits of the Italian public, still battered by the Caporetto disaster. On August 9, 1918, as commander of the 87th fighter squadron "La Serenissima," he organized one of the great feats of the war, leading nine planes in a 700 mile round trip to drop propaganda leaflets on Vienna.

After the Fiume incident, d'Annunzio retired to his home on Lake Garda and spent his latter years writing and campaigning. Although d'Annunzio had a strong influence on the ideology of Benito Mussolini, he never became directly involved in fascist government politics in Italy. The war stengthened his nationalist and irredentist views, and he campaigned widely for Italy to assume a role alongside her wartime Allies as a first-rate European power. Angered by the proposed handing over of the city of Fiume (now Rijeka in Croatia) at the Paris Peace Conference, on September 12, 1919, he led the seizure of the city by 2,000 Italian nationalist irregulars, forcing the withdrawal of the inter-Allied (American, British and French) occupying forces. The plotters sought to have Italy annex Fiume, but were denied. Instead, Italy initiated a blockade of Fiume while demanding that the plotters surrender. D'Annunzio then declared Fiume an independent state, the Italian Regency of Carnaro with a constitution foreshadowing much of the later Italian Fascist system, with himself as "Duce" (dictator). He attempted to organize an alternative to the League of Nations for (selected) oppressed nations of the world (such as the Italians of Fiume), and sought to make alliances with various separatist groups throughout the Balkans (especially groups of Italians, though also some Slavic groups), although without much success. D'Annunzio ignored the Treaty of Rapallo and declared war on Italy itself, finally surrendering the city in December 1920 after a bombardment by the Italian navy.

In 1924 he was created Prince of Monte Nevoso and in 1937 he was made a president of the Italian Royal Academy. D'Annunzio died of a stroke at his home on March 1, 1938. He was given a state funeral by Mussolini and interred at Il Vittoriale degli Italiani.

Political Ideology

D'Annunzio is often seen as a precursor of the ideals and techniques of Italian fascism. His own explicit political ideals emerged in Fiume when he coauthored a constitution with anarcho-syndicalist Alceste de Ambris, the Charter of Carnaro. De Ambris provided the legal and political framework, to which d'Annunzio added his skills as a poet. De Ambris was the leader of a group of Italian seamen who had mutinied and then given their vessel to the service of d'Annunzio. The constitution established a corporatist state, with nine corporations to represent the different sectors of the economy (workers, employers, professionals), and a tenth (d'Annunzio's invention) to represent the "superior" human beings (heroes, poets, prophets, supermen). The Carta also declared that music was the fundamental principle of the state.

It was rather the culture of dictatorship that Benito Mussolini imitated and learned from d'Annunzio; his method of government in Fiume, the economics of the corporate state; stage tricks; large emotive nationalistic public rituals; the Roman salute; rhetorical questions to the crowd; blackshirted followers, the Arditi, with their disciplined, bestial responses and strongarm repression of dissent.[1]

D'Annunzio was said to have originated the practice of forcibly dosing opponents with large amounts of castor oil to humiliate, disable, or kill them. This practice became a common tool of Mussolini's blackshirts.[2][3][4]

D'Annunzio advocated an expansionist Italian foreign policy and applauded the invasion of Ethiopia.


At the height of his success, d'Annunzio' was celebrated for the originality, power and decadence of his writing. Although his work had immense impact across Europe, and influenced generations of Italian writers, his fin de siècle works are now little known, and his literary reputation has always been clouded by his fascist associations. Indeed, even before his fascist period, he had his strong detractors. An 1898 New York Times review of his novel The Intruder referred to him as "evil," "entirely selfish and corrupt".[5] Three weeks into its December 1901 run at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome, his tragedy Francesca da Rimini has banned by the censor on grounds of immorality. [6]

A prolific writer, his novels in Italian include Il Piacere (The Child of Pleasure, 1889), Trionfo della Morte (The Triumph of Death, 1894), and Le Vergine delle Rocce (The Virgin of the Rocks, 1896). He wrote the screenplay to the feature film Cabiria (1914) based on episodes from the Second Punic War. D'Annunzio's literary creations were strongly influenced by the French Symbolist school, and contain episodes of striking violence and depictions of abnormal mental states interspersed with gorgeously imagined scenes. One of d'Annunzio's most significant novels, scandalous in its day, is Il Fuoco (The Flame of Life) of 1900, in which he portrays himself as the Nietzschean Superman Stelio Effrena, in a fictionalized account of his love affair with Eleonora Duse. His short stories showed the influence of Guy de Maupassant. He was also associated with the Marchesa Luisa Casati, who influenced his novels.

His legacy has been described as "…almost the most important literary work given to Italy since the days when the great classics welded her varying dialects into a fixed language." While criticized for lack of real originality, and for a narrow, personal artistic vision, he was praised for "… the faultlessness of his style and the wealth of his language… approached by none of his contemporaries…the lasting merit of d'Annunzio, his real value to the literature of his country, consists precisely in that he opened up the closed mine of its former life as a source of inspiration for the present and of hope for the future, and created a language, neither pompous nor vulgar, drawn from every source and district suited to the requirements of modern thought, yet absolutely classical, borrowed from none, and, independently of the thought it may be used to express, a thing of intrinsic beauty." [7]

In Italy some of his poetic works remain popular, most notably his poem La Pioggia nel Pineto (The Rain in the Pinewood), which exemplifies his linguistic virtuosity as well as the sensuosness of his poetry.


The life and work of d'Annunzio is commemorated in a museum called Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. He planned and developed this himself, adjacent to his villa at Gardone Riviera on the southwest bank of Lake Garda, between 1923 and his death. Now a national monument, it is a complex mixture of military museum, library, literary and historical archive, theatre, war memorial, and mausoleum. The museum also preserves his torpedo boat MAS 96 and the SVA-5 aircraft he flew over Vienna.

His birthplace is also open to the public as a musueum, the "Casa Natale di Gabriele d'Annunzio" in Pescara.


Works translated into English


  1. The United States and Italy, H. Stuart Hughes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, l953, pp 76 and 81-82.
  2. Cecil Adams, Did Mussolini use castor oil as an instrument of torture?, The Straight Dope, 22 April 1994. Accessed 6 November 2006.
  3. Richard Doody, Stati Libero di Fiume - Free State of Fiume, The World At War. Accessed 6 November 2006.
  4. Cali Ruchala, «Superman, Supermidget»: the Life of Gabriele D'Annunzio, Chapter Seven: The Opera, Degenerate magazine, Diacritica (2002).
  5. "D'Annunzio.; Books That Prove Him to Be Entirely Selfish and Corrupt," New York Times, March 5, 1898. p. RBA145.
  6. D'Annunzio's Tragedy Prohibited by Censor.; Further Performances of "Francesca da Rimini" at Rome Forbidden on Moral Grounds.," New York Times, December 31, 1901. p. 5.
  7. This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. 
  • Ledeen, Michael A., D'Annunzio: The First Duce Transaction Publishers; 2nd ed. (2001) ISBN 0765807424
  • Rhodes, Anthony, Dannunzio: The Poet As Superman Astor-Honor Inc., (1960) ISBN 0839210221
  • Woodhouse, J.R., Gabriele D'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0198187637

Further reading

  • Gabriele D'Annunzio: The Dark Flame by Paolo Valesio (trans. by Marilyn Migiel, ISBN 0300048718
  • D'Annunzio and the Great War by Alfredo Bonadeo (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995, ISBN 0838635873
  • Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890 edited by Philip Rees (1991, ISBN 0130893013
  • The Appeal of Fascism: A Study of Intellectuals and Fascism 1919-1945 by Alastair Hamilton (London, 1971, ISBN 0218514263

External links

All links retrieved April 15, 2024.


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