Gabriele D'Annunzio (12 March 1863 - 1 March 1938) was an Italian poet, dramatist, daredevil and war hero, who went on to have a controversial role in politics as a precursor of the fascist movement.
Gabriele D'Annunzio was born in Pescara, the son of a wealthy landowner. His precocious talent was recognised early in life, and he was sent to school at the Liceo Cicognini in Prato. He published his first poetry at the age of sixteen with Primo Vere (1879), influenced by Giosuè Carducci's Odi barbare. In 1881 he entered the University of Rome, where he became a member of various literary groups, and wrote articles and criticism for local newspapers. His first novel Il Piacere (The Child of Pleasure) was published in 1889, beginning a prolific literary output.
In 1883 he married Maria Hardouin di Gallese, and 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 provided 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.
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).
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. On 9 August 1918, as commander of the 87th fighter squadron "La Serenissima", he organized one of the great feats of the war, leading 9 planes in a 700 mile round trip to drop propaganda leaflets on Vienna.
The War stengthened his nationalistic 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 12 September, 1919, he led the seizure by Italian nationalist irregulars of the city, 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 as well), although without much success. D'Annunzio ignored the Treaty of Rapallo and declared war on Italy itself, only finally surrendering the city in December 1920 after a bombardment by the Italian navy.
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.
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 1 March 1938. He was given a state funeral by Mussolini and interred at Il Vittoriale degli Italiani.
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 with anarcho-syndicalist Alceste de Ambris the Carta del Carnaro, a Constitution of Fiume. 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.
D'Annunzio advocated an expansionist Italian foriegn 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.
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 early motion picture Cabiria 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 Nieztchean 'superman' Stelio Effrena, in a fictionalized account of his love affair with Eleonora Duse. His short stories showed the influence of Guy de Maupassant.
The life and work of D'Annunzio is commemmorated 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
- The Book of the Virgins
- The Child of Pleasure
- Daughter of Jorio: A Pastoral Tragedy
- The Flame of Life: A Novel
- The Flame
- Francesca Da Rimini ISBN 0865273855
- International Naval Disarmament Conference at Washington and Geneva, November 1921-April 1922 ISBN 0913298581
- Nocturne and Five Tales of Love and Death
- Tales of My Native Town
- Il Piacere: The Pleasure
- The Triumph of Death
Other revolutionary minded Italians of the inter-war period
Other writers linked to Fascism
- (1)The United States and Italy, H. Stuart Hughes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, l953, pp 76 and 81-82.
- Gabriele D'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel by J.R. Woodhouse (2001, ISBN 0198187637)
- D'Annunzio: The First Duce by Michael A. Ledeen (ISBN 0765807424)
- Dannunzio: The Poet As Superman by Anthony Rhodes (ISBN 0839210221)
- Gabriele D'Annunzio: The Dark Flame by Paolo Valesio (trans. by Marilyn Migiel, ISBN 0300048718)
- 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)
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