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Godfather to Mussolini, national hero of Italy and the WWI irredentist movement, literary icon of Joyce and Pound, lover of actress Eleonora Duse: here is Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s extraordinary biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, poet, bon vivant, harbinger of Italian fascism.
Gabriele d’Annunzio was Italy’s premier poet at a time when poetry mattered enough to trigger riots. A brilliant self-publicist in the first age of mass media, he used his fame to sell his work, seduce women, and promote his extreme nationalism. In 1915 d’Annunzio’s incendiary oratory helped drive Italy to enter the First World War, in which he achieved heroic status as an aviator.
In 1919 he led a troop of mutineers into the Croatian port of Fiume and there a delinquent city-state. Futurists, anarchists, communists, and proto-fascists descended on the city. So did literati and thrill seekers, drug dealers, and prostitutes. After fifteen months an Italian gunship brought the regime to an end, but the adventure had its sequel: three years later, the fascists marched on Rome, belting out anthems they’d learned in Fiume, as Mussolini consciously modeled himself after the great poet.
At once an aesthete and a militarist, d’Annunzio wrote with equal enthusiasm about Fortuny gowns and torpedoes, and enjoyed making love on beds strewn with rose petals as much as risking death as an aviator. Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s stunning biography vividly re-creates his flamboyant life and dramatic times, tracing the early twentieth century’s trajectory from Romantic idealism to world war and fascist aggression.
The Italian modernist writer and demagogue embodies some of the most dynamic and sinister impulses of the early 20th century, according to this dazzling biography. Historian and critic Hughes-Hallett (Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams, and Distortions) delves into D'Annunzio's lurid contradictions: he was a brilliant, scandalous literary celebrity whose works embraced medieval archaisms and machine-age futurism; a ruthless seducer of women; an avowed Nietzschean superman and an effeminate voluptuary who loved fashion, furnishings, and flowers; and a blood-thirsty militarist who helped propel Italy into World War I with his pro-war oratory and reveled in the carnage he witnessed at the front. The book climaxes with a captivating account of D'Annunzio's 1919 seizure of power in the city of Fiume, a febrile episode part Summer of Love and part Nuremberg rally that pioneered the politics and aesthetics of later Fascist regimes. Hughes-Hallet tells the story through vignettes that unfold in intimate, novelistic detail; her patchwork narrative spotlights the raucously entertaining soap opera of D'Annunzio's life, but gels into a shrewd, challenging analysis that links his sadomasochistic psyche to his pitiless ideology. The result is a resonant study of the themes of power, masculinity, violence, and desire that made D'Annunzio such a striking emblem of his age. 53 illus. & 1 map.