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D'annunzio, Gabriele (1863–1938)

D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE (1863–1938)

POLITICAL ACTIVISM
POET AND PLAYWRIGHT
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Italian author, soldier, and political leader.

Gabriele D'Annunzio was born in Pescara, a provincial coastal town in the region of the Abruzzi in Italy on 12 March 1863. A poet, novelist, political activist, and dramatist, he was also known for his flamboyant and rather anarchic lifestyle and for his numerous amorous adventures with high-society women. As a novelist, he was greatly inspired by the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844–1900), the late-nineteenth-century German philosopher who challenged the foundations of traditional morality and Christianity.

POLITICAL ACTIVISM

D'Annunzio was an ardent nationalist and favored the intervention of Italy into the First World War on the Allied side. His enthusiasm was shared by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), the founder of the futurist movement (1909), who believed war to be the only hope for a healthy world. D'Annunzio was a controversial figure for over fifty years; he was considered to be a promoter of fascism, even when all evidence showed his contempt for the Fascists and for their leader Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), who led Italy from 1922 to 1943. D'Annunzio in fact regarded Mussolini as his social and political inferior. D'Annunzio's political views were quite equivocal and so was his relationship with the Fascist regime. The scholar Paolo Alatri sees the poet during this period as a pacifier attempting to create a bridge between left-wing agitators fighting for their rights and Mussolini's followers ready to beat their opponents into insensibility.

D'Annunzio was above all an individualist who was impervious to public criticism and followed his own poetic instincts. In his mid fifties during the First World War, he flew bombing raids over Austria and a few months later captained a torpedo boat raid into enemy Dalmatia. D'Annunzio was always on the watch for actions that would allow him to enter into the legends of posterity. When the war concluded, on the pretext of an established Italian culture already in place, the poet and his private army, called the Arditi, invaded the city of Fiume (in present-day Croatia) in September 1919 and transformed it into a city-state called Carnaro, which he ruled like a Renaissance prince. While ruling the city of Fiume, D'Annunzio issued the Carnaro Charter, a document stating that schools should be free of religious propaganda and influence and guaranteeing freedom of the press and of trade union associations. The Charter was in a sense the antithesis to the course of actions taken by Mussolini's government in the years to come. However, the situation in Fiume deteriorated to a point of anarchy, leading the population of the city to speak out against the occupation and against the immoral attitude of the legionaries. After stiff resistance, D'Annunzio left Fiume on 18 January 1921, when international opinion forced his expulsion and when an Italian naval shell hit his window, barely missing his head. His nationalistic ideals and his willingness readily to use armed force were viewed by the public as important examples for Mussolini and for his March on Rome in 1922.

POET AND PLAYWRIGHT

As a poet, D'Annunzio made his debut at the age of sixteen when he published Primo vere (1879), but it was not until he published Halcyon in 1903 that his international reputation as one of the great Italian poets was confirmed. Halcyon is a carefully organized sequence of eighty-eight lyrics, which to gain their full effect must be read as a whole. Halcyon is a reminiscence of a summer spent by the poet in Tuscany, part of the time with his legendary lover, the actress Eleanora Duse. The poems evoke specific times and locations that stir emotions linked to memories and myths associated with each place. However, D'Annunzio's birthplace was the most significant inspiration in his writings. The Abruzzi region, with its well-defined background culture rife with chthonic myths (concerning the underworld) and dark superstitions, permeated nearly all of his creative output. This regional influence was so pervasive in his writings that epithets such as the "Abruzzese" or the "Pescarese" are recognized in Italy as synonymous with D'Annunzio.

For centuries an atmosphere of legend and mystery had surrounded his homeland. The wall formed by the rocky Apennines on one side and the bordering of the Adriatic Sea on the other isolated this region, allowing its strong folkloric traditions to be preserved. Allusions to folklore and myths are to be found in his works, particularly in the collection of short stories Le novelle della pescara (1902; Tales of Pescara) and in his novel Il trionfo della morte (1894; Triumph of death). This novel is also the one work in which the author focuses on his long-lasting devotion to his mother.

In his fictional representation of rural life, D'Annunzio was spurred by the paintings of his friend the artist Francesco Paolo Michetti (1851–1929), who began his career as a painter in 1877. It was this artistic marriage that led D'Annunzio to write his most successful play, La figlia di Iorio (1904; The Daughter of Iorio, 1907), based on the painting Daughter of Iorio (1895) by Michetti.

During his playwriting career, he confided in his mistress, Eleonora Duse (1858–1924), who by 1885 was regarded throughout the world as Italy's greatest actress. D'Annunzio's eight-year relationship with Duse was a tempestuous affair later explored in his novel Il fuoco (1900; The Flame of Life, 1900) . As a dramatist, his aim was to create a new type of theater based largely on classical themes that could be solidly linked to the present in a modern and original way rather than merely revive the past. To Duse he confided a sense of tediousness that he felt about the bourgeois drama that proliferated on the stages of fin-de-siècle Italy. Breaking the mold of contemporary Italian drama, D'Annunzio created tragedies such as La città morta (1898; The Dead City, 1902), Il sogno d'un mattino di primavera (1897; The Dream of a Spring Morning, 1902), and Il sogno d'un tramonto d'autunno (1898, The Dream of an Autumn Sunset, 1904), which were meant to arouse an apathetic Italian audience with what he considered a new genre.

D'Annunzio spent the later part of his life at his home in Gardone Riviera, on Lake Garda. He died in 1938 and was given a state funeral by Mussolini.

See alsoFiume; Italy; Marinetti, F. T.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Klopp, Charles. Gabriele D'Annunzio. Boston, 1988.

Tumini, Angela. Il mito nell'anima: Magia e folklore in D'Annunzio. Lanciano, 2004.

Valesio, Paolo. Gabriele D'Annunzio: The Dark Flame. Translated by Marilyn Migiel. New Haven, Conn., 1992.

Winwar, Frances. Wingless Victory: A Biography of Gabriele d'Annunzio and Eleonora Duse. New York, 1956.

Woodhouse, John. Gabriele D'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel. Oxford, U.K., 1997.

Angela Tumini

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