Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010
D'Annunzio, Gabriele (1863-1938)
Italian poet, dramatist, journalist and fiction writer A dashing freedom fighter during the Italian Empire (1885-1943), Gabriele D’Annunzio entwined vulnerability and love in the tentacles of cruelty and death through his journalism and fiction. To the world canon, he contributed operatic-style prose and verse featuring the amoral Nietzschean superman amid European decadence. His themes ennobled those who snatched pleasure under the shadow of destruction.
D’Annunzio was born in Pescara, Italy, and educated at the Liceo Cicognini in Prato, Tuscany. He was only 16 and still a student when he published his first volume of poetry, Primo vere (Spring 1879). Two years later, he entered the University of Rome, La Sapienza, where he continued to write poetry and began his journalistic career, writing articles and criticism for local newspapers. He subsequently joined the staff of the Tribuna, producing some great journalistic articles while also writing poetry, short stories, and novels. Later in life, he turned his hand to writing plays.
In his first best seller, the novel II trionfo della morte (The Triumph of Death, 1894), D’Annunzio explored the negating forces that destroyed Ysolde, lover of Tristan, at the crest of passion. The author pictured her obsessed with “a homicidal mania … a hostile instinct of existence, a need of dissolution, of annihilation” (D’Annunzio 1896, 366). His next flight of imagination, I sogni della stagioni (Dreams of the seasons, 1898), dramatizes a young woman’s long night caressing the chilled corpse of her lover, who lies murdered at her breast. At dawn, she sinks into madness, a symbolic state that turns unrequited desire into a fatal disorientation.
At the height of his career, D’Annunzio developed a morbid interest in love sickness and crime into static tableaux intended to shock and bemuse. His incomplete five-book verse collection Laudi del cielo, del mare, della terra e degli eroi (In praise of sky, sea, earth, and heroes, 1899), an international success, demonstrates his command of mystic lyricism. In Canzoni della gesta d’oltremare (Poems on naval deeds, 1912), he served as state bard by celebrating the Italian invasion of Libya on October 5, 1911. He conducted a dizzying affair with the actress Eleanora Duse, for whom he wrote an erotic novel, Il fuoco (The Flame of Life, 1900) and two tragedies, La Gioconda (1899) and Francesca da Rimini (1901). The latter, based on the 13th-century scandal involving Paolo Malatesta, his brave but deformed brother Giovanni, and Paolo’s love for Giovanni’s wife Francesca, incurred censorship because of its sensuality and indiscretion. At a climactic point in the love triangle, the title figure summarizes for her sister Samaritana the ruins of illicit love: “What have I seen? It is life runs away, runs away like a river, ravening, and yet cannot find its sea” (D’Annunzio 2005, 63). The line captures the poet’s vision of love as a yearning that goads the loins and heart to destructive extremes.
Italy’s founding of an African empire in Libya and Abyssinia stirred D’Annunzio’s nationalist pride and fervor and gave shape to his philosophy of machtpolitik (power politics), which he voiced
in war odes for the newspaper Corriere della Sera. (Evening courier). He wrote of a new world order, the basis of his PROPHECY and his idealistic ardor for grandeur and for creative and spiritual renewal. During World War I, he lost the sight in his right eye while serving as a fighter pilot and distributor of airborne propaganda. A year after the Treaty of Versailles of 1918, D’Annunzio tried to rescue Fiume, Dalmatia (present-day Rijeka, Croatia), from a territorial shuffle by ruling it himself as a sovereign state. Preceding World War II, he gave up writing for politics. His defiance of Allied powers later influenced Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whom D’Annunzio admired as a model imperialist, to cultivate drama and ritual in Italian politics to recoup the glory of imperial Rome and Renaissance Italy. Croats of Fiume so despised the author that they ripped his plays from the public library and burned them in the town square.
D’Annunzio, Gabriele. The Flame of Life. Translated by Kassandra Vivaria. Boston: L. C. Page, 1900.
------- . Francesca da Rimini. Translated by Arthur
Symons. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2005.
----- . The Triumph of Death. Translated by Arthur Hornblow. New York: George H. Richmond, 1896.
Gonadeo, Alfredo. D’Annunzio and the Great War.
Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.
Woodhouse, John. Gabriele D’Annunzio: Defiant Archangel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.