Gabriele D’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Author
Lucy Hughes-Hallett. Knopf, $35 (576) ISBN 978-0-307-26393-3
Reviewed on: 05/20/2013
Release date: 08/20/2013
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. Agent: Felicity Rubenstein, Lutyens & Rubenstein. (Aug. 20)
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