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Summary Article: D’ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE (1863-1938)
from World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia

Celebrated Italian poet, writer, and dramatist, but also soldier, aviator, political activist, and man of action, whose ideas anticipated Mussolinian Fascism in many respects. He was born in Pescara, where, in 1879, he published his first collection of poems, entitled Primo vere. Influenced by the late Romantic aesthetic of “decadentism” and by Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Superman, he moved to Rome, where he began an intense period of artistic and social activity. It was during this period in Rome that some of his most famous novels came out: Il piacere (1889), L’Innocente (1892), Il trionfo della morte (1894), La vergine delle rocce (1899), Il fuoco (1900).

Politically, D’Annunzio espoused generically nationalist and conservative positions at the start of his career. In the summer of 1897 he won a parliamentary seat on the ticket of a party of the Left. During the electoral campaign he made a celebrated campaign speech in which he criticized socialism and adopted Darwinian tones in defense of private property, lauding a heroic-aristocratic vision of the social order. On account of his aesthetic interests and his eccentric posing, he became known as the “Member for Beauty.” Very soon, however, he distanced himself from the liberal and reactionary Right, to move to radical revolutionary positions that were to a large extent those of Italian Fascism. His literary work was imbued with a political vision that was very critical of parliamentary democracy but was also hostile to social conservatism and the privileges of the economic oligarchy, which, in his judgment, ruled Italy. In the novel Le vergini delle rocce, for example, he attacked the great families of the Roman aristocracy, who he believed had betrayed the aesthetic and political duties of their rank and had followed the cult of money, business, and financial speculation. In the work Il fuoco, however, the protagonist, Stelio Effrena, was presented as a skillful orator, a “national prophet” who aspires to dominate the masses by the power of his charisma. In the theatrical drama La Nave the imperialistic policies of Venice are exalted in politico-mythological terms as a model of political power for united Italy.

In reality D’Annunzio was a dandy, an aesthete uneasy among professional politicians, a restless figure destined to waver between right and left, between reaction and revolution. To the compromises of parliamentary life he much preferred action and the “grand gesture.” World War I was his great opportunity; it enabled him finally to adopt the image of the “soldier poet,” the “armed aesthete.” At the outbreak of the conflict he volunteered to serve even though he was already in his fifties, and he distinguished himself by some courageous propagandistic enterprises that had a profound impact on Italian public opinion, such as his 700-mile round-trip flight with nine planes to drop propaganda leaflets on Vienna.

Once the war was over, D’Annunzio took troops to occupy the city of Fiume and prevent the Allies from ceding it to Yugoslavia; he claimed it as Italian. It is to D’Annunzio in Fiume that should be attributed the birth of the parareligious ritual type of politics that would be a feature of Fascist politics-as-spectacle a few years later: the Roman salute, the dialogue from the balcony with the crowd, the cult of the dead, the war cry eia eia alalà. But with the Fiume episode he also sealed his role as anticipator of the Fascist revolution from the ideological point of view, as is demonstrated in particular by the constitution he launched in Fiume on 30 August 1920, whose syndicalist and corporatist proposals would be taken over almost lock, stock, and barrel by early Fascism.

In the two years that preceded the March on Rome and the victory of Fascism, the popularity of d’Annunzio in Italy was greater than that of almost any other political leader, Mussolini included. But his lack of pragmatic spirit and political realism prevented him from capitalizing politically on the broad consensus of support that he enjoyed in the country, especially among the young and among former servicemen. In 1924, with Fascism now firmly in power, D’Annunzio withdrew to private life in Gardone Riviera, in a sumptuous residence called the Vittoriale degli Italiani. It was a kind of museum for the celebration of war and victory. For the rest of his life he lived in a splendid isolation, always officially lauded by Mussolini, who never missed any opportunity to recall how much Fascism owed to D’Annunzio. A typical example of this was the decision to establish at public expense in 1926 the National Institute for the publication of the complete works of the poet and “commandant”—the only figure who in his day could really have blocked Mussolini and become the head of Fascism and of Italy in the Duce’s stead.

See Also: aristocracy; conservatism; corporatism; counter-revolution; democracy; fascist party, the; fiume; hero, the cult of the; italy; march on rome, the; mussolini, benito andrea; nietzsche, friedrich; parliamentarism; protofascism; revolution; salutes; social darwinism; style; syndicalism; war; warrior ethos, the; world war i

  • Bonadeo, A. 1995. D’Annunzio and the Great War. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
  • Ledeen, M. 2002. D’Annunzio: The First Duce. London: Transaction.
  • Alessandro Campi
    Cyprian Blamires
    Copyright © 2006 by ABC-CLIO, Inc.

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