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D’Annunzio published his first collection of poetry in 1879, and he served as a deputy in Italy’s Parliament from 1884 to 1904. In politics, he gained attention because of the literary quality of his fluent rhetoric, but he behaved unpredictably, creating scandals with his many love affairs, and he was forced into bankruptcy in 1910 because of his extravagant spending. A fervent Italian nationalist, he was a daring member of the national air force during World War I, and he was outraged when Italy did not receive its territorial claims after helping to win the war. In 1919, he led three hundred soldiers who captured the port city of Fiume (now Rijeka, Yugoslavia), and held it by force for a year.

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D’Annunzio was an early advocate of many fascist ideas, and his own troops introduced the black shirt which became a symbol of the Fascist Party. Always maintaining close ties with the Fascist regime that came into power in 1922, he gave every appearance of supporting Benito Mussolini’s authoritarian policies—including tight regimentation of the press. In 1926, Mussolini arranged for a government-sponsored edition of D’Annunzio’s complete works, even though most of them were then on the Index. In 1937, Mussolini appointed D’Annunzio president of the Royal Italian Academy.

A versatile writer, D’Annunzio was praised for his imaginative and melodious style, but most critics considered the content of his many novels and plays to be superficial, melodramatic, and often flowery. Novels such as his The Child of Pleasure (1898) and The Triumph of Death (1894) reveal preoccupations with reckless courage, sensual gratification, the beauty of nature, and the desire for happiness. Probably his best- known novel was The Flame of Life (1900), one of several works based on his turbulent affair with actress Eleanora Duse. It appears that D’Annunzio was a skillful plagiarist who often borrowed themes and ideas from Renaissance writers, as well as from Émile Zola and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Many critics disliked D’Annunzio’s values, particularly his glorification of sensual gratification. In 1898, the Boston Watch and Ward Society tried, but failed, to convince a jury that D’Annunzio’s The Triumph of Death was obscene. The Roman Catholic church was the institution that attempted most strongly to limit the availability of his works. In 1911, the Vatican placed all his love stories and most of his plays on the Index, and by 1948, the prohibition for faithful Catholics was extended to the totality of D’Annunzio’s writings. In 1936, the bishop of Pompeii forbade Catholics to attend D’Annunzio’s play, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastion, and the government tourist bureau indefinitely postponed its presentation. Mussolini banned D’Annunzio’s biography in 1935, but when D’Annunzio died in 1938, Mussolini and his cabinet joined thousands of Italian patriots who assembled to honor his memory, and the Vatican issued a statement denying that it had excommunicated D’Annunzio.


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Gabriele D’Annunzio was born on the Adriatic coast in the main town of the Abruzzi region, Pescara, to Francesco Paolo D’Annunzio and Luisa De Benedictis of the “pure Sabellian race.” His mother is reported to have said, “My son, you are born on a Friday and in March. Who knows what great things you will do in the world!” The prediction was borne out as he manifested his literary talent at an early age. A brilliant, precocious student at one of the best schools in Italy, the Liceo Cicognini in Prato, he published his first poem, “Ode a Re Umberto” (ode to King Umberto), in 1879. His first book of poems, Primo vere, followed that year. These works exhibited the influence of poet Giosuè Carducci’s Odi barbare (1877; Barbarian Odes , 1939); Carducci had attempted to bring Italian poetry from Romanticism back to...

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