Other Literary Forms

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Gabriele D’Annunzio is more famous as a poet and novelist than as a dramatist. His first book of poems, Primo vere (1879, 1880), was assembled when he was a teenager, and he was very prolific thereafter, following with Canto novo (1882, 1896; new song) and Intermezzo di rime (1884, 1896;...

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Gabriele D’Annunzio is more famous as a poet and novelist than as a dramatist. His first book of poems, Primo vere (1879, 1880), was assembled when he was a teenager, and he was very prolific thereafter, following with Canto novo (1882, 1896; new song) and Intermezzo di rime (1884, 1896; an interlude of verses). Alcyone (1904; English translation, 1977) was intended to be the third book in a heptalogy called Laudi del cielo del mare della terra e degli eroi (1899). The project was not completed, but the 1899 work was expanded to create Alcyone, as well as Maia (1903), Elettra (1904), Merope (1912), and Canti della guerra latina (1914-1918). D’Annunzio was also renowned, and sometimes notorious, for his novels; Il piacere (1889; The Child of Pleasure, 1898), his first, caused a scandal. Giovanni Episcopo (1892; Episcopo and Company, 1896) and L’innocente (1892; The Intruder, 1898) exhibit a Dostoevskian influence, while Il trionfo della morte (1894; The Triumph of Death, 1896) and Le vergini della rocce (1896; The Maidens of the Rocks, 1898) show the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Richard Wagner. Il fuoco (1900; The Flame of Life, 1900), inspired by his affair with the well-known Italian actress Eleonora Duse, caused another scandal. Throughout his career, he published collections of prose, including short stories, sketches, and meditations, such as Terra vergine (1882, 1884; the virgin land), Il libro della vergini (1884; the book of the virgins), and San Pantaleone (1886), later republished as Le novelle della Pescara (1902; Tales from My Native Town, 1920). Later, D’Annunzio also wrote Contemplazione della morte (1912; contemplation of death), Vite di uomini illustri e di uomini oscuri (1913), La Leda senza cigno (1916; Leda without swan, 1988), La musica di Wagner e la genesi del “Parsifal” (1914), and Il notturno (1921; nocturne). He wrote the screenplay for the film Cabiria (1914), as well.

Achievements

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Gabriele D’Annunzio’s plays contain some of the most poetically beautiful passages in Italian drama. The early works, such as The Dream of a Spring Morning and The Dream of an Autumn Sunset, are lush, decadent, lyric, and effusive, very much in the fin de siècle style, shifting from the realism of Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuana, and Guy de Maupassant (early influences) into the sensuality and eroticism of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (pb. 1893). Although D’Annunzio’s reputation has suffered because of his overtly fascist politics and because modern literature has moved toward a starker mode of expression, he has been called the greatest lyric talent in Italy in the twentieth century. The Daughter of Jorio represents D’Annunzio at his best, combining realistic details of folklore and peasant life in the Abruzzi region with passionate dialogue and intense emotion. It is usually called D’Annunzio’s masterpiece and has often been revived.

Other literary forms

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The literary production of Gabriele D’Annunzio (dahn-NEWNT-syoh) encompasses many other genres: short stories, poetry, autobiographical essays, political writings, and several plays, both in Italian and French. It would appear difficult as well as arbitrary, however, to draw a sharp distinction between D’Annunzio’s fiction and his memoirs, for his works in both forms are eminently autobiographical. The only possible differentiation between the two genres depends on the mere change from first-person to third-person narration. Moreover, D’Annunzio’s fiction and nonfiction follow a pattern of parallel development that escapes chronological schematization. Finally, to exclude memoirs would present only a partial vision of the author’s work, thereby greatly reducing the understanding and appreciation of his achievements in this field.

G. Barberi Squarotti, in his book Invito alla lettura di D’Annunzio (1982), affirms that D’Annunzio’s work should be taken in its totality, openly opposing traditional literary criticism, which has constantly chosen an anthological approach, favoring one aspect or another of his work. This constant search for a formula that could define D’Annunzio to the exclusion of relevant parts of his work, aside from being substantially reductive, has given quite unsatisfactory results. The various labels of “decadent,” “nocturnal,” or “sensual” ignore the essence of his writing, which consists in the very plurality of its aspects, reflecting the motifs, themes, and poetics of fifty years of European intellectual life.

When D’Annunzio wrote his first book in prose, the dominant personality in Italian narrative was Giovanni Verga, a powerful writer whose main contributions consisted of a collection of short stories and two novels, I Malavoglia (1881; The House by the Medlar Tree, 1964) and Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889; English translation, 1923). These works, in their style and themes, represent a clear departure from academic prose of the day. Verga derived his inspiration from the humble life of Sicilian people and created a personal language, harsh and concise, to express these realities. The new generation was deeply influenced by the innovative impact of his writing and recognized in Verga the leader of a new literary trend, the Italian Verismo, which, in spite of some substantial distinctions, can be equated with French naturalism.

D’Annunzio’s first work in prose, Terra vergine, a collection of short stories, was published in 1882. Other collections followed, and finally all the short stories were included in two revised editions of Terra vergine (1884, 1902) and Le novelle della Pescara (1892, 1902; Tales from My Native Town, 1920). These writings, inspired by the folklore of the Abruzzi region, are clearly influenced by Verga’snarrative models, but some basic innovations are already present. Beyond the tranche de vie (slice of life), photographically faithful to a somber and modest reality, D’Annunzio pursues the extraordinary and the exceptional. The sober representation of basic human passions is replaced by the analysis of morbid sensations, the description of natural landscapes is heightened by feelings of panic participation, and the language becomes particularly expressive in its tones of exasperated chromatism. From the beginning, it was evident that D’Annunzio was taking new steps beyond the boundaries of naturalism toward “decadentistic” excesses.

Achievements

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During his lifetime, Gabriele D’Annunzio, surrounded by the admiration of his contemporaries, met extraordinary success; his writings deeply affected Italian society, and most of his literary works were awaited and welcomed by an enthusiastic public. This favorable reception was followed by a period of neglect and even of open rejection. The negative judgment that fell on D’Annunzio’s works should be ascribed mainly to the sharp change of perspective that characterized the 1920’s intellectual debate in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Politically, D’Annunzio’s ideas, after being superficially assimilated into the fascist ideology, were harshly condemned; morally, his anticonformist lifestyle was stigmatized as decadent; aesthetically, his language, rich in lexical novelties and classical allusions, was rejected as a futile exercise in rhetoric. Now, most authoritative critics recognize D’Annunzio as the fecund interpreter of several generations of European intellectual life, whose greatest achievement remains the renewal of Italian culture.

Prior to the advent of D’Annunzio, the young Italian nation, absorbed in its political and economic struggle, was still dominated by provincial interests and the literary traditions of the past. D’Annunzio, a prodigious reader extremely receptive to the stimuli coming from abroad, renovated the literary scene, introducing new techniques and developing new themes.

D’Annunzio’s vast work in prose, which registers the influence of the major European writers and follows the suggestions of the various literary movements, shows a steady evolution toward a greater freedom and richness of expression. Moving beyond the boundaries of naturalism, through a segmented process of experimentation and assimilation, D’Annunzio reached his expressive measure in the memoirs that are now considered his highest achievement in prose.

Other Literary Forms

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In addition to poetry, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s literary production encompasses many other genres: short stories, novels, autobiographical essays, political writings, and several plays, in Italian and in French.

The whole of D’Annunzio’s production is available in three major editions: Opera omnia (1927-1936); Tutte le opere (1931-1937); and Tutte le opere (1930-1965), which also includes D’Annunzio’s notes under the title Taccuini. Forty-one volumes of D’Annunzio’s collected work were issued under the title Opera complete (1941-1943).

Achievements

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Gabriele D’Annunzio dominated the Italian literary scene from 1880 until the end of World War I. His literary work and his personal conduct challenged existing models with such an exuberant vitality that even the less positive aspects of his art and life have been influential, if only for the reaction they have provoked.

Extremely receptive to foreign influences, D’Annunzio, through a series of experiments with new forms and styles of composition, evolved an original poetic language. Replacing traditional grammatical links with paratactic constructions, he forged a style in which assonance, onomatopoeia, and alliteration prevail, achieving enthralling effects of pictorial and musical synesthesia.

Historically, D’Annunzio’s most original achievement was to help break the highly academic literary tradition which had been dominant in Italy for centuries and to reintegrate Italian culture into the mainstream of European intellectual life. He was the first modern Italian writer. His literary work in its amplitude and variety served as an invaluable source of motifs, themes, and suggestions for the brilliant generation of poets who came to maturity in the 1920’s. As Eugenio Montale has observed, an Italian poet who has learned nothing from D’Annunzio is truly impoverished.

Bibliography

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Becker, Jared. Nationalism and Culture: Gabriele D’Annunzio and Italy After the Reisorgimento. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. A look at D’Annunzio and his links to Italian fascism that places his works within the history of his time. Bibliography and index.

Bonadeo, Alfredo. D’Annunzio and the Great War. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1995. A scholarly examination of D’Annunzio’s role and stance in World War I. Bibliography and index.

D’Annunzio, Gabriele. Alcyone. Edited by John Robert Woodhouse. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1978. A collection of D’Annunzio’s poetry in English with an informative introduction and annotations by the editor. Includes bibliography and index.

De Felice, Pampaloni, E. Paratore, and Mario Praz. Gabriele D’Annunzio. Bologna, Italy: M. Boni, 1978. A collection of biographical and critical essays on D’Annunzio published in Italian.

Gullace, Giovanni. Gabriele D’Annunzio in France: A Study in Cultural Relations. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1966. Biographical and historical account of D’Annunzio’s life.

Jullian, P. D’Annunzio. New York: Viking Press, 1973. An in-depth biography of D’Annunzio’s career.

Ledeen, Michael Arthur. D’Annunzio: The First Duce. Rev. ed. New Brunswick: Transaction, 2002. An examination of the political beliefs and activity of D’Annunzio. Bibliography and index.

Rhodes, A. The Poet as Superman: G. D’Annunzio. New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1960. Narrative biography of D’Annunzio’s life in politics and literature.

Valesio, Paolo. Gabriele D’Annunzio: The Dark Flame. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. A critical examination of the works of D’Annunzio. Bibliography and index.

Woodhouse, John Robert. Gabriele D’Annunzio: Defiant Archangel. New York: Clarendon Press, 1998. An authoritative biography, presenting D’Annunzio’s relationships with the worlds of Italian culture, theater, and politics. Includes extensive bibliographic references.

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