I first came across Gabriele d’Annunzio as a young teenager when an Italian friend took me to visit his sumptuous villa near Lake Garda. At the time I was amazed that someone would have their wife living in a cottage in the garden and their mistress living in luxury in a villa designed with sybaritic indulgence in mind.
I came away from the villa with a naïve view of a WW1 hero condemned to internal exile and discarded by Mussolini. How wrong can you be!
I have read other bits and pieces about d’Annunzio, mostly in biographies of other notable Italians of 20th century, so I wasn’t expecting to find a glamorous, romantic hero in this book but nor was I expecting to find quite the selfish weasel I did discover.
This isn’t a biography in the conventional sense; it doesn’t start with his birth and work in chronological order through his life. It is a book of snippets and anecdotes that allows the read to build up a picture of the different facets of the man. It covers his careers as poet, author of books and plays, war hero, would be dictator and lover.
And the picture I built up was one of an interesting polymath tarnished by bloodthirstiness and sex-addiction. Which makes me question whether he was simply a man of his times – he lived in a period of international unrest and the rise of communism and fascism – or whether the need for destruction was innate part of his character.
The book is good at putting d’Annunzio’s life into the context of the world around him but not in ascribing nurture/nature influences to the person he became.
I am pleased I read this book and have a better understanding of the person behind the various myths but it’s always quite sad when another teenage romanticised myth is toppled isn’t it?