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

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  245 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
Godfather to Mussolini, national hero of Italy and the WWI irredentist movement, literary icon of Joyce and Pound, lover of actress Eleonora Duse: here is Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s extraordinary biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, poet, bon vivant, harbinger of Italian fascism.

Gabriele d’Annunzio was Italy’s premier poet at a time when poetry mattered enough to trigger riots. A
Hardcover, 608 pages
Published August 20th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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(showing 1-30 of 784)
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Petar X
Not the easiest read. It's a very convoluted story of a small man with a Napoleonic complex and the money, talent and intellect to try to put his grandiose ideas - including a town run as a republic (with him at the helm, naturally) into practice. He was as devoted to poetry, the aesthetics and style of the rich and famous as he was to flying planes and his extreme nationalism. His very dangerous politics inspired Mussolini but not his poetry, just the evil of the man.

Reading the book, sometime
D’Annunzio was not a fascist, but fascism was D’Annunzian

Lucy Hughes-Hallett explains why she felt Gabriele D’Annunzio’s was a story worth telling. She repudiates the description of him as ‘psychotic’ and remarks that his pugilistic politicking is all too often reproduced in the contemporary era.

Nonetheless, the accounts of Italy’s political landscape before and after WWI had my eyebrows permanently reaching for the sky. It seems I will never cease to be astonished by the horrors my fellow human
Jul 27, 2014 Nooilforpacifists rated it liked it
Shelves: italian-history
This is an overly long book written by an excellent -- in places remarkably fluid -- writer, but a writer who seems fundamentally censorious of everything her subject did. For example, she takes care in the introduction to inform readers that she can write objectively about a notorious playboy warmonger, despite being a female pacifist. She also, incoherently, pronounces her opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Glad to know!

Hughes-Hallett's work seems remarkably patterned after my favorite mov
Jesse Toldness
Apr 01, 2014 Jesse Toldness rated it really liked it
Lucy Hughes-Hallet's trip through the mind of this twisted, self-important little man is a roller-coaster ride that never lets up and never lets down. D'Annunzio was many things: deluded, bloodthirsty, narcissistic. But he's never boring. I'm exhausted from having ridden with Il Vate and now I have to sit down for awhile...
Feb 13, 2013 Eric marked it as to-read
Even within Italy, though firmly entrenched in the literary canon, he is most commonly recalled with a sort of collective cringe. For once upon a time, in the fervid fin de siècle - for reasons variously literary, political, military and, not least, sexual - he was one of the towering figures of European culture. Think Wilde crossed with Casanova and Savonarola; Byron meets Barnum meets Mussolini - and you would have some of the flavours, but still not quite the essence, of this extraordinary, u ...more
When you are planning to write a paper on some subject, you develop a kind of unconscious snobbishness, which had lead me to consider with undue suspicion the realm of "popular biographies": Hughes-Hallet's is definitively a popular biography, and it performed the salutary job of reminding me of how great can those be. What is a popular biography, you might ask? Well let's look at the present book:
First of all, no foot-notes - despite the book being composed of and built around innumerable quot
Malcolm Gibson
Jun 10, 2014 Malcolm Gibson rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read of an intriguing yet repellant figure, full of contradictions, exposed by his own frank diary and letter writing. He used his skills as an author and playwright for warmongering and public oratory. After the end of WW I, he led a group of followers into the disputed town of Fiume and took over, while the League of Nations were still discussing if it belonged to Hungary, Yugoslavia or Italy. Having recently read about post war negotiations in the Middle East in "Lawrence in Ara ...more
inspired wastrel creates fascism in one city, others take note.

This is an in-depth biography of a very interesting person. As with D'Annunzio's own works and life, at times more is definitely more, but at points Hughes-Hallett's vivid and detailed reconstructions of all the extravagant methods by which D'Annunzio burnt his way through lovers and money start to blur. There's so much, and so many Gabriele D'Annunzios to grapple with and despite the author's unstinting efforts by the end I was stil
Jan 25, 2013 Laura rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Lucy Hughes-Hallett charts the life of Italian politician and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio
A sophisticated and thorough look at the life of Gabriele d'Annunzio, that explores his life, his writing and his influence on the political figures who followed him. Avoiding the simplistic labelling of d'Annunzio as a proto Fascist, Lucy Hughes-Hallett looks at his aesthetic and nationalist philosophies in detail, skilfully and painstakingly unpicking all the elements that made up a very complex character.

The book avoids the standard chronological plod through from birth to death, setting the
Apr 30, 2014 Frumenty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read this entire book under the misapprehension that I was reading a second book by the author of "The immortal dinner: a famous evening of genius and laughter in literary London, 1817" (which I reviewed about 18 months ago). I gave that 3 stars, which may have been more than it deserved. This is a book of an entirely different stamp. A little Wikipedia research leads me to believe that the author of "The immortal dinner", Penelope Hughes-Hallett, is the mother of Lucy, the author of "The ...more
David Sinck
Apr 28, 2014 David Sinck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To enjoy a book the reader should really have a good relationship with the author. We may not get on, or desire to meet socially, but the reader should respect their writing, research and opinions. With biographies, there are three of us in the relationship, which complicates things somewhat. In the case of this book, the current reviewer forged an excellent relationship with Ms Hughes-Hallett, admires her work and looks forward to her next book. But, my word, how he came to detest the subject o ...more
Stephen Goldenberg
Apr 06, 2016 Stephen Goldenberg rated it really liked it
A fascinating history of a fascinating and little known man. The book is very cleverly and entertainingly structured, not a straight chronological telling of his life. It gives a chilling insight into the nature of fascism and how it was able to take such a grip in countries like Italy - particularly when describing its mythology and sense of style and oratory. This is also a very instructive account of Italian history which helps with an understanding of how Italy is where it is today (e.g. how ...more
Rob Adey
Mar 02, 2014 Rob Adey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Immediate and kaleidoscopic life of D'Annunzio, who I admit I'd never heard of before, but who turns out to be fairly pivotal in recent history. Hughes-Hallett does an excellent job of laying bare all sides of this character - both impish and ridiculous (he wrote what must have been the first sexy car crash, 60 years before Ballard) and monstrous (he had a large part in inventing fascism).
Jul 22, 2016 Wolf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting biography of a fairly odious sounding man.

I visited D'Annunzio's house, Il Vittoriale, earlier this year. Something of the man's unusual character and extraordinary self regard was apparent from the house itself. This book fills in some of the blanks. It also, however, provides necessary lessons from history that all of us should pay heed to. The focus is largely here on the impluses that drove d'Annunzio, the cultured aesthete, to help to persuade a nation to war and created the
Nicola Pierce
Apr 12, 2015 Nicola Pierce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about D'Annunzio, absolutely nothing at all, and was completely ignorant of his setting up his own little Italy within Italy. My goodness, what a life and what a history.

I bought the book because it was about a writer, and didn't bother to read the blurb; I only knew that it won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2013 and I tend to love the winners of this particular prize. So I did not expect to learn so much about Italian politics. If I'm being honest I wasn't looking forward to the w
Jan 15, 2015 Honoré rated it it was amazing
In "The Sleepwalkers", the historian Christopher Clark shows magisterially how lies and forgeries poisoned the diplomatic efforts to avert war in the dying years of the "Bell Époque". To be sure most politicians, and a great majority of public opinion in Europe, abhorred the thought of the slaughter to come. But not everyone felt that way. Born in 1863, Gabriele d'Annunzio was a child of the 19th century, and yet, in a puzzling way, a precursor of many of the evils and innovations of the 20th. P ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Jarvo rated it really liked it
Manages to square the circle of making the subject both fascinating and repellent. It sheds light on attitudes which are difficult to comprehend, especially about the glory of war and the shedding of blood - D'Annunzio helped propel Italy into the first world war in which it lost much and gained nothing. He participated fully and bravely in that war and his only apparent regret was that it ended. He seems to be a critical antecedent to Mussolini, who he corresponded with, looked down upon and ul ...more
Robert Ronsson
Sep 14, 2014 Robert Ronsson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-ten
What a life. What a man. What a monster!
D'Annunzio was a little man with a giant ego; he loved (heterosexual) sex but belittled women; he wrote sublime poetry but employed it to wage war; he was an aesthete but he gloried in the carnage of the battlefield; he loved his country but led an army against it.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett writes in readable language that makes the subject matter accessible. Her master-stroke is to construct the book so that it's subject- as well as time-ordered. It's ingeniousl
Aug 15, 2014 Evan rated it liked it
Aw, it's too long, and is never quite clear about what it intends to be. It isn't a biography of D'Annunzio, but neither is it a history lesson. Falling somewhere in-between, it does neither well and is full of relevant but not useful rambling detail. It should be half its length.
Jun 13, 2013 Disarticulate rated it really liked it
Great introduction for me to a previously unknown literary figure. The biography gave a good insight into Italian literature, history and culture from the late 19th century onwards. I learned a lot about post-unification Italy, Italy's involvement in the First World War and the rise of Mussolini and Fascism.

I liked the that the book was not written in a typically chronological fashion and Huhghes-Haller organises the biography around themes in d'Annunzio's life. This allows her to focus on diffe
Jul 30, 2014 Jim is currently reading it
Shelves: italia
Visited his (insane?) villa and gardens at Lake Garda some years ago - It has a Battleship (or at least it's front end - we called it the Sharp End on the Clyde!) embedded in a valley surrounded by cypress trees - quite wonderful, if a bit weird!.

I don't know what to think of the book so far (33 Pages in) - does she admire D'Annunzio - or loathe the man.......

To see the Great Man himself - see
Apr 17, 2014 Matthew rated it really liked it
The subject of this biography is not a sympathetic one. D'Annunzio was a philanderer, Lothario and fascist fellow traveller of early 20th century Italy. It would have been easy not to care very much about this basically unpleasant individual, but the author brings him to life and makes him human for us. She also uses his story to bring to life a turbulent phase in European and Italian history in an interesting and insightful way. This is a long book, and I took a long time to read it, largely be ...more
Mar 15, 2016 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Overlong but compelling biography of a fascinatingly hideous man. I knew little or nothing about the subject before reading this, but it makes me want to read some of his fiction. Imagine an Oscar Wilde-type decadent literary aesthete who morphs into Hitler. Gob-smackingly arrogant, maddeningly childish and irresponsible, a debt-riddled serial adulterer, and yet capable of works of high art and depth of feeling.
Margaret Sankey
Mar 11, 2014 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
Hughes-Hallett's atmospheric and impressionistic biography, which attempts to recreate the world in which an irresponsible, proto-fascist troll could be a national celebrity capable of seducing Eleonore Duse (among so many others) and leading a post-WWI army to seize Fiume.
Apr 20, 2014 Paola rated it really liked it
Ironic, well written and informative if a times a bit long. I though I knew something about D'Annunzio, but I realized I didn't. Certainly I didn't know so much about the history of my own country...
Feb 01, 2014 Pam rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I've abandoned this about 60% of the way through...not the writing but what a task the author set...particularly for a one who is not Italian (secondo me) it is deep wading through D'Annunzio's personality. I am very intersted in so many things Italian and his name often comes up in the context of contemporary Italian literature (of course!!) - so I was curious and happy to have this new biography; and I knew NOTHING about him. Now I do...know more... and although I will keep the book in my libr ...more
Late 19th century romanticism blossoms into blood-thirsty 20th century fascism in this creatively constructed biography of one homerically self-absorbed, eye-wateringly repellent poet and war hero.
Nov 26, 2014 Sophie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography, 2014
Brilliant. One of the most interesting biographies I've read for ages. You don't need to like d'Annunzio to be interested in his story or to appreciate the skill of the author.
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