Everything is ardour

Charles Nicholl

  • BuyThe Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio – Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
    Fourth Estate, 694 pp, £12.99, September 2013, ISBN 978 0 00 721396 2

In 1897, in a letter to his publisher, Gabriele d’Annunzio wrote: ‘The world must be convinced I am capable of everything!’ One might think he was being ironic – the subject of the letter was his decision to stand for the Italian parliament, of which he had a very low opinion – but in a life so devoted to grandiloquent self-promotion there was little room for irony. He was 34 years old, and the world was at this point rather less interested in him than he imagined. Admiration of Il Vate (The Bard), as he would come to be called, was and remains an essentially Italian phenomenon. It’s hardly an unqualified admiration nowadays, given his political views, but he is still widely held to be the greatest poet of modern Italy. Further afield there was a ripple effect of declining enthusiasm. His first novel, Il piacere (Pleasure), published in 1889 – powerful, voluptuous and experimental by the standards of the day – was an international success, and was praised by Proust, Joyce and James; but his poetry was not much read, and he himself (or his reputation) not much liked. In France, where he lived from 1910 to 1915, he was seen as a phoney and a sponger. ‘He is a child,’ the novelist René Boylesve said; ‘he gives himself away with a thousand lies and tricks.’ In England his reputation was summed up by Lord Vansittart of the Foreign Office, who declined to send official condolences on the news of his death because he was a ‘first-class cad’. Hemingway, yet more succinctly, described him as a ‘jerk’.

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