1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/D'Annunzio, Gabriele

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D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE (1863–), Italian poet, man of letters and soldier (see 2.78). Later years, from 1908 to 1921, were the most active in D'Annunzio's career, not only in the literary field but also in those of war and politics. In 1908 he produced La nave, a vivid presentation of the early history of Venice, in which he sets forth his aspirations for Italy's mission as a great sea power, mistress of the Adriatic a curious forecast of his future political action. The following year Fedra appeared, a classical drama, and in 1911 Le martyre de St. Sébastien, a dramatic mystery play written by D'Annunzio in French verse and first performed in Paris, with musical interludes by Debussy; it was a remarkable lour de force and appreciated as such by French critics, but is hardly one of his greatest achievements. La Pisanella, ou la mart parfumée (1913), also written in French and first produced in Paris, is a picturesque reconstruction of the mediaeval Levant set forth in the author's gorgeous colouring. The same year he brought out in Paris Chèvre-feuille, a drama of modern life, with a plot adapted from Hamlet and containing some powerful scenes, and in 1914 he produced a slightly different Italian version of it entitled Ilferro. Parisina, a lyric tragedy in a Renaissance setting with music by Mascagni, was first performed at Milan, also in 1914. His attraction towards the stage did not wholly suspend his output in the field of fiction, and in 1911 he published Forse che si, forse che no, a powerful but somewhat long-winded novel in which aviation plays a considerable part, and in 1913 La Leda senza cigno, a collection of pieces, half essays and half fiction, which originally appeared in the Corriere delta Sera and were afterwards issued in three volumes with a licenza in 1917. His purely poetic output was limited to the Canzoni della gesta d'Oltremare (1911), dealing with the Libyan war and containing some admirable verse, and also some violent invectives against the Powers which were hampering Italy in her Mediterranean policy.

The outbreak of the World War did not put an end to D'Annunzio's literary activity. For some years he had been living in France, having had to leave Italy on account of financial difficulties, but the moment the conflict began he became deeply impressed with the vital necessity for Italy to participate in it so as to realize her aspirations towards complete unity and affirm her sovereignty in the Adriatic. His addresses to the Italian people, full of eloquent and inspiring patriotism, were afterwards published in a volume Per la piu' grande Italia. In the spring of 1915 he returned to Italy; his speeches at Quarto for the celebration of Garibaldi's Sicilian expedition and in Rome aroused wide-spread enthusiasm, and undoubtedly contributed very largely to Italy's intervention. From the moment Italy declared war D'Annunzio's career became one of the extraordinary romances of modern times the man, hitherto regarded as a sensuous aesthete and a decadent, whose only claim to distinction was his exquisite sense of beauty and his mastery of the language, was now to prove a man of action, a soldier of almost incredible bravery, and a politician who, however his conduct may be regarded, for many months monopolized the attention of the world, and defied powerful Governments.

Although 55 years old, he at once volunteered for active service. Having been a reserve cavalry officer in the Novara Lancers he first joined the cavalry; but as that arm seemed at the time to have little chance of fighting, he got himself attached to the 77th Infantry and spent many months in the Carso trenches, always in the most exposed positions. But even that was not enough for his exuberant spirit, and he soon joined the navy headquarters in Venice, whence he took part in many torpedo and submarine raids. Finally he took to flying, in the hope of achieving immortality even at the cost of his life. His exploits in the air were of the most fantastic nature, and he became an airman of the very first rank. In one of his flights he lost an eye, in another was wounded in the wrist, and many times his airplane was riddled with bullets. In Aug. 1918 he led a flight over Vienna, where no bombs were dropped, but only propaganda pamphlets as it was an unfortified city; the exploit was particularly audacious owing to the great distance over enemy country which had to be covered. He obtained three special promotions for gallantry, attaining the rank of lieutenant-colonel, was decorated with one gold medal for valour (a distinction corresponding to the V.C.), four silver and two bronze medals, and was created officer of the Military Order of Savoy. On being demobilized in June 1919 he received an exceptionally flattering letter from the Chief of the General Staff, regretting that the mobilized army should lose his valuable assistance, adding that he would still remain "spiritually among us," as a brilliant example "for the whole army of faith, heroism and self sacrifice." During the first period of the war he published 10 war poems, some of them of great beauty, and after Caporetto he delivered several eloquent addresses collected in La Riscossa; on the Buccari enterprise he wrote La befa di Buccari.

After the conclusion of the Armistice the cold attitude of the Allied Powers, and especially of President Wilson, towards Italy, aroused D'Annunzio's bitter indignation, and his letters and articles in this connexion, collected in the volume Contra uno e contra tutti, will occupy a prominent place in the literature of invective. The extreme violence of his language contributed not a little to embitter the relations between Italy and President Wilson. During the Nitti regime D'Annunzio came to personify the patriotic reaction against the Government's policy; while he became the idol of a small body of enthusiasts, he attracted the sympathies of an ever-increasing portion of all the best elements in the country. The Fiume dispute symbolized in his mind the whole conflict between Italy's aspirations and the selfish greed and ingratitude of her Allies. When, in consequence of the decision of the commission of inquiry into the anti-French riots at Fiume, the Italian garrison was to be greatly reduced and the town policed by Maltese gendarmes, a movement was planned by Major Reina of the Granatieri brigade to reoccupy the town in the name of Italy with regular troops and volunteers. D'Annunzio accepted the leadership of the expedition and on the night of Sept. 11-2 he marched from Ronchi at the head of detachments of grenadiers and other troops and reentered Fiume. The movement was vehemently discountenanced by the Italian Government, and D'Annunzio was severely criticized even by many of his admirers for having tampered with the discipline of the army and navy at such a critical moment, even for a patriotic purpose. On the other hand the policy of Signor Nitti and the open hostility of the Allies justified in the eyes of a large part of Italian opinion even so desperate an action. For 15 months D'Annunzio defied the Italian Government and indeed the whole of Europe with success. He assumed the style of ruler or "Commandant" of Fiume and created a new State. His "reign" was characterized by a picturesque mysticism, with Italian patriotism as the first article of his creed, and numbers of enthusiastic young, and indeed middle aged, men flocked to his standard from all parts of Italy. Men like Gen. Ceccherini, one of the bravest soldiers in the Italian army, Maffeo Pantaleoni, the eminent economist, and the syndicalist leader De Ambris came to Fiume and loyally served under the "Commandant," and many officers of the army and navy also joined him; the archaeologist Giacomo Boni, the poets Siciliani, Fucini and Orvieto, the aged Risorgimento patriot Senator Di Prampero, the scientist Prof. Cian, Senator Del Lungo the distinguished man of letters, to mention only a few, openly expressed their approval of his action. His position at Fiume ended by going to his head, and his language and actions came to be ever fuller of rhodomontade, verging at times on the ridiculous, while the adventurous nature of his undertaking also attracted many undesirable characters, not all of them Italians, who gradually acquired influence over him and egged him on to blameworthy actions. In his opposition to the official attitude of Italy he came to regard its Government, even after Nitti had fallen, the army itself, except the small part of it which had followed him, and indeed the whole Italian people outside Fiume, as enemies, and on them he poured the vials of his wrath and eloquence, hitherto reserved for foreign Powers. When the Rapallo treaty was concluded he refused to recognize it, as he disapproved of its provisions regarding Fiume and Dalmatia, and his refusal to submit, while causing serious difficulties to the Government, alienated from him the sympathies of many who had approved his action at first and who strongly criticized the treaty. The Government was finally obliged to resort to force in order to carry out the Rapallo treaty, and D'Annunzio after vowing to hold Fiume to the bitter end, submitted in Jan. 1921, and left the city. He then went to live at Gardone on the lake of Garda. During his stay at Fiume he delivered innumerable speeches, addresses and messages, all of a high-flown and exaggerated style, but full of his usual passionate eloquence. Most of these were printed on fly-leaves and in newspapers; a small part of them were collected in two pamphlets Italia o morte (1919) and Italia e vita (1920). His constitution of the Reggenza del Carnaro is a strange mixture of poetic concepts and mediaeval law. His diplomatic correspondence with the Italian Government, published by him in a "Green Book," also belongs to the domain of literature.