Gabriele d’Annunzio by Lucy Hughes-Hallett: Summary & Notes

Front cover of Gabriele d'Annunzio by Lucy Hughes-Hallett.

In short

This is a great biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, which shows his strange and interesting life. He was not just a poet, a nationalist, and an inspiration to Mussolini, but he also a participated in the First World War dropping bombs and pamphlets on the enemy. The best part of the story is d’Annunzio taking a group of mutineers to the city of Fiume and occupying it for 15 months. This newly created city-state housed a variety of outcasts (anarchists, communists, fascists) and it’s a wonder it didn’t self-implode earlier. The sequel to this occupation, was the fascist march on Rome by Mussolini – who modeled himself after d’Annunzio.

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Book Summary & Notes

All text that is quoted & italicized is taken directly from the book.

D’Annunzio was a great self-publicist who knew how to use mass media (long before television and internet was invented). He worked very hard at creating his image and character, and reflected during the end of his life that “I knew how to give my action the lasting power of the symbol.”

He was also a master of taking neglected ideas from the past and using them at the appropriate time – he knew how to spot and use upcoming trends (classics, Renaissance, idealism/Romanticism, and finally fascism).

Politics, to him, was a performance art. He never spoke in simple terms, even though his audiences might have had little idea what he was talking about. It was not about the message but about the performance.

D’Annunzio was a mix of masculine and feminine elements. You could say his gender identity was mixed and perhaps even a bit androgynous. Robert Greene cites this example in The Laws of Human Nature.

Transformismo: a term from Italian politics in 1890s that describes the process where members were enticed or intimidated to switch sides. Administrations were coalitions or alliances were run by trading favours or run on mutual advantages.

D’Annunzio: “Men will be divided into two races. To the superior ones, who have raised themselves by the pure energy of their will, everything will be permitted, to the inferior ones nothing, or very little.” He does not refer to class distinctions but what he calls “personal nobility”, as in Invictus, the people who are master of their fates and captains of their souls.

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