Review of The Pike. Gabriele D'Annunzio. Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War

The Pike: Gabriele D'Annunzio. Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

In this biography of Gabriele D'Annunzio, Lucy Hughes-Hallett retraces the life of one of the central figures of Italian history at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Rake, seducer, dandy, debtor, poet, novelist, soldier, ardent nationalist, D'Annunzio dominated the Italian scene for the best part of three decades before relinquishing the limelight to Mussolini. Although he was unquestionably a model for Il Duce, Hughes-Hallett points out that D'Annunzio never officially endorsed Mussolini's policies and retired into his flamboyant house, the Vittoriale, on the edge of Lake Garda just before Mussolini took power.

D'Annunzio was in many ways instrumental in Italy's entry into world war one, he was a scourge of Italy's fractious politicians, he was proud of his country and he was undoubtedly brave. He was extremely attractive to women, even though his unprepossessing appearance makes this difficult to comprehend.

Not much remains of his legacy and today his tragic novels are little read, although at the time his literary talent was praised by heavy-weights such as Henry James.

Now he is remembered as a minor and often comic character. He is the shadowy partner in the Eleonora Duse-D'Annunzio romance although this was not so at the time; he is now marginally associated with the Futurist painters although he was then central to their inspiration; his bizarre occupation of Fiume (now Rijeka in Croatia) in September 1919 is looked on as laughable rather than a major protest against what many Italians considered was an unfair deal in the carve-up of Europe at the end of world war one.

Hughes-Hallett sets her biography firmly against the background of both Italy and Europe of the period, catching the atmosphere of late 19th-century Rome, the muddle-headedness of Italian politicians, the attractions of empire, the power of that new invention the aeroplane, the evacuation of war-beleaguered Paris in 1914, the Venice of the war years not far from Italy's northern border with Austria, the desperate conditions of the troops in the Carso north of Gorizia and the devastation of the defeat at Caporetto (now Kobarid in Slovenia) in 1917. Her description of the patronising treatment of Italy at the Versailles peace conference by the United States, Britain and France is also a convincing explanation for much of what happened in the country in subsequent decades.

Hughes-Hallett's long and thoroughly researched book not only captures D'Annunzio the man but it is also an important contribution to the understanding of Italy’s role in world war one on the 100th anniversary of the start of that devastating conflict.

Mary Wilsey

Published by Fourth Estate, London