D'ANNUNZIO by Philippe Jullian


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The biographer of Oscar Wilde and Robert de Montesquiou, Jullian extends his wanderings in fin de siecle decadence to Italy and D'Annunzio, the aesthete and proto-fascist, famous today as the lover of Eleanora Duse and the banditti conqueror of Flume. Unlike Jullian's earlier subjects, D'Annunzio made the transition from the dandified cult of Self to the bombast of an Italian nationalism oddly similar to that of the vulgarian, Mussolini. Customarily biographers end by admiring their subjects; if they cannot condone, they empathize. Not so Jullian who treats D'Annunzio from start to finish as a cad, a satyr, a bumptious egomaniac and power-crazed godling with feet of clay. Fundamentally you can't help but feel that Jullian dislikes the flamboyance of the Neapolitan primitive who carried le beau monde of Venice, Rome and Florence by storm. Carried most especially the women -- an endless procession of duchesses, countesses, marquises, society belles and actresses who served as foils for D'Annunzio's narcissistic self-glorification. The compulsive amours -- conquered, idealized and traduced -- occupy more space here than D'Annunzio's prodigious novels, plays and letters; Jullian regrettably does little either to vindicate or discredit D'Annunzio's currently problematic stature in Italian literature. The politics are more easily exposed and disposed Of; as ""liberator"" of Flume, the seat of Italian irredendist ambitions, D'Annunzio became ""the prisoner of his own victory."" Neither the heroic tirades nor the sublime phrases rallied the parliamentarians to his side. Politically, he was an ass. Jullian does better with the nuances of the eroticism tinged with morbidity, sadism and nostalgia. (Eleanora Duse fared better than most of the poet's ex-mistresses, becoming both muse and ""mother"" after the liaison ended.) Jullian has a flair for evoking the ambiance of Italy's earlier Dolce Vita but D'Annunzio's barbarian energies and animal appetites repel him and the source of the charisma remains unexplained. Whether Jullian intended it or not, the buffoon vanquishes the poet.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1972
Publisher: Viking