ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE D’ (1863- ), Italian novelist and poet, of Dalmatian extraction, was born at Pescara (Abruzzi) in 1863. The first years of his youth were spent in the freedom of the open fields; at sixteen he was sent to school in Tuscany. While still at school he published a small volume of verses called Primo Vere (1879), in which, side by side with some almost brutal imitations of Lorenzo Stecchetti, the then fashionable poet of Postuma, were some translations from the Latin, distinguished by such agile grace that Giuseppe Chiarini on reading them brought the unknown youth before the public in an enthusiastic article. The young poet then went to Rome, where he was received as one of their own by the Cronaca Bizantina group (see Carducci). Here he published Canto Nuovo (1882), Terra Vergine (1882), L’ Intermezzo di Rime (1883), Il Libro delle Vergini (1884), and the greater part of the short stories that were afterwards collected under the general title of San Pantaleone (1886). In Canto Nuovo we have admirable poems full of pulsating youth and the promise of power, some descriptive 79 of the sea and some of the Abruzzi landscape, commented on and completed in prose by Terra Vergine, the latter a collection of short stories dealing in radiant language with the peasant life of the author’s native province. With the Intermezzo di Rime we have the beginning of d’Annunzio’s second and characteristic manner. His conception of style was new, and he chose to express all the most subtle vibrations of voluptuous life. Both style and contents began to startle his critics; some who had greeted him as an enfant prodige—Chiarini amongst others—rejected him as a perverter of public morals, whilst others hailed him as one bringing a current of fresh air and the impulse of a new vitality into the somewhat prim, lifeless work hitherto produced.
Meanwhile the Review of Angelo Sommaruga perished in the midst of scandal, and his group of young authors found itself dispersed. Some entered the teaching career and were lost to literature, others threw themselves into journalism. Gabriele d’Annunzio took this latter course, and joined the staff of the Tribuna. For this paper, under the pseudonym of “Duca Minimo,” he did some of his most brilliant work, and the articles he wrote during that period of originality and exuberance would well repay being collected. To this period of greater maturity and deeper culture belongs Il Libro d’ Isotta (1886), a love poem, in which for the first time he drew inspiration adapted to modern sentiments and passions from the rich colours of the Renaissance. Il Libro d’ Isotta is interesting also, because in it we find most of the germs of his future work, just as in Intermezzo melico and in certain ballads and sonnets we find descriptions and emotions which later went to form the aesthetic contents of Il Piacere, Il Trionfo della Morte, and Elegie Romane (1892).
D’ Annunzio’s first novel Il Piacere (1889)—translated into English as The Child of Pleasure—was followed in 1891 by L’ Innocente (The Intruder), and in 1892 by Giovanni Episcopo. These three novels created a profound impression. L’ Innocente, admirably translated into French by Georges Herelle, brought its author the notice and applause of foreign critics. His next work, Il Trionfo della Morte (The Triumph of Death) (1894), was followed at a short distance by La Vergini della Roccio (1896) and Il Fuoco (1900), which in its descriptions of Venice is perhaps the most ardent glorification of a city existing in any language.
D’ Annunzio’s poetic work of this period, in most respects his finest, is represented by Il Poema Paradisiaco (1893), the Odi Navali (1893), a superb attempt at civic poetry, and Laudi (1900).
A later phase of d’ Annunzio’s work is his dramatic production, represented by Il Sogno di un mattino di primavera (1897), a lyrical fantasia in one act; his Cilia Morta (1898), written for Sarah Bernhardt, which is certainly among the most daring and original of modern tragedies, and the only one which by its unity, persistent purpose, and sense of fate seems to continue in a measure the traditions of the Greek theatre. In 1898 he wrote his Sogno di un Pomeriggio d’ Autunno and La Gioconda; in the succeeding year La Gloria, an attempt at contemporary political tragedy which met with no success, probably through the audacity of the personal and political allusions in some of its scenes; and then Francesca da Rimini (1901), a perfect reconstruction of medieval atmosphere and emotion, magnificent in style, and declared by one of the most authoritative Italian critics—Edoardo Boutet—to be the first real although not perfect tragedy which has ever been given to the Italian theatre.
The work of d’ Annunzio, although by many of the younger generation injudiciously and extravagantly admired, is almost the most important literary work given to Italy since the days when the great classics welded her varying dialects into a fixed language. The psychological inspiration of his novels has come to him from many sources—French, Russian, Scandinavian, German—and in much of his earlier work there is little fundamental originality. His creative power is intense and searching, but narrow and personal; his heroes and heroines are little more than one same type monotonously facing a different problem at a different phase of life. But the faultlessness of his style and the wealth of his language have been approached by none of his contemporaries, whom his genius has somewhat paralysed. In his later work, when he begins drawing his inspiration from the traditions of bygone Italy in her glorious centuries, a current of real life seems to run through the veins of his personages. And the lasting merit of d’Annunzio, his real value to the literature of his country, consists precisely in that he opened up the closed mine of its former life as a source of inspiration for the present and of hope for the future, and created a language, neither pompous nor vulgar, drawn from every source and district suited to the requirements of modern thought, yet absolutely classical, borrowed from none, and, independently of the thought it may be used to express, a thing of intrinsic beauty. As his sight became clearer and his purpose strengthened, as exaggerations, affectations, and moods dropped away from his conceptions, his work became more and more typical Latin work, upheld by the ideal of an Italian Renaissance.
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