Wednesday, 23 April 2008

How A Writer Became A Dictator

Why insist the pen is mightier than the sword when you can have both? Italian poet, novelist, and playwright Gabriele d'Annunzio (1863-1938) first became famous as a novelist of the Decadent school, and became infamous as the lover of a famous actress. When the First World War broke out he temporarily put down his pen and joined the Italian air force, becoming a war hero. Then, just for kicks, he and two thousand fellow soldiers took over the port city of Fiume (modern Rijeka in Croatia), and claimed it for Italy.

This caused a bit of a problem since Yugoslavia claimed it too. The new liberal Italian government hesitated to take this "gift" and agreed with Yugoslavia to recognize Fiume as an independent state. Part of this agreement said d'Annunzio had to step down. D'Annunzio proclaimed himself "Duce" and declared war on Italy, causing him to get bombarded by the Italian navy. He surrendered the city in 1920, after ruling less than two years.

With the political chaos of the time, d'Annunzio was soon allowed back into Italy. Benito Mussolini was rising to become Italy's fascist leader and he looked up to the writer as an inspiration, despite the fact that d'Annunzio refused to join the fascist party, thought Hitler was a clown, and was embarrassed by Mussolini's close ties to him. He even lampooned Hitler in his writing. In 1922 d'Annunzio "fell" out of a window and toned down his public rhetoric. Many historians believe it was a murder attempt. Whether it was is unclear, but Mussolini gave the writer money not to come back into politics. He wanted the stage for himself, although he imitated many of d'Annunzio's theatrics such as the Roman salute and the mass rallies.

OK, not the most upright life, but it does show that writers can have an impact on society, and his early works are wonderfully written.

I wonder if being a dictator helped his sales?

(Image Note: Photo from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons. It is believed to be in the public domain.)

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