The Pike

The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

When news of d’Annunzio’s death was phoned through to Mussolini’s office, the person making the call heard Il Duce in the background shout, “At last!”, and that is pretty much how I felt finishing this book.

d’Annunzio was without doubt a brilliant writer, but with levels of ego, entitlement, promiscuity, bellicosity, and misanthropic contempt for other people (especially poor ones) that make Trump look like a Quaker – though he was very Trump-like in his inability to get to grips with the details of his grand plans. Unlike Trump, he seems to have possessed exquisite taste for art and beauty, and was without a doubt physically courageous, not shirking from very dangerous war duty. He was also the John the Baptist of fascism, laying the ground for what was to follow.

When he could have written and done anything with his talent, what he did was plant the ideological seeds that Mussolini leapt on and watered into something real and tragic. He was helped by post-WW1 Italy being in a very similar state to Weimar Germany, despite paradoxically having been on the winning side: feeling hard done by and let down by the great powers, intensely nationalistic, with a fragile parliamentary democracy less than a lifetime old.

In 1984, O’Brien offers Winston Smith a vision of the future: imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever. If that boot was stamping on the face of Gabriele d’Annunzio, I think I could live with that. What a complete, total and utter prick, arse, tosser, wanker and general git the man was. And at the same time – what a ride!