On 12 March 1863 Gabriele D’Annunzio was born.
Born in Pescara, Abruzzo, into a wealthy family, D’Annunzio started his writing career while still a student. During his lifetime he published poetry, short stories, novels, and plays, and his work influenced many other writers, including James Joyce.
Despite the scandalous nature of D’Annunzio’s writings, Joyce seems to have read a lot of D’Annunzio while studying Italian at university under the Jesuit Italian lecturer Fr Charles Ghezzi. Joyce’s copy of D’Annunzio’s La Gioconda is dated May 1900, around the time that Joyce went to London and saw Eleanora Duse performing in La Gioconda. The play had been written for her by her lover D’Annunzio. Also in 1900 he read Il Piacere, La Gloria, and Sogno d’un Tramonto D’Autumno. He also read Le Vergini delle Rocce. Arthur Symons, to whom Joyce had been introduced by WB Yeats, published the English translation of D’Annunzio’s Francesca di Rimini in 1902.
Joyce considered D’Annunzio’s novel Il Fuoco (1900) to be the greatest achievement in novel-writing to date. In the first part, ‘L’Epifania del Fuoco’ (‘The Epiphany of Fire’), the central character, Stelio Effrena, lectures on his theory of art and the role of the artist in society. Effrena is involved in a scandalous affair with an actress, La Foscarina, based on the real-life affair between D’Annunzio and Eleanora Duse. In the second part, ‘L’Impero del Silenzio’ (‘The Empire of Silence’), Stelio reflects on the aesthetics of composer Richard Wagner and carries Wagner’s coffin after the composer’s death in Venice in 1883, again based on real-life events. D’Annunzio had been influenced by Nietzsche’s ideas of the ‘superman,’ and these ideas are reflected in the determined, egotistical attitudes of Stelio Effrena, and influenced Joyce’s ideas about the role of art and the artist in society.
When Joyce submitted his essay ‘The Day of the Rabblement’ to the University’s St Stephen’s magazine for publication, the editor referred it to Fr Henry Browne who advised him to reject it because of a mention in it of D’Annunzio’s Il Fuoco. D’Annunzio’s works were not considered fit reading for Catholics and were eventually placed on the Vatican’s Index of prohibited books in 1911.
Despite the early influence of D’Annunzio, Joyce’s interest in him seems to have waned. When asked in later life if he liked D’Annunzio, Joyce answered only that he had once been a great poet. Joyce’s change of heart might also have been caused by D’Annunzio’s ultra-nationalism and by his influence on and association with the Italian Fascist movement which resulted in Mussolini giving him the title of Prince of Montenevoso. After an attempted assassination in 1922, D’Annunzio withdrew from public life and died of a stroke in 1938.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann , Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
– -: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.