‘The bad guys are every bit as interesting as the good guys and often more historically significant’ said Lucy Hughes-Hallet, explaining why she has spent seven years of her life working on the life of Gabrielle D’Annunzio, poet, politician and seducer of more or less any woman who met him.
Mussolini called him the ‘John the Baptist of Fascism’, Hemingway admired his work but called him a jerk, and he called himself ‘the greatest Italian author since Dante.’ He certainly seems to have had one of the all-time greatest egos: what is more surprising perhaps is that so many women loved him and so many men admired and followed him when he seems, for want of a better word, just horrible.
Small and rather ugly, he was also charming and charismatic to an unbelievable degree, ending by running the city of Fiume as his own personal city-state, or as Hughes-Hallet said ‘a stage for political theatre performance.’
D’Annunzio is fascinating as well as grotesque and Hughes-Hallett enjoyed making fun of his ludicrous side while not shying away from his dangerous and repulsive actions. She said she ‘knew him from the inside as well as from the outside’ and it was very interesting to hear from a biographer who didn’t love and admire their subject for a change.