Rogues Gallery Uncovered
Sex God, Slaphead - Gabriele D'Annunzio
Rogues Gallery Uncovered
Bad behaviour in period costume
A non-judgmental FUMBLE into the secret draws of history’s greatest libertines’ lotharios and complete bastards.
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This podcast contains adult themes and a touch of colourful language – so would be unsuitable as a child’s bedtime story
SEX God Slap head
The following tale is written in the present tense of the period in which its set…. and as such, may contain attitudes and opinions of the protagonists and their times which would today be considered unacceptable.
As - despite being bald - I’m not a haughty 1900s Italian polymath, those views are obviously not mine.
Ladies, take care of your reputations, Gentlemen, take notes.
This man is a sexual Übermensch, an irresistible erotic loadstone, a carnal force of nature who (by his own admission) has seduced over 1000 women. He is the novelist, poet, aviator and polymath Gabriele D’Annunzio, but what is his sensual secret?
Is it his Looks? A veritable Adonis, Gabriele D’Annunzio stands less than 5’6” in height atop beanpole-slender legs, although his slopping shoulders make him appear even shorter.
His skin radiates an unhealthy pallor; his three coloured teeth, a grim warning against poor oral hygiene.
D’Annunzio’s eyes are so intense and piercing the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt once described them as “little blobs of shit.”
He has been powerfully bald since the age of twenty-three, a condition he blames on the application of iron perchlorate to disinfect a head wound received during a duel.
He does however sport a viciously pointed goatee and a moustache which curves dramatically upwards in a valiant attempt to escape his face and establish its own independence.
One admirer described him as “A frightful little gnome” another gushed he was “A tragic gargoyle.”
The beautiful Parisian courtesan Liane de Pougy was so mesmerised by his appearance she dreamily recalled “Red-rimmed eyes and no eyelashes, no hair, greenish teeth, bad breath and the manners of a mountebank.”
It should come as no surprise that as a young man, interested in politics he stood in his local elections as “The Candidate for Beauty.”
Is it his passion? D’Annunzio is a seething volcano of magma-hot passion, much of which is directed towards leading his native Italy into violent and bloody conflict.
AS HE HIMSELF SAID “Blessed are the young who hunger and thirst for glory for they shall be satisfied . . . . Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be called upon to staunch a splendid flow of blood, and dress a wonderful wound . . . . Blessed are they who return with victories, for they shall see the new face of Rome”.
When he isn’t encouraging Italian youth to get itself gloriously killed he is equally vocal in praise of beautiful ladies.
Meeting the actress Ida RubinstEEN at an opening night party in Paris he simply couldn’t contain himself.
“Seeing at close quarters those marvellous naked legs, with my usual boldness I threw myself to the ground and — quite oblivious of my swallow-tail coat — kissed the feet, rose, still kissing, from the ankle to the knee and up along the thigh to the crotch, kissing with lips as swift and supple as a flautist’s scurrying over the stops of a double flute.”
That everyone else present, including the crotch kissed Ms RubensteEin stood paralyzed in embarrassment did nothing to dilute the intensity of his ardour.
Countless women have been impressed with D’Annunzio’s grand romantic gestures. Who could resist being bombarded with expensive jewellery from Buccellati BU CHEL AR TEA and Codognato C’O DON YAR TOE or being led from a rose filled carriage along a carpet of roses while being showered with...roses?
And what women doesn’t dream of a man who writes letters to them the morning after love making, lasciviously relating every intimate physical detail of the night before?
Is it his voice? No one can deny that strident inflammatory shouting is the perfect way to address a crowd of 100,000 supporters in Rome leading to a riot during which Benito Mussolini is arrested.
In the bedroom however this approach doesn’t fare so well.
D’Annunzio uses a gentler tone when embarking upon seduction. In 1910, bravely running away from his creditors, he was in Paris when he bumped into the teenage daughter of the composer Pietro Mascagni. MAS CARR KNEE
"When Signor D’Annunzio speaks, it always seems as though he is telling one a secret. Even if he is only saying “good morning."”
This approach enticed the dancer, Isadora Duncan into taking a woodland walk with him whereupon he unleashed a devastating barrage of flattery.
“Oh Isadora . . . All other women destroy the landscape. You alone are part of it. You are a part of the trees, the sky; you are the supreme Goddess of Nature”.
On another occasion, when leaving a soiree, he turned to his hostess and substituted a simple “Goodnight” with “What a charming woman you are! One of those women of whom you retain a delicious memory. And we will never see each other again. Perhaps later, seeing each other more often, one would discover faults, but, like this, it will be one of those memories that you have in life, the memory of something exquisite that you will never see again.”
To the female ear then, D’Annunzio’s words are like warm, sweet honey; to the writer Earnest Hemmingway they are less impressive as he is often to be heard referring to him as “A jerk”.
Is it because, “He’s a challenge?”
It takes a very special lady to retain the love of a man who has inspired his previous armours to attempt suicide, become addicted to drugs, alcohol and succumb to mental illness.
D’Annunzio becomes bored with women easily and can be a little brusque when they notice his disinterest. The closest he has come to a long-term relationship (apart of course from his wife) was with the actress Eleonora Duse. EL E ON OR A DU SAY
They were lovers for the best part of a decade; she paid the rent on the luxurious villa “La Capponcina” CAP ON CHEE NA which he quietly shared with fifteen servants and two hundred doves.
When the depth of their love and commitment became too exhausting for D’Annunzio he often paid a restorative visit to “two sisters’ expert in perverse pleasures” who lived locally.
Duse was no doubt overjoyed when he returned to her two or three days later “in great spirits.”
She was the first to admit that her feelings for him were somewhat complicated.
“I would prefer to die in a corner rather than love a soul such as his. I detest D’Annunzio, but adore him.”
Is it his style? Fashion is fleeting but style is timeless. D’Annunzio has been known to wear penis shaped shoes and sport a crotch less robe; next season he predicts becoming very fond of black shirts.
A diplomat of his acquaintance by the name of Harry Clément Ulrich Kessler recently commented enviously on his sartorial finesse.
“His suit is also Italian: light gray summer pants such as one sees in bazaars in Florence, or Sunday on Italian travelling salesmen.
Add to that rundown patent leather shoes, a somewhat frayed coat with a black-braided casual suit, and a no longer new, light lilac necktie, the whole outfit in the style of a fading coffeehouse Don Juan from an Italian small town, Bologna or Pisa.”
Is it the fact that he is rumoured to have had one of his ribs removed so he can fellate himself?
No! (Although that would be sex with someone he loves)
D’Annunzio may have been unbearably full of himself but unlike most smart arses he actually had good reason.
His lack of physical appeal notwithstanding, if intelligence, personality and achievement are considered alluring, it’s no surprise that he was such a hit with the ladies.
He was a genuine first world war hero, signing up for a variety of dangerous combat missions almost as soon as Italy entered the conflict.
An enthusiastic aviator he became a fighter pilot and lost an eye in a cockpit accident.
His two most famous exploits however involve the unleashing of words, not bullets.
In February of 1918 he commanded a small flotilla of motor torpedo boats on a daring night time raid on the Austrian battle fleet anchored in the harbour of the Croatian town of Bakar.
The main reason for this, as he described it, “Prank” was to drop off a series of bottles in the water each containing a taunting message with which to mock the enemy.
Despite successfully firing their torpedoes the attack caused absolutely no damage whatsoever but when they were fished out of the drink D’Annunzio’s weapons grade taunts no doubt caused the Austrians to re think their participation in the war.
Later the same year he was in command of a another daring raid, this time at the head of a squadron of aircraft.
D’Annunzio and his men dive bombed the city of Vienna, dropping thousands of propaganda leaflets on the heads of the terrified population.
He was also a genuine literary superstar having started writing poetry and short stories in the late 1880s, while still in his teens.
The passionate, sensual language of his poetry made an immediate impression on critics and the public.
Initially he was praised as an exciting new talent but soon opinion became divided.
Some welcomed him as a voluptuous breath of decadently fresh air while others spurned him as a corrupter of public morality.
He began writing novels with titles such as The Child of Pleasure, The Intruder, The Triumph of Death and The Maidens of the Rocks.
They often featured somewhat morally ambiguous “Supermen” type characters as their main protagonists.
Inspired by the works of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, FREED RICK KNEE CHER these were not Supermen in a tights and cape kind of way but rather men who had taken command of their own potential to become so highly evolved that they could discard conventional morality and live by their own set of non-religious values.
This, not surprisingly also divided opinion.
As a playwright D’Annunzio is possibly best known for La Gioconda, which was performed on Broadway and made into a movie no less than four times.
He is also infamous for the musical he co-wrote with composer Claude Debussy entitled “The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” which so offended the Catholic church that they placed all of D’Annunzio’s work in their “Index of Forbidden Books”
Perhaps his greatest feat came in 1919 when he led a force of 2000 Italian nationalist to the Croatian city of Fiume FEE OOM EH– which is now called Rijeka REE EK AH and forced an occupying army of US British and French soldiers to leave.
The plan was to annex the city for Italy but the Italian government refused to go along with it, branded D’Annunzio an outlaw and blockaded him behind its walls.
D’Annunzio declared Fiume an independent state which for a time had a reputation for free thinking anything goes behaviour that attracted interest from all over the world.
The city became an essential destination for Socialists, anarchists, and nationalists from all over the world often secretly accompanied by the intelligence services of their respective home countries.
It was also awash with cocaine and had the cheapest prostitutes in Europe so many others - depressed, damaged and disillusioned by the post war slump flocked there for a little light relief.
Ultimately though it all fell to pieces and D’Annunzio possibly unwisely declared war on Italy.
Fiume was bombarded by the Italian navy in December 1920 and following some bloody fighting it surrendered before New Year’s Eve.
One of the people who was inspired by D’Annunzio’s style of leadership and political vision was Benito Mussolini – particularly the addressing of large crowds from a balcony - and D’Annunzio has often been unfairly labelled as a proto fascist.
Although he was one of the main inspirations behind the fascist movement in Italy he had little in common with the vile and brutal regime that it became.
He thought Mussolini was a halfwit and probably would have told him to his face at a meeting in 1922 had he not fallen out of a window – or was he pushed?
D’Annunzio recovered from his injuries but stepped away from public life – probably to the great relief of Mussolini who didn’t want any rivals in his rise to power.
From his estate on lake Garda D’Annunzio later expressed his complete disdain for Adolf Hitler too.
Like Simon Forman last week there is undoubtedly another episode to be devoted to this complex rogue and I must recommend the wonderful book by Lucy Hughes-Hallett all about him entitled The Pike, Gabrielle D’Annunzio Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War.
There’s a link to it in the show notes.
Next time on Rogues Gallery Uncovered
Splashing out on the finer things in life with one of the nineteenth century’s most celebrated courtesans
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