In September 1919 Gabriele D'Annunzio, successful poet, dramatist and occasional politician with an innate flair for the melodramatic, declared himself the Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern day Croatia. He intended to establish the utopian modern state upon his muddled fascist and artistic ideals and create a social paradigm for the rest of the world. It was a fittingly dramatic pinnacle to a career that had been essentially theatrical.
In her new book Lucy Hughes-Hallett charts the enthralling but controversial life of D'Annunzio - acclaimed poet and author, legendary seducer and charmer - who lived an extravagant and debt-ridden life, and became a military and national hero. He evolved from an idealistic poet, who allied himself with the Romantic aesthetic, to an instigator of radical right-wing revolt against democratic authority. D'Annunzio's colourful story is also a political parable: through his apparently contradictory nature and the eventual failure of the Fiume endeavour, a picture is created of the politically turbulent Europe of the early 20th century and of the poison of emergent fascism.
As in the successful Heroes, Hughes-Hallett takes the story of a memorable character's life to explore the society and politics of the times in which he lived. She raises questions concerning the figure of the 'superman', the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism and war. At the centre however stands the flamboyant and charismatic D'Annunzio: a figure as deplorable as he is fascinating.