Italian poet, novelist, and playwright: the leading Italian literary figure of the early twentieth century.
D'Annunzio was born at Pescara in Abruzzi and educated in Prato. He published a well-received book of verse at the age of sixteen and therefore entered the University of Rome in 1881 with some reputation as a poet. During the next decade his reputation grew steadily, if controversially, with volumes of poems then considered outspoken in their sensuality and naturalistic stories about his native Abruzzi (collected as Novelle della Pescara, 1902; translated as Tales of My Native Town, 1920). His novel Il piacere (1891; translated as The Child of Pleasure, 1898) reflects his flamboyant life at this time.
In the 1890s D'Annunzio separated from his wife (he had married in 1883), left Rome, and gradually came under the influence of Nietzsche's work, especially the glorification of the instinctive and pagan, the inspiration of his best early novel, Il trionfo della morte (1894; translated as The Triumph of Death, 1896). The following year he began a long and highly publicized affair with the actress Eleonora Duse (1859–1924) during which he wrote a number of plays, including his best dramatic work, La figlia di Iorio (1904; translated as The Daughter of Iorio, 1907). His novel Il fuoco (1900; translated as The Flame of Life) created a scandal because of clear references to his affair with Duse; he also published his best verse, Alcyone (1903), during this period.
D'Annunzio returned a national hero from World War I, in which he had fought with distinction. In 1919 he led an attempt to seize Fiume, then still an Austrian city, for Italy, but was forced to withdraw in 1920. He spent the rest of his life at his villa, La Vittoriale, on Lake Garda, where he devoted himself to preparing an edition of his complete works, for which a national institute was eventually set up (1926). La Vittoriale and its extravagant collection of art and furnishings was left to the nation on his death. D'Annunzio's literary reputation has suffered severely since then. The charge of posturing and dilettantism, first levelled against his work by Benedetto Croce, remains to be answered, though a careful selection of his writings, Poesie, Teatro, Prose (1966), has been compiled by Mario Praz and F. Gerra.