BOOK REVIEW, IL PIACERE (PLEASURE), A NOVEL BY GABRIELE D'ANNUZIO

Today I will review Il piacere (Pleasure),  a novel by Gabriele D'Annuzio (1863 -1938), an Italian writer who held an important position in Italian literature in late 19th and early 20th century.  Gabriele D'Annuzio was a controversial figure and is seen by some as a forerunner to Fascism. Personally, I don't see the point in avoiding authors that are deemed controversial if their writing can be useful or educating. I sometimes feel like today we are living in Fahrenheit 451 society, where people are just looking for excuses not to read. Not that I would recommend this novel to everyone, mind you. I imagine that many a modern reader will probably struggle to understand the historical context of this novel. Historical and classical novels usually take an acquired taste and that is even more true when we speak of works that fall into Symbolism, Aestheticism, Gothic or Decadent literary category. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, this is a novel that some might deem immoral. The protagonist is a young aristocrat who is (much like Dorian Gray) in pursuit of pleasure at all costs. Moreover, the novel is indented for an adult reader. 

 I will not discuss politics in detail as I don't think they are relevant to understand this novel. This novel was written decades before any of the great wars took place. At the time it was written, the author didn't develop his (most unfortunate) taste in politics. That being said, one must mention that the author at one point in his life became a military dictator and a problematic political figure. It is also worth noting that this writer often lived his life at the expense of others (like Becky in Vanity Fair), often proclaiming bankruptcy. A few words about the author seems necessarily and then we can move onto the novel itself. 


GABRIELE D'ANNUZIO- A CONTROVERSIAL LIFE AND A SUPERMAN COMPLEX
Celebrated as a war hero in World War I, in his later years Gabriele D'Annuzio was associated with the fascists. It is unclear whether D'Annuzio was actually a supporter of the Italian fascist party, but he is seen (by some) as a forerunner of Fascism. One could argue that D'Annuzio never labelled himself as a fascist or was an active member of the party. However, D'Annuzio is known for leading a siege of Rijeka city (at the time part of Austrian Hungarian Empire) where  Gabriele proclaimed himself a ruler under the title Duce. So, his later political and military actions are quite problematic (to put it mildly). He was de facto a military dictator of Rijeka  and before surrendering the city, he even proclaimed war on Italy itself. It is said that Mussolini copied his many of Annuzio's political views and strategies in his later years. 

WHY I STILL THINK THIS BOOK IS WORTH A READ? As I already mentioned, I don't think there is anything particularly worrying in the political sense of the world when it comes to this novel. It is primarily a novel that focuses on the senses, on the erotic and the poetic journey of its protagonist. So, if you want to avoid this book because it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, that's fine. Avoiding it because the author is controversial, doesn't make sense, especially if you are interested in this literary period. Sometimes I'm afraid that one day all literature will be deemed 'not politically correct'.  Generally speaking, I like to read the book first and pass judgement later- or not to pass judgement at all. When it comes to literature, unless one reads as much as possible, one simply isn't educated. My belief is that there is only one way to truly study literature and that is by actually reading and experiencing it. Sure, we need to be vary not to idolize writers but also not to demonize them.  Writers are people like everyone else, people that make wrong choices. Art, once created, takes on a life of its own. Therefore, my review will be as objective as possible and will only examine this novel from its literary significance.


BRITISH AESTHETICISM, FRENCH SYMBOLISM AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF DECADENT MOVEMENT IN ITALY

  To understand this book, one needs to understand literary movements of the time: British Aestheticism and French Symbolism. Decadent movement, in particular, is important for understanding of this novel. The Decadent literary and art movement may have started in France, but it bloomed in Italy. Started by Charles Baudelaire, the Decadent movement was also influenced by Gothic writers such as Edgar Allan Poe. Symbolism is often mistaken with Decadent literary movement because they both originated from the same source. In fact, there are those who see them as two sides of the same coin, particularly when it comes to visual arts. From what I understand, some see the Decadent movement as more independent movement, some as less. Either way you look at it, it was a fascinating art movement. Gabrielle D'Annuzio is often seen as a on of the key figures of this literary movement in Italy. This was his first novel and it can be labelled as belonging to late Aestheticism with a tendency to Decadentism. 

IL PIACERE, A NOVEL BY GABRIELLE D'ANNUZIO, 4/5

Il Piacere is a novel written by a poet. That's perhaps the best way to describe this beautifully bittersweet novel. Its protagonist is a young poet, an Italian nobleman Andrea Sperelli. The novel feels autobiographical in many ways. How much of Gabriele D'Annuzio is there in Andrea Sperelli? It's hard to tell but I suspect a lot. Poetry is a big part of this novel. Not only is Annuzio's prose very poetic and powerful, but the fact the protagonist is a poet is significant in itself. Moreover, throughout the novel there are many literary references, from Goethe, to Keats, Byron and Shelley.

Il piacere is the first novel by by Gabriele d'Annunzio (also the first work of his I read), written in 1889. What other novel was written around that time? The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. There must have been something in the air that year, for the protagonist of Pleasure (also translated as Child of Pleasure in English) reminds me of Dorian Gray in so many ways. Supposedly both novels were inspired by the same French source. I really need to get my hands on that French texts one of these days.

Like Dorian, Andrea is a beautiful young dandy who seduces women left and right. This is not where the similarities end. Both men are in active pursuit of pleasures awarded by life, both despise mass production of any sort and are in search of exotic pleasures. Both are orphaned aristocrats who seem to have it all: the looks, the aura of a tragic past and the material goods to enable their life of privilege. Like Dorian, Andrea is attracted to anything that is not ordinary-be it good or bad. At times, it means being attracted to someone spiritually elevated. As late Romanticism developed into Early Aesthetics, in both characters (Dorian and Andrea) we can see echoes of a Byronic heroes. They posses in their soul both the angelic and the diabolic.

 There is no Lord Henry in this novel, though. Andrea doesn't fall under the philosophical influence of an older man. There are no homosexual or bisexual allusions, either. Andrea seems to be interested solely in the opposite gender. Instead of Lord Henry there is, a femme fatale, Elena Muti.  She is a fascinating character. One could argue that Elena is the diabolic influence on the protagonist,  but Andrea himself is no angel. Andrea lives for pleasure and art. Like Dorian, Andrea is an egocentric who puts his pleasure before anything else. While Andrea experiences moments of regret and guilt, he seems to embrace his immorality most of the time. Andrea is aware of the power he has over others (particularly women) but he seems to think he is entitled to use his powers the way he sees fit. Nevertheless, there are moments when this Byronic hero feels disgusted with himself. If Andrea despises conventions and morality of the time, he still has his principles. In other words, he is not a black and white character, but a complex one. That is what makes this novel so captivating, I think.



At the start of the novel, young Andrea suffers because Elena has left him to marry an English lord. He then goes on to indulge in a series of affairs. At times, Andrea suffers from remorse, wondering at what paint he causes to the husbands of these women (his love interests are mostly married), recalling his own intense pain at separation with Elena. Nevertheless, Andrea keeps on seducing women until husband one of them challenges him to a duel. Andrea is a more experienced duelist who has already won duels, so he stands a better change, but unexpectedly this time he ends up on the wrong side of the sword. Karma, perhaps. I think it is also possible that at some unconscious level Andrea wanted to loose  the duel because he was getting fed up with his Don Giovanni lifestyle. At any rate, Andrea is injured so gravely he needs to recover for a long time and stays with his beautiful and educated cousin for a prolonged period of time. What follows is a part of novel that is quite philosophical. Andrea starts to re-examine his life and founds genuine peace of some sort. It is limpid that his grave injuries were a blessing in disguise. Andrea starts to compose verses again. 




While staying with his cousin, Andrea meets her friend Donna Maria, an angelic and spiritual noblewoman who attracts him with her sophisticated nature and immaculate taste in art. He professes his love for Maria and this time Andrea seems sincere. However, it's hard to know for sure with him, isn't it? The best seducer always believe his own lies. Perhaps lie is simply a truth we have betrayed or failed to keep true. It is worth noting that what attracts Andrea to Maria is mostly the purity of her soul. It is her soul he wants to posses, not so much her body (as it was case with his other love affairs). Their relationship is showed as a complex one from the start. 

Andrea, like Dorian, remains something of a mystery. Not as much as Dorian, but still in some ways, it is hard to read him. The corruption of Dorian is mostly hinted in the books (and in a brilliant way but that's another subject- if you want to read my review of that novel you can do so here). On the other hand, in Pleasure Andrea's most intimate thoughts are often described. The author doesn't cringe from describing his urges, even when they are of violent or erotic nature. That all being said, I felt that Andrea keeps his mystery. As a reader, it is hard to see what he will do next. 



 Maria, however, is a well developed and rounded character.  She is definitely my favourite character in this novel and possibly the most moral one. The writer introduces us to Maria through her diary and so as readers we become privy to her most intimate thoughts. This was a clever move on the writer's part because Maria is not the kind of woman to reveal her feelings. Andrea is fascinated by Maria and wants to posses her soul. But what of his fascination with Elena? This is where the book gets really interesting because as fate would have it, Andrea's path will cross with that of fatal Elena Muti.

On overall, I can say that I quite enjoyed this novel. I can see how it might not be for everyone, though. Andrea is not exactly a moral protagonist. He is a decadent young man who thinks mostly of himself. When he experiences true love, Andrea doesn't exactly shine. Andrea is not the kind of man to take on life, either. Neither a friend nor a lover you can rely on. However, Andrea is also a poet and an artist. His pains seem sincere enough and even if it can be said that he has brought up his sorrows onto himself, there is a Byronic attraction to him. You almost feel like Andrea cannot help being who he is or doing what he does- up to a point, at least.

I did read this book in original, but I needed the help of dictionary to read in Italian. Either the book is filled with archaic expression or my Italian isn't well developed. Possibly both. The language is beautiful, though. It is the kind of book that you want to copy multiple quotes and passages from. The descriptions of Rome in different seasons are absolutely magical. The passions between lovers are described quite poetically as well.

And in the kisses, what deep sweetness! There are women's mouths that seem to ignite with love the breath that opens them. Whether they are reddened by blood richer than purple, or frozen by the pallor of agony, whether they are illuminated by the goodness of consent or darkened by the shadow of disdain, they always carry within them an enigma that disturbs men of intellect, and attracts them and captivates them. "



What I perhaps like best about this novel is how it (like life itself) feels unfinished. The writer often takes an ironic and critical view of its protagonist Andrea. In that sense, the novel seems to be self-critical, at least to a degree. That is perhaps the novel's saving grace, for it is hard to feel genuine affection for Andrea, taken that he is so selfish. At the same time, who of us has not destroyed (or risked destroying) something we loved? Human beings are often complex, neither completely good nor bad. I can understand people rebelling against the commonness of everyday life, seeking something out of the ordinary and taking risks. Sometimes this pursuit of pleasure leads towards ruin of an individual. Dorian Gray payed for it with his soul. What of Andrea? It's hard to tell, but he seems to be going into direction of complete decadence himself.  Having read Il piacere, I felt the same bittersweet feeling I felt when I read The Picture of Dorian Gray. There is darkness in this novel, but there is also light. It can be read as a warning against following the same path as Dorian and Andrea or as invitation to so do. It is up to you what you will take from it. 


As always, thank you for stopping by. Have a lovely day!
 

Comments

  1. Oh so interesting novel darling
    xx

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  2. I very much enjoyed your review of "Pleasure", Ivana, although I likely won't read it myself (I'm a lazy reader, I like easy fiction, lol). I do think that you make a good point about divorcing the art from the artist, which in today's world we really have to do! So many artists have/had problematic attitudes either homophobic, misogynistic or racist beliefs.

    I chose "Fahrenheit 451" for my Book Club several years ago - it's one of my favourite books, and Bradbury is one of my favourite authors - and we were all astounded at how relevant it still is. I hope people will continue to read books!

    Love your roses/floral outfit, and your collages throughout this post are so pretty!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sheila. I enjoy putting these collages together. I adore Fahrenheit 451. I think I even enjoyed the film but I saw it a long time ago when I was a kid, so I'm not entirely sure. The book, however, was amazing. I took an elective in dystopian literature when I was a student and I really enjoyed reading all those dystopian classics.

      I think it is sometimes hard to know for sure whether a writer held a certain view. Historical interpretations aren't always correct. Moreover, people in general tend to think like others like them, it's just human nature, no man is an island and all that. People that lived in times with prevalent racist or misogynistic attitudes tended to be influenced by them. At any rate, it makes sense to distinguish art from the artist.

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  3. It sounds like an interesting read although I'm not sure I'd enjoy it given how problematic the author is and how you mentioned there are some violent bits.

    Your rose illustrations go so well with this post though!

    Hope you are having a good day :)

    Away From The Blue

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    Replies
    1. The novel is not graphic in sense of the violence but the other does mention thinking about killing the husband of the woman he is in love with and that kind of stuff.

      Delete
  4. No conocía la autor, pero me diste gana de leerlo parece un buen libro y siempre es bueno ler de todo. Te mando un beso y gracias por la reseña

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  5. The work is a reflection of the author's part. Your feedback is very real and meticulous. Thank you very much.
    lace wigs for sale

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nisam čitala ovu knjigu, ali zvuči jako zanimljivo. Morat ću je potražiti, Jako mi se sviđa tvoj outfit i fotografije s kalanhoja cvijetom.

    New Post - https://www.exclusivebeautydiary.com/2021/05/dior-rouge-458-paris-988-rialto.html

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  7. This author is new to me. It does have that classic feel to it. Thanks so much for the review. I really loved all the floral you put in to the collages and of course, your art too.

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  8. Such a great review! Its interesting to find a certain storyline that shows up in novels from all over the world. Its good to read the history at that time too. It gives one a different perspective about how things were. Beautiful collages too. All the best to your creativity! Thanks so much.

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  9. I am truly impressed by your in-depth review of this little know novel, and equally so at you reading in the original Italian. I'm not sure the novel would be my cup of tea - although I wasn't averse to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, although I wouldn't be re-reading that one either. Perhaps my younger self would have been attracted to it? I love your reference to Fahrenheit 451, a book which was on my Dad's bookshelves. This one I read when I was even younger, in my teens, and it remains one of my favourites. Not being able to read books would be my worst nightmare! xxx

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  10. Amazing pictures! Thanks for your detailed review! :) Never read this novel.

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  11. I must admit that I didn't know this author before and you interested me a lot.

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  12. Incredible artwork and outfit. Thanks for the review I will check this book It sounds very interesting cris

    http://www.photosbycris.com.au/?p=14671

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  13. Your book reviews always teach me different authors! That book seems so interesting because of the book's darkness and light. Your floral outfit and illustration are so beautiful, Ivana<3

    akiko
    https://kimonosnack.blogspot.com

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  14. Hola Ivana, hope you' had a fantastic week :)

    Thanks for another review in detail, lots of things to think about when it comes to separate author and the creation right? A topic that is being discussed nowaydas and sometimes it is important to give a try to specific creations, depending on your ideas of course but it all has to do with separate the aspects.

    Despite that I think there are many aspects that are worth the reading and specially because nothing is black or white, there are many shades of grey when it comes to this kind of books. It caught my attention that it reminded you of Oscar Wilde's "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" so I may give it a try if I find it in a bookstore!

    Loved all the pictures that you put to create the visuals of this post by the way!

    Pablo
    www.HeyFungi.com

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  15. Dearest Ivana, this is an interesting book review and I also like your introductory thoughts on the author: Read it first, then talk about it ...
    I will probably not read it anyway... For me it is important with a book to be able to either identify with the main protagonists or at least to find them likeable or to love the nature of the story. But people like Dorian Gray leave me cold, their fate doesn't affect me - I don't care what becomes of them, and it doesn't help me if the language of the book is beautiful, as long as the content doesn't captivate me.
    But I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it. And I really like your outfit today - my favorite photo is the last one with the flowers in the foreground!
    All the best,
    Traude
    https://rostrose.blogspot.com/2021/05/erlebte-und-erzahlte-geschichten-im.html

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  16. This sounds like a great read, the historical background is so interesting and you got me hooked with comparison to Dorian Grey.
    I love how your outfit is perfectly matching the story, all the floral details are so beautiful!

    LackaDaisy

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  17. You've matched your outfit and imagery perfectly to the book review! I stopped reading for years for some reason and yet found myself reading again last week - it was so comforting and relaxing!

    aglassofice.com x

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  18. I love this review. I agree with you that any author should be read, depending on the context. My best example is that I've read Mein Kampf, I also read books by communists, like Khrushchev's memoir (but not all of it because it was online and a bit hard to read such a long book like that).

    I'm glad you've enjoyed the book, I will keep it in mind. xx

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All your comments mean a lot to me, even the criticism. Naravno da mi puno znači što ste uzeli vrijeme da nešto napišete, pa makar to bila i kritika. Per me le vostre parole sono sempre preziose anche quando si tratta di critiche.

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