sábado, fevereiro 08, 2014

"Pleasure" by Gabriele D'Annunzio

Pleasure - Gabriele D'Annunzio,  Lara Gochin Raffaelli (Translator),  Alexander Stille (Introduction)Aesthete wrapped up in his own lies.

The depiction of this world of decadence is vintage. Off the top of my head, I cannot name an Author that has managed to describe sensuality with this much skill and detail.


(while reading the book, Michael von Zichy's drawings kept coming to mind...lol)

"The contagion of desire is a very frequent phenomenon in modern societies. A man who has been loved by a woman of singular esteem excites the imagination in other women; and each one burns with desire to possess him, out of vanity and curiosity, competing with the others. The appeal of Don Geovanni is more in his fame than in his person".

Not being able to read Italian, I cannot pass judgement on the translation.

The purchase of this book was the direct result of a recommendation by non other than James Joyce, who praised D'Annunzio in his teenage years. I had read only in retrospect that the writer was a leading figure of Italian fascism, although he himself was not a fascist.

The book is for me the epitome of the aestheticist dandy novel, which in my opinion ranks at least as high as Wilde and Maupassant. Content-wise, but rather not in stylistic approach. I have rarely read a book in which the Moment was so finely detailed. The aestheticism of the fin de siècle drove the Dandies in a repeatedly evoked intoxication of the senses and of the mind that life was a sublimated work of art. Mimeting Huysmans' approach, in D'Annunzio the whole is also allocated to the senses of the body, so that the Escapist is also a key figure of the demoralized decadence: one must always avoid the regret, by keeping the Spirit busy with new experiences and new ideas. 

D' Annunzio puts more value on Sperelli's Desires (hence the book title) than to the excesses of Huysmans' Des Esseintes. The main character, Count Andrea Sperelli, comes from an old Italian noble family based in Rome. He is driven by an obsessive love over Elena (Helena motif : the most beautiful woman in the world). Due to the nature of the chapter, only so much is revealed. Later on Sperelli meets a Saint, Maria Ferres (nomen est omen here as well).

The novel is psychological and structurally very interesting, because the protagonist is thrown into the world of desire and lust with only his own satisfaction as the sole motivation. Sperelli is addicted to lust and love, despite all of his intellectual behaviour: The idea of beauty is, so to speak, the axis of his inner being, around which all his passions revolve. In Sperelli's commute between the two women he seems to be inactive and indifferent, which is also reminiscent of Frédéric Moreau in Flaubert's "L' éducation sentimentale". Maria is also a projection, the two sides of the same coin of glorification and disavowal. In a slight digression, D'Annunzio, states: "Andrea was becoming excited by these discussions. Supported by his friends, he entered into a dialogue on female beauty, much less restrained than Firenzuola's. His sensuality of old was reawakening in him, after his long abstinence; and he spoke with intimate and profound fervour, as a great connoisseur of the nude, priding himself on his more colorful words, drawing fine distinctions like an artist and a libertine."

The formal genius of this work arises from the ingenious book construction: 

1. D' Annunzio meets the two women seasonsally;

2. The situations are themselves strongly coloured by the locale;

3. The phases and phrases of superlative pleasure: "She spoke, pausing now and again. Her voice was so caressing that it gave the impression almost of a carnal embrace; and she has that involuntary loving and voluptuous gaze that agitates all men and immediately provokes desire in them";

4. The longing personified by Sperelli's waiting, staged beautifully by the sentence structure pushed to the limits of tolerability: "She is therefore, in everything, an elect spirit, he thought. How much pleasure she could give a refined lover! In his imagination she was growing in dimension; but in growing, she was escaping him."

5. The creation of scenes (Rome, Schifanoia as a place of convalescence for Andreas after the duel) is brought into play with intellectual acumen as well as sensual dialogues that become mirrors of the inner sensations: "She waited, sitting on the couch, trying to still the mad agitation within her, avoiding any examination of her soul, forcing her attention to external things. The glassy figures of the fire screen caught her eyes, barely lit by the half-dead coals. Higher up, on the matelpiece, from one of the globets, petals were falling from a huge white rose that was falling apart slowly, languidly, sofly, with something almost feminine, almost fleshlike about it". Note the use of "white rose" as a symbol for the female sex organs;

6. The whole book has a perfect architecture and is a masterpiece of linguistic expression. The Poetry (especially by Percy Shelley ) is filled with honeydew hyacinth, and falls drop by drop, like a running murmur that passes the senses with passion: "From that point on, a full, oblivious, free, a new happiness held them both. Passion enveloped them and made them uncaring of anything that would not give them both immediate pleasure. Both, remarkably suited in spirit and body to exercise of all the highest and rarest of delights, unceasingly sought the Peak, the Unsurpassable, the Unreachable, and they went so far that sometimes an obscure discomfort possessed them, even at the height of their oblivion, as if an admonishing voice rose up from the depths of their being to warn them of an unknown punishment, of an imminent end."

7. A sea of aesthetic images flowing in as one , all as beautiful as a picture that is emerging from a melody...

Since D' Annunzio was 26 years old when he published this book in 1899 , I give him my highest literary gift and take my hat off: Chapeau! For me, this brilliant novel is among the best I have ever read. Finally, I would - If I may do so -, quote a poem from the diaries of Mary, which is also by Shelley:

A Fragment: To Music

Silver key of the fountain of tears,
Where the spirit drinks till the brain is wild;
Softest grave of a thousand fears,
Where their mother, Care, like a drowsy child,
Is laid asleep in flowers.

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