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Portraits of the Artist

Dionysian Creativity in Selected Works by Gabriele D’Annunzio and Thomas Mann

Jessica Wood

The Dionysian – an impetus towards abandon, intoxication and creativity, but also chaos, death and dissolution – captured the imagination of both Gabriele D’Annunzio and Thomas Mann, two authors whose work otherwise seems antithetical. Both admired Friedrich Nietzsche and engaged with his iconic yet enigmatic idea of the «Dionysian» in their depictions of writers and artists. Like many of their own fictional characters, D’Annunzio and Mann appear to have been drawn towards this idea and its significance in an artistic context. In their novels and short stories, both portray writers and artists who rely on the precarious form of creativity that results from interactions with the Dionysian. This book argues that the portraits of the artist offered by D’Annunzio and Mann, and the depictions of creativity found within these portraits, demonstrate that these two giants of European literature were more alike than has hitherto been acknowledged – and more alike than they would perhaps have liked to think.

This book was the winner of the 2016 Early Career Researcher Prize in German Studies, a collaboration between the Institute for German Studies at the University of Birmingham and Peter Lang.

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Chapter 5: Conclusion

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CHAPTER 5

Conclusion

At first glance, Gabriele d’Annunzio and Thomas Mann appear to belong to antithetical worlds, both in terms of their personae and in terms of their literature. While the former is often (somewhat reductively) regarded as a decadent aesthete and dismissed as a proto-fascist vate, the latter is known for his burgherly approach to art and, after 1993, his opposition to National Socialism. But the apparently opposing worlds of these two writers can be bridged by their common (and documented) engagement with Nietzsche. In the case of both writers, this engagement was critical, and although each found relevance in certain of Nietzsche’s ideas, they were to reject others. Mann had no truck with Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, for example, and d’Annunzio was to defend Wagner against some of Nietzsche’s charges. In one of the very few studies to consider d’Annunzio and Mann in constellation, Giuliana Giobbi shows that the two writers can be linked through the themes ‘Venice, Art and Death – with many correlated leitmotifs’ (1989, p. 55); one of the leitmotifs that arguably connects these three thematic areas is (a version of) Nietzsche’s Dionysian drive. The Dionysian’s relevance for art has been seen throughout this book, as has its connection with death, and the city of Venice (for both d’Annunzio and Mann) constitutes a space where the Dionysian thrives (not least of all for its connections with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde). This book has traced the motif of the Dionysian through...

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