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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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In an essayistic work of 1918 titled Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen [Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man], Thomas Mann (1875–1955) recounts an anecdote concerning the Italian writer, Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863–1938), a near contemporary of Mann’s. Mann recalls that a review of his first book, Buddenbrooks (1901), had compared it to a novel by d’Annunzio that had just been translated into German1 – and in terms highly favourable to the German author. Mann informs us that he took to carrying this article in his breast pocket, delighted that his book had been contrasted with that of an author whose artistic practice and outlook were so foreign to himself, and that it had been found to be the superior work: ‘[s]o war ich und wollte ich sein’ [that what was I was and how I wanted to be2], Mann explains, ‘[s]o wollte ich auch gesehen sein’ [that was how I wished to be seen] (1974, p. 537).

If Mann is to be believed, he and Gabriele d’Annunzio occupied very little – if any – common ground, a view that scholarship treating the two writers has tended to uphold. Consequently very few studies exist that consider d’Annunzio and Mann in constellation. Viewed superficially the two may well seem unlikely bedfellows for a comparative study: while the former is most commonly regarded as an aesthete or decadent, as well as a warrior-poet, the latter is generally seen as a writer of highly psychological and intellectual works, and while the biography of...

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