Halesworth: Author’s biography on Gabriele D’Annunzio wins Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

Author Lucy Hughes-Hallett is pictured in Walpole with her latest book.
EADT 12.1.13

Author Lucy Hughes-Hallett is pictured in Walpole with her latest book. EADT 12.1.13

A biography examining the dichotomous personality of one of Europe’s most infamous 20th Century characters has taken a prestigious award for non-fiction.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who has a second home near Halesworth in Suffolk, impressed the judges to win this year’s £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction with her book called, The Pike.

In chronicling the life of Gabriele D’Annunzio – an Italian artist, First World War hero and early advocate of fascism – Hughes-Hallett has been praised for her “intricate crafting of the narrative” which “transcends the conventions of biography.”

Though D’Annunzio is considered a proponent of many repellent views on nationalism, warmongering and class superiority, Hughes-Hallett was keen to delve deeper into the causes of such ideologies which remain persuasive to some still today.

“It’s easy to think about D’Annunzio as a deplorable monster and to tidy him away and not think about him any more,” she said. “I wanted to trace the way that someone who was clearly sensitive, with a great appreciation for literature and a passion for what is beautiful could end up advocating such a brutal political views.”

Hughes-Hallett connects the ideas of valour exalted by the romantic poets as developing into the more ruthless principles of fascism and warfare, which D’Annunzio advocated in equal measure.

The Pike covers intriguing aspects of D’Annunzio’s colourful life such as his failed attempts to create a fascist utopia in Fiume on the Dalmatian Coast through to his prolific and inexplicable success with women. Hughes-Hallett feels the richness of his life allowed her to attempt a freer form of writing and a style which drew great appreciation from the judges.

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“They talked about my book in terms of having a musical flow and that’s certainly something I was aiming for,” she said.