Ocelots and peacocks

Gabriele_D'Anunnzio

He had a string of spectacular and often scandalous affairs, and there remains a mythos of Chinese whispers concerning his alleged perversions and fetishes. His paramours included theatrical superstars like the tragedienne Eleonora Duse and the modernist Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein, and numerous adventurous aristocrats including the Marchesa Luisa Casati, who satisfied two of his chief criteria by being very tall and very rich. She had huge green eyes heightened with heavy applications of kohl, favoured exotic accessories such as ocelots and peacocks, and her party guests were attended by black servants dressed in costumes copied from Tiepolo. D’Annunzio was fascinated by bisexuality, and in Paris had a high profile affair with Romaine Brooks, a crop-haired lesbian painter. […]

‘In heaven, dear poet,’ Brooks wrote to him when their affair ended, ‘there will be reserved for you an enormous octopus with a thousand women’s legs (and no head).’ It was an acute hit at d’Annunzio’s compulsive, narcissistic womanising. His love life was as meticulously styled as everything else about him: the poetic billets-doux, the trysts in wisteria-choked pergolas, the love nests hung with damask and strewn with rose petals, the silk kimonos and cups of fragrant Chinese tea, the handkerchiefs drenched in a perfume whose recipe he had copied from a medieval manuscript.

Lover, litératteur, and proto-Fascist martinet: Gabriele d’Annunzio, demonstrating that poets have more fun than historians. (‘In his last years d’Annunzio grew shrunken and bandy-legged, living a frugal and contemplative life interspersed with cocaine-fuelled sex with a tubercular Milanese prostitute chauffeured up from her lodgings above a trattoria on the lakeside.’) From Charles Nicholl’s review of Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s new biography of d’Annunzio, The Pike, in the LRB.

Now I’m off to buy myself an ocelot.

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