Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Il Piacere (Pleasure) feints at being a bildungsroman. Even as it incorporates the genre’s defining tropes, it repeatedly undermines them, staging an educational process that is continually frustrated and problematized. Il Piacere can therefore be read as the story of a bad education, as it foregrounds an educational model that is upended before it even starts. More specifically, due to his faulty education, the novel’s protagonist sputters through the stages of his formation, failing to mature or develop appropriately. He founders in a crisis of representation as the fullness of creative, artistic, and amorous satisfaction continues to elude him. The objective of the bildungsroman thus stands as the elusive and problematic ideal to which Il Piacere’s protagonist should strive and remains a constant, tortured concern throughout the novel. D’Annunzio prefigures this impasse in his overlooked dedicatory letter, which recalls and subverts traditional models of formation. The letter uses a Catullan intertext to emphasize and model the importance of instruction and guidance to growth and artistic maturation. By understanding the portrayal of education in the dedicatory letter and the novel, readers learn that the structures that might have upheld the bildungsroman’s implicit promise are in short supply. The same dynamic is reiterated through classical topoi like the stories of Pygmalion and Zeuxis. These artistically grounded intertexts anticipate the major concerns of Il Piacere’s protagonist: how to engage with beauty and art to obtain pleasure, and how to overcome an improper orientation to reach amorous, artistic, and authorial objectives.

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