The Pike

The French wordsmith Romain Rolland, himself no slouch at being derivative as a thinker, likened his Italian contemporary Gabriele d’Annunzio to a pike, the freshwater predator famous for lying still and snapping at whatever comes.  What stood for prey in this simile were the ideas of d’Annunzio’s immediate literary predecessors or near coevals, which made Rolland’s tag tantamount to a sentence of lifelong, flagrant, and indiscriminate plagiarism.

It is noteworthy that the first, British edition of Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s biography was entitled The Pike, with only the book’s subtitle, Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, now left to woo the American reader.  Frankly, I am not a little surprised that the disturbing “Preacher of War” has been left in, since the Americans—or, rather, those Americans who publish and review books nowadays—prefer to avoid controversial imagery at all cost, with the result that we may well look forward to new translations of Tolstoy’s novels entitled Peace and Ms. Karenina.  “Poet,” though of somewhat limited appeal, is OK, “seducer” is rough and ready and will draw the preening spinsters who watch Sex in the City reruns, but “preacher of war” is much too allusive to figure in a book’s title.  Who does this Hughes-Hallett dame think the...

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