The legend of Guillaume Apollinaire— jovial, manic, lewd, charismatic, Roman-nosed Apollinaire—is as potent as his work. He was born Wilhelm Albert Wladimir Alexandre Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky in Rome in 1880. His mother, Angelica Alexandrina de Kostrowitzky, was a Polish adventuress who liked to claim noble blood; his father, probably, was an Italian army officer named Francesco-Costantino-Camillo Flugi d’Aspermont, whose rich Catholic family disdained Angelica. (These murky passages have a faint flavor of Stendhal.) The boy spent his first seven years in Roman squalor until his mother, with Wilhelm and a younger brother in tow, moved to Monaco to become a “hostess” at the casino. It was thus fortuitous that the boy got a French education at all, for only in 1861 had Monaco reverted to being a French protectorate.

From 1888 to 1897 the youngster was a star pupil at Catholic boarding schools in Monaco and...

 
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