No of pages: 384
Other Editions: Paperback
The Woman Who Shot Mussolini
7 April 1926: on the steps of the Capitol in Rome, surrounded by chanting Fascists, the Honourable Violet Gibson raises her revolver and fires at the Italian head of state, the poster-boy of the European Right and darling of the British ruling class. The bullet narrowly misses the dictator’s bald head, hitting him in the nose. Of all his would-be assassins, she came closest to changing the course of history.What had brought her to this moment? She was the daughter of an important Anglo-Irish peer, born to privilege and ease. Her family was Protestant, Unionist and conservative. She should have married into the aristocracy and lived the life that women of her milieu were expected to lead.
Yet terrible unhappiness lurked beneath that glittering surface. She was a serious-minded young woman in an age when girls were meant to think as little as possible and to avoid intellectual or political excitement. Her spiritual quest brought her to a kind of left-wing Catholicism and to sympathy for Irish nationalism, to the horror of her family who exacted a severe emotional cost from her for her rebellion. And she fell in love with Italy, and watched as Mussolini’s thugs took it into the moral cesspit of Fascism. She felt she had to act.
But Violet Gibson, unlike Hitler’s attempted assassins, never received the smallest recognition for her gesture. She was merely a ‘mad woman’, or judged to be so by a world that then thought Mussolini perfectly sane. She was confined to a lunatic asylum after a ten-minute interview with a society doctor, condemned without trial to a whole-life sentence without parole. She died in 1956. Her letters to friends languished unsent, and she never had a chance of being released, even after Mussolini declared war on Britain.
Frances Stonor Saunders’ unforgettable and compulsively readable book rescues this gentle, driven woman from a silent void and restores her dignity and purpose.
Keep in touch with all the latest news and events from Faber Social by signing up for the newsletter. Sign up here.