Synopses & Reviews
The astonishing untold story of a woman who tried to stop the rise of Fascism and change the course of history
At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 1926, a woman stepped out of the crowd on Romes Campidoglio Square. Less than a foot in front of her stood Benito Mussolini. As he raised his arm to give the Fascist salute, the woman raised hers and shot him at point-blank range. Mussolini escaped virtually unscathed, cheered on by practically the whole world. Violet Gibson, who expected to be thanked for her action, was arrested, labeled a “crazy Irish spinster” and a “half-mad mystic”—and promptly forgotten.
Now, in an elegant work of reconstruction, Frances Stonor Saunders retrieves this remarkable figure from the lost historical record. She examines Gibsons aristocratic childhood in the Dublin elite, with its debutante balls and presentations at court; her engagement with the critical ideas of the era—pacifism, mysticism, and socialism; her completely overlooked role in the unfolding drama of Fascism and the cult of Mussolini; and her response to a new and dangerous age when anything seemed possible but everything was at stake.
In a grand tragic narrative, full of suspense and mystery, conspiracy and backroom diplomacy, Stonor Saunders vividly resurrects the life and times of a woman who sought to forestall catastrophe, whatever the cost.
"Superb. . . poignant. . . There is nothing tendentious about The Woman Who Shot Mussolini
; rather, its wit and modesty, especially on the question of why Gibson did what she did, make the book a beguiling detective story and, as such, a meditation on the limits of biography. . . . Saunders writes with a clarity of purpose, an eloquence and a satiric edge that refreshes and astonishes."—The Nation
"A tour de force informed by the author's keen understanding of the social and political issues that galvanized the times. . . . Saunders gives [Gibson's story] an elegance, depth and sensibility that would have eluded less competent biographers."
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune "Saunders masterfully sketches the European aesthetic and intellectual ferment that followed World War I. . . Saunders has given us a woman to reckon with."
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer “Unearths an impressive amount of information about Gibson. . . . A thorough, well-written biography of an enigmatic figure.”
—Kirkus "Tantalizing. . ."—More "Vividly intelligent."
—The Guardian (UK) "Tender, meticulous, and punctuated with arresting photographs."
—The Daily Telegraph (UK) "Passionately eloquent. . . A deeply felt account of an undoubtedly tragic life."
—The Times (UK) “A completely fascinating and disturbing story written with consummate elegance and unsettling power. A forgotten corner of twentieth-century history brilliantly revealed to us.”
—William Boyd, author of Ordinary Thunderstorms and Restless “Intrigue, social history, tragic reversal, madness, and moral gravity—Frances Stonor Saunders gives readers all of it in this unforgettable story. A tour de force.”
—James Carroll, author of Constantines Sword: The Church and the Jews “A brilliant excavation of one of history's lost stories: a lone British woman on a mission to assassinate the man who created Fascism. Wonderfully told on a broad canvas and intimate in its details, The Woman Who Shot Mussolini reminds us that in the end the accidents of history rule supreme.”
—Dorothy Gallagher, author of All the Right Enemies: The Life and Murder of Carlo Tresca “The Woman Who Shot Mussolini is an amazing reconstruction of an unknown and important story. Writing crisply and movingly, Frances Stonor Saunders gives us a new and profound understanding of the experience of all Italians during the Mussolini era.”
—Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman
“Saunders masterfully sketches the European aesthetic and intellectual ferment that followed World War I….She recounts all this with a dry wit, even a jauntiness, that contributes mightily to the books pleasures.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A tour de force informed by the authors keen understanding of the social and political issues that galvanized the times. Moreover, Saunderss knowledge---and use---of English literature to animate Gibsons story gives it an elegance, depth, and sensibility that would have eluded less competent biographers.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Superb...poignant...Its wit and modesty make the book a beguiling detective story and, as such, a meditation on the limits of biography....Saunders writes with a clarity of purpose, an eloquence, and a satiric edge that refresh and astonish.” —The Nation
“Absorbing…Saunders tells Violets story with sympathy and insight. Her research unearths several gems.” —Financial Times (UK)
At 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 1926, a woman stepped out of the crowd on Romes Campidoglio Square and shot Mussolini at point-blank range. He escaped virtually unscathed. Violet Gibson, who expected to be thanked for her action, was arrested, labeled a “crazy Irish spinster” and a “half-mad mystic”---and promptly forgotten. Now, in an elegant work of reconstruction, Frances Stonor Saunders retrieves this remarkable figure from the lost historical record. In a grand tragic narrative, full of suspense and mystery, conspiracy and back-room diplomacy, she vividly resurrects the life and times of a woman who sought to forestall catastrophe, whatever the cost.
About the Author
Frances Stonor Saunders is the author of The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, which was short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award, received the Royal Historical Societys Gladstone Memorial Prize, and was translated into ten languages. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, as well as The Guardian and The Independent. She lives in London.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Now 1
Wednesday, 7 April 1926
PART ONE: REVELATION
I. Then 19
II. Open, O Ye Heavenly Gates 23
III. The Problem of Being 32
IV. The New Mystics 40
V. La Femme Qui Cherche 45
VI. L'Homme Qui Cherche 51
VII. Hoc Est Corpus Meum 54
VIII. Holy War 65
IX. Il Miglior Fabbro 73
X. Things Snap 79
PART TWO: ACTS
I. Theater of Madness 101
II. Martyrs 111
III. Gethsemane 121
IV. What God Wants 126
V. Providential Escape 132
VI. Questions 144
VII. Secrets 156
VIII. The New Augustus 166
IX. Hidden Hands 175
X. Lives of the Saints 180
XI. Mea Culpa 191
XII. Examination 198
XIII. Stigmata 208
XIV. Heretics 213
XV. Lockdown 223
XVI. Special Justice 231
XVII. Lucid Insanity 238
XVIII. Exodus 246
PART THREE: LAMENTATIONS
I. Mansion of Despair 255
II. The Absence of God 264
III. Buried Alive 271
IV. Cometh the Hour 282
V. By the Heels at Milano 297
VI. Casting Off 306
VII. Death in Exile 314
Picture Credits 365