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The Woman Who Shot Mussolini Hardcover – March 30, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091212
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,585,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The woman who shot Mussolini was named Violet Gibson, and she fired in 1926. Grazed by the bullet, Mussolini resumed the march of fascism, while Gibson was dispatched to an English mental asylum and died in 1956. In this excellent biographical reconstruction, Saunders plumbs the depths of a woman who seems ultimately unfathomable. Raised in the Protestant ascendancy of late-nineteenth-century Ireland, Gibson departed from parental expectations: intelligent and inclined to mysticism, she delved into theosophy before converting to Catholicism. Saunders also uncovers a dawning political consciousness in Gibson’s involvement with the peace movement, but it is Gibson’s mental condition and the treatment she received that predominate here. Although her suicide attempts and assaults on others gave cause for alarm, Gibson, after her assassination attempt, was the victim of deceptions by doctors, lawyers, and family members. Venturing that the subterfuges stemmed from diplomatic expedience and mental-health patients’ lack of rights at the time, Saunders nevertheless portrays Gibson’s remote personality. Saunders displays fine sourcing and sensitivity in this superior historical work. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"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 Constantine’s 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

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By MR PHILIP J SHANNON on August 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Honourable Violet Gibson was not like the other women of the Anglo-Irish elite when it came to Benito Mussolini, leader of Italy's fascists. Whilst Lady Asquith (wife of the former Prime Minister) was delighted by Mussolini, and Clementine Churchill (wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and future Prime Minister) was awestruck by `one of the most wonderful men of our times', and Lady Chamberlain (wife of the Foreign Secretary) was a Fascist-badge-wearing fan, Violet Gibson aimed a revolver at the fascist dictator in Italy on 7 April, 1926 and shot him in the nose.

Frances Saunders' book recounts Gibson's birth in 1876 in Dublin, her frustration at her passive existence as a "decorative ornament", and her turn to various mystical philosophies before settling on a life of `charity and prayer' as a reform-minded Catholic.

A pacifist opposed to the First World War, Gibson watched with mounting distaste the rise of Mussolini's fascists in Rome, her spiritual centre. Mussolini, backed by landowners and businessmen, had grabbed power in 1922 through violence and the slaughter of three thousand political opponents "designed to break the working class movement". Mussolini, and the silence of the Vatican, were, to Gibson, "assaults on both God and Liberty" and she set out to kill the dictator, believing it was God's divine mission for her.

Since 1917, when British Treasury money had funded Mussolini's pro-war and anti-socialist newspaper, "Mussolini basked in the approval" of the British political aristocracy. The British Ambassador to Italy called him a `great man and a friend worth having'. The Foreign Secretary had `pleasant impressions' of Mussolini who was `easy to work with', unlike Italy's troublesome socialists.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert Weir Barrett on March 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is history at its fascinating best. Smartly researched and very well written, The Woman Who Shot Mussolini takes the little known story about on attempt on il Duce's life and extends it to cover so many other deeply interesting aspects of 20th century European history. In April 1926, the Hon. Violet Gibson, a mentally fragile Anglo-Irish aristocrat, fired a revolver at the head of Benito Mussolini from a foot away; she missed, only taking a divot out of his nose. A minor event, but Saunders ties it in with the story of the Protestant Ascendency in Ireland, Italian politics, the practice of psychiatry, and much else. Gibson herself remains, as she was in life, a bit of a blur, but that is certainly no fault of the author who uses fresh documents to track what was a tragic arc of a life unfulfilled. And there is no better brief look at the tragedy that the odious Mussolini rained down on Italy.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on June 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Here is an interesting piece of history. I didn't know of Violet Gibson, nor of her attempt to kill Mussolini. I picked up this book because I wanted to read about Italy around the time that my grandparents left it.

The book had some of cultural milieu I was looking for. I learned about Italian law and justice at the time, the women's prisons run by nuns, the treatment of the mentally ill and the general tenor of Mussolini's adoring crowds. In the chapter "Stigmata" there is a section on the Fascist view of women. There is also interesting material English-Irish politics in the post-Victorian era.

Besides this and the slice of history it covers, the book provokes a lot of thought. There is the disparity in treatment of Mussolini's would be assassins; how the Fascists used the assassination attempts as an excuse to solidify dictatorial control; the changing views on Mussolini by such powerful figures as the Chamberlain brothers and Winston Churchill; the post-war treatment of Ezra Pound vs that of Violet Gibson; how mental institutions can create conditions that induce or increase the probability of derangement symptoms, etc. As an alternative history, had Violet Gibson done this 15 years hence, would she have been a heroine?

While this is not an essential read for historians, it will certainly hold your interest.
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