At 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 1926, a woman stepped out of the crowd on Rome’s 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.
Wednesday, 7 April 1926
A glance. Duration one, possibly two, seconds. In particle physics, an eternity. In history, the briefest of encounters, an infinitesimally small exchange. Two arms are raised, Benito Mussolini's in the Fascist salute, Violet Gibson's in the leveling of a pistol. The distance separating these two people, who have never met, is approximately eight inches. Close enough to breathe each other's breath. Murder can be a very intimate business.
Violet, the daughter of a peer, looks like a pauper. She is wearing a black dress, shiny with wear;
“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 book’s pleasures.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A tour de force informed by the author’s keen understanding of the social and political issues that galvanized the times. Moreover, Saunders’s knowledge---and use---of English literature to animate Gibson’s 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 Violet’s story with sympathy and insight. Her research unearths several gems.” —Financial Times (UK)
Frances Stonor Saunders