Alma, £25, 486pp. £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Il Duce And His Women, By Roberto Olla, trans. Stephen Parkin

 

Il Duce And His Women is another biography of one of the most controversial figures in European history: Benito Mussolini. The facts of his life are familiar: from his humble origins (his father was a blacksmith) to his brief socialist phase, then the founding of the Fascist Party with which he created a coalition government and became Italy's prime minister in 1922. Mussolini then appointed himself dictator – calling himself Il Duce, "The Leader". He and Claretta Petacci – his companion of the time – were shot on 28 April 1945 by the Italian Resistance after leading Italy to a disastrous defeat. Their bodies were hung upside down on Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

He was a vain, muscular man, keen on sports and very conscious of his image – which he cultivated with great care. Apparently, women who saw the real Mussolini failed to recognise him; one allegedly even protested to her friends: "That can't be Il Duce, he is far more handsome than that!"

Many past biographers have highlighted the obsession with his image but the novelty of this book is its bringing together of the facts and the myths through Mussolini's passion for women. Such passion was born of the need to be admired and desired, which also influenced many of his political decisions.

Roberto Olla, a journalist with the Italian state TV channel RAI, decided to explore unpublished sources. He used sections of the private diaries written by Petacci and another lover, Margherita Sarfatti. The most central women in his life were his two wives Ida Dasler and Rachele Guidi, and he had many, many occasional or longer-lasting lovers.

Sarfatti and Anna Mikhailovna Kuliscioff (née Rosenstein) were both liberal thinkers and promoters of the arts. Alice De Fonseca Pallottelli helped to raise funds for the Fascist cause abroad, particularly in London, where she used to see Mussolini for romantic encounters. Petacci, his long-term upper class partner, was frivolous and not academically gifted. However, she kept a punctilious diary, full of indiscretions. Like a modern Salome, she insisted that Mussolini should have his son-in-law – Galeazzo Ciano – executed as a traitor, and saw her wish come true. She also made notes of her lover's comments and innuendos about their love-making. Unsurprisingly, it took some time for Olla to publish his book in Italy, where the Mussolini family is still politically active.

It is an interesting approach to Mussolini's biography, particularly at a time of deep crisis in Italy. The timing could not be more appropriate: only a few days before publication of the English edition, Silvio Berlusconi left the political stage. There are similarities between these two figures, both obsessed with their own image and with women. Neither showed a clear political vision or the willingness to see their homeland develop. Olla begs the question as to why, 60 years after Mussolini's death, the Italian electorate should fall again for such inconsistent political personalities. The author is currently working on a second book, covering the years between 1937 and the end of the war – it should be fascinating.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone