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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 Rome’s 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. 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 Rome’s 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 Gibson’s 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.


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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 Rome’s 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. 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 Rome’s 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 Gibson’s 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.

30 review for The Woman Who Shot Mussolini

  1. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    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 Fasc 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Sinead Cusack reads from Frances Stonor Saunders' account of the troubled life of Violet Gibson, the daughter of an Anglo-Irish lord who attempted to assassinate Mussolini in Rome in 1926. From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Sinead Cusack reads from Frances Stonor Saunders' account of the troubled life of Violet Gibson, the daughter of an Anglo-Irish lord who attempted to assassinate Mussolini in Rome in 1926.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Very occasionally, I come across a book that is so interesting that I read it in one sitting and this is one of these. The subject matter is a virtually forgotten incident which occurred in 1926 and its protagonists are Violet Gibson, an aristocratic British spinster and Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy. If events that morning had gone just a little differently, the whole course of twentieth century history might have been very different. On that long ago Wednesday Violet Gibson had Very occasionally, I come across a book that is so interesting that I read it in one sitting and this is one of these. The subject matter is a virtually forgotten incident which occurred in 1926 and its protagonists are Violet Gibson, an aristocratic British spinster and Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy. If events that morning had gone just a little differently, the whole course of twentieth century history might have been very different. On that long ago Wednesday Violet Gibson had set out from the convent where she was staying in Rome carrying a pistol, a stone and a scrap of newspaper on which she had written "Palazzo del Littorio", the address of the Fascist Party headquarters where she intended to carry out her deed in the afternoon. But instead she stopped at the Campodoglio where a crowd had gathered because of Mussolini's presence and, seeing him emerge from the Palazzo dei Conservatori, she shot him at point blank range, injuring the tip of his nose. Violet Gibson got as close to her target as Jack Ruby got to Lee Harvey Oswald 37 years later, murder, as the author of this book points out, sometimes being " a very intimate business". At this point you may well be asking yourselves, as I did, why you have not heard of this incident before and the answer seems to be because it suited both the British and Italian governments to hush it up. It made the newspapers in both countries, of course, and Mussolini's supporters bayed for Violet's blood but both sets of diplomats were only too happy for Violet's family to take her back to Britain and have her quietly shut away. That is what happened and Violet remained in what we would now call a "private mental health facility" for the rest of her life. Two questions remain about Violet: why did she do it and was she mad? The first has never been definitively answered, as Violet always implied that there were others involved, though no evidence of this was ever found. If she was mad , she was an "intelligent lunatic" who read the papers and analysed political events. She was also born at a time when women of her class were brought up to be ornaments. It is possible, then, that she was looking for a cause and she seems to have thought that she was acting on some sort of divine command. For years, Violet led investigators and her doctors a dance, at one point asserting, "What I say can't be believed because I am mad" and she hardly helped her own cause. Despite her numerous, cogent pleas to the highest in the land, she was never set free or even allowed to reside in a Catholic hospital as she requested and her family became exasperated and more than a little concerned about costs. At this point the book becomes a kind of chronicle of the way in which the well-off mentally ill were treated in the first half of the twentieth century and it is none the less fascinating for that. The book, however, is as much Benito Mussolini's story as it is Violet's and its early part poses a third question: was Mussolini mad? I'll leave you to make up your own minds on that one! Meanwhile, back to our mysterious "heroine": When Violet Gibson died in 1956 no public announcement was made and no friend or relative attended her funeral. She remains, in death as in life, an enigma.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    pretty good book about the british woman who in 1926 tried to assassinate mussolini. unfortunately for everyone(except mussolini)she missed only grazing his nose and the gun jammed when she tried to fire again. i must admit i wasn't even aware that this event had happended. for a history book, it's very well written and very easy to read. trying to make a book of over 300 pages on this topic means the author has had to pad the book with details of other family members, other non-related events in pretty good book about the british woman who in 1926 tried to assassinate mussolini. unfortunately for everyone(except mussolini)she missed only grazing his nose and the gun jammed when she tried to fire again. i must admit i wasn't even aware that this event had happended. for a history book, it's very well written and very easy to read. trying to make a book of over 300 pages on this topic means the author has had to pad the book with details of other family members, other non-related events in mussolini's life etc. but that's ok...it's all very interesting. the woman (violet gibson) spent most of the rest of her life in an insane asylum, when she probably should have been given a medal. still, mussolini came to a bad end eventually, as was well deserved.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Sinead Cusack reads from Frances Stonor Saunders' account of the troubled life of Violet Gibson, the daughter of an Anglo-Irish lord, who attempted to assassinate Mussolini in Rome in 1926. On Wednesday 7th April 1926, in front of a crowd of cheering Fascist supporters, Benito Mussolini is shot at close quarters. The bullet nicks the bridge of his nose and the bleeding is profuse. Who shot him and why did they do it? Abridged by Jill Waters Was she mad or was she pretending to be mad to execute he Sinead Cusack reads from Frances Stonor Saunders' account of the troubled life of Violet Gibson, the daughter of an Anglo-Irish lord, who attempted to assassinate Mussolini in Rome in 1926. On Wednesday 7th April 1926, in front of a crowd of cheering Fascist supporters, Benito Mussolini is shot at close quarters. The bullet nicks the bridge of his nose and the bleeding is profuse. Who shot him and why did they do it? Abridged by Jill Waters Was she mad or was she pretending to be mad to execute her theosophically rooted political agenda? And dontcha think it's a shame that the second bullet misfired? 2.5 stars

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    I found this book fascinating. I embarked on it because I had never heard of Violet Gibson or read about Mussolini’s rise. The author has a drily funny way of talking about the absurdity of fascism that is very satisfying at the moment, even as she acknowledges the horror of it, and treats Gibson with a great deal of sympathy. What the book doesn’t really do is give me more than a glimpse of the Italy that my anti-fascist grandparents grew up in before they fled for the US. I’ll have to look fur I found this book fascinating. I embarked on it because I had never heard of Violet Gibson or read about Mussolini’s rise. The author has a drily funny way of talking about the absurdity of fascism that is very satisfying at the moment, even as she acknowledges the horror of it, and treats Gibson with a great deal of sympathy. What the book doesn’t really do is give me more than a glimpse of the Italy that my anti-fascist grandparents grew up in before they fled for the US. I’ll have to look further for that.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    UUG I had a review written and then Goodreads went down and didn't post it. What a pain. Anyway. When people ask me what I read I usually say something like, "I'll read anything." I have no grudges with any particular genre, and I've read bits and pieces of just about everything. But the truth is that I don't read outside of YA/Children's lit very often. So when I read something like this I'm given pause while I'm like... can't tell if badly written... or just unfamiliar genre style... There were UUG I had a review written and then Goodreads went down and didn't post it. What a pain. Anyway. When people ask me what I read I usually say something like, "I'll read anything." I have no grudges with any particular genre, and I've read bits and pieces of just about everything. But the truth is that I don't read outside of YA/Children's lit very often. So when I read something like this I'm given pause while I'm like... can't tell if badly written... or just unfamiliar genre style... There were a couple of tense shifts, and the narrative tone changed quite a bit. It was pretty clear that the author is really invested in this subject, and sometimes the narrator became a little protective of Violet. Sometimes the narrator was also really, really funny. I found Saunders relied a lot on the information of sources that were only tangentially related, like the Fitzgeralds and the Joyces. I liked when she drew the parallels, but sometimes a.) she went on a long tangent and there was too much information and b.) sometimes she tried to relate it too closely and it wasn't always helpful. Small problems aside, I really enjoyed this book. There were some parts that were so ridiculous, like when part of Violet's insanity defense was that you'd have to be insane to want to kill Mussolini (her lawyer was a freaking genius, btw). If you tried to write that in fiction, no one would buy it. Real life, man. Parts of it were really, really horrifying. When it started talking about some of the cures for "madness" in women... it was nothing short of torture. I had no idea things like that were still happening even up to WWII. Some of the beliefs about women, and the way they were treated... it makes me feel ill. Some things you can't un-know. But I also wouldn't want to un-know them; these things are important, our history is important. So if only for that reason, it's an important book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    BBC Book of the Week (view spoiler)[ 1. On Wednesday 7th April 1926, in front of a crowd of cheering Fascist supporters, Benito Mussolini is shot at close quarters. The bullet nicks the bridge of his nose and the bleeding is profuse. Who shot him and why did they do it? 2. Violet Gibson was the daughter of an Anglo-Irish peer. Her circumstances were comfortable financially, but her quest for spiritual comfort was troubled. What led her to raise a pistol at the Fascist dictator Mussolini? 3. Mussolin BBC Book of the Week (view spoiler)[ 1. On Wednesday 7th April 1926, in front of a crowd of cheering Fascist supporters, Benito Mussolini is shot at close quarters. The bullet nicks the bridge of his nose and the bleeding is profuse. Who shot him and why did they do it? 2. Violet Gibson was the daughter of an Anglo-Irish peer. Her circumstances were comfortable financially, but her quest for spiritual comfort was troubled. What led her to raise a pistol at the Fascist dictator Mussolini? 3. Mussolini was a man with a passion for living dangerously - his battle scars and near misses testified to that - and it was the heroic legend that he stoked which so enthused his supporters. But Violet Gibson came to feel differently. 4. As she was led off by the police in the moments after she had shot Benito Mussolini, Violet seemed confused and surprised to hear what she had done. But her subsequent behaviour showed flashes of remarkable lucidity. Was it an act of sanity to attempt to kill a man whom the world later regarded as deluded? 5. Violet was eventually released by the Italian government. But how would her family determine her fate and future? (hide spoiler)]

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Good account of a blip in history I had never heard anything about. In 1926 Violet Gibson gets close enough to take a shot at Mussolini and got a part of his nose. If her gun had not jammed history would have been markedly changed. Good effort to put the reader in the context of the times. A number of famous people are included - again as an effort to give the reader that feel for the times. I thought it was a little long. Covers the backgrounds of both major characters (she a lady of Irish uppe Good account of a blip in history I had never heard anything about. In 1926 Violet Gibson gets close enough to take a shot at Mussolini and got a part of his nose. If her gun had not jammed history would have been markedly changed. Good effort to put the reader in the context of the times. A number of famous people are included - again as an effort to give the reader that feel for the times. I thought it was a little long. Covers the backgrounds of both major characters (she a lady of Irish upper class and he a youth from poor background). Shows Mussolini's lack of real commitment to any real political view simply wanted power. And it is never known whether Violet Gibson - in the throes of religious fervor - tries to assassinate Il Duce or was she part of a conspiracy. Either way she spent the rest of her long life in an asylum.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Victor Gibson

    Violet Gibson, the woman who shot Mussolini was my great aunt . In a recording by Flanagan and Allen of "Underneath the Arches" they read the related headline of a contemporary newspaper. However, it was great to read such a sympathetic account of her life since I knew very little about her. Who knows whether she was mad or not. Her action now seems eminently sensible. Whether or not you already know anything about Violet Gibson or Mussolini, this book is a great read. As well as describing the a Violet Gibson, the woman who shot Mussolini was my great aunt . In a recording by Flanagan and Allen of "Underneath the Arches" they read the related headline of a contemporary newspaper. However, it was great to read such a sympathetic account of her life since I knew very little about her. Who knows whether she was mad or not. Her action now seems eminently sensible. Whether or not you already know anything about Violet Gibson or Mussolini, this book is a great read. As well as describing the actual event of the title it also goes into the detail of how the Italian government, the British government and the Gibson family (who were Irish aristocrats) reacted.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie Hudson

    Bit of a long winded account of daughter of Lord Ashburne who was prime minister of Ireland who went a bit mad and zealous and attempted to shoot Mussolini but just shot a bit off his nose. Too much talk of was she mad or was she part of an anti-Mussolini plot and about whether Italy were going to charge her as a criminal or as a mad woman. Eventually they let her leave and her family put her in a mental home

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephen McCarthy

    This is a fascinating book. It captures the uncertain political landscape and turbulent social changes of the years between the World Wars. The book exposes the hypocrisy and self serving nature of politicians on all sides, not just Mussolini. It gives insight into the collapse or at least waning of the power of priviledge and aristocracy as Irish society moved from Empire to Commonwealth and the emergence of the Irish Republic. It also sheds light on the mental health care system before and afte This is a fascinating book. It captures the uncertain political landscape and turbulent social changes of the years between the World Wars. The book exposes the hypocrisy and self serving nature of politicians on all sides, not just Mussolini. It gives insight into the collapse or at least waning of the power of priviledge and aristocracy as Irish society moved from Empire to Commonwealth and the emergence of the Irish Republic. It also sheds light on the mental health care system before and after the creation of the NHS. But as well as all that, the book captivates with the truly human story of a woman with obvious, but ill defined, problems who chose a higher path, albeit delusional but ultimately if she had succeeded would have changed history. A woman whom everyone tried to forget has been tastefully and masterfully immortalised. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking something out of the ordinary.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Linda Amos

    The Hon. Violet Gibson, known to the great and good of English society, travelled to Italy, spending time in the poor parts of Rome, distributing money. One morning she walked to Campidoglio and stationed herself next to a lamp post. When Mussolini emerged from the building, she walked over and shot him in the face. Violet is arrested - and so begins a nightmare for the British politicians, her family and Violet herself. She is only one of those who made an attempt on his life. This is a poignant The Hon. Violet Gibson, known to the great and good of English society, travelled to Italy, spending time in the poor parts of Rome, distributing money. One morning she walked to Campidoglio and stationed herself next to a lamp post. When Mussolini emerged from the building, she walked over and shot him in the face. Violet is arrested - and so begins a nightmare for the British politicians, her family and Violet herself. She is only one of those who made an attempt on his life. This is a poignant story, well written and it is obvious that a lot of research has been done. What is scary is the 'moral' and physical causes of mental illness at that time: novel-reading, disappointment in love, pecuniary difficulties, change of life, old age (I should have been put away long ago then!). Thankfully, our view of mental illness have changed for the better.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joel Lantz

    An interesting, albeit rambling, account of a generally unknown bit of history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    Interesting how conspiracies theories are such a big part of Fascism.

  16. 4 out of 5

    S'hi

    For all the men who have statues erected in their name, yet have failed to achieve the missions they set out on, it is doubly remarkable that a woman such as Violet Gibson has faded from public consciousness. That she is remembered at all must come down to her family’s class, or the likelihood of records remaining would be greatly diminished. But it is also because of this family background that Violet’s story is so problematical. Stonor Saunders uses the sources of others of the same generation For all the men who have statues erected in their name, yet have failed to achieve the missions they set out on, it is doubly remarkable that a woman such as Violet Gibson has faded from public consciousness. That she is remembered at all must come down to her family’s class, or the likelihood of records remaining would be greatly diminished. But it is also because of this family background that Violet’s story is so problematical. Stonor Saunders uses the sources of others of the same generation to fill out Gibson’s story. At first this seems a little confusing for those not part of or familiar with that circle. But as the work progresses the relevance of these other sources becomes clearer. Gibson’s life spanned a very volatile period in history, when practices were becoming established in such a way that smacked of tradition and yet had nowhere near outlasted previously established traditions around family, work and other social relations. The practice of colonialism had its backlash of dissenting voices from the colonies. Religion was still a major influence but which one and what to make of the newer spiritual enquiries burgeoning across the continent. Even the seemingly privileged position as a daughter of the first Irish Lord Chancellor, Lord Ashbourne, was not as stabilising a position in the world as one might have thought. The choice to render this biography in a religious context, by the parts having the biblical names Revelation, Acts and Lamentations, rather challenges the same basis within Violet Gibson herself as a religious seeker or convert to Catholicism. An Irish woman converting to Catholicism? The image in itself breaks any stereotypical thinking we may bring as an audience to this tale. The clash of ideas and viewpoints within the writing actually provide the social scape of the times rather effectively. It is difficult to be sure of one’s own bearings among so many ideas and influences and questions – everyone seems to have their own half-answers and probing questions. To maintain a kind of parallel between the lives of Mussolini and Violet Gibson throughout the book is quite an accomplishment for the writer. While Mussolini would have reached a point where Gibson was no longer relevant to him, he certainly remained of significance to her. The title of the book reiterates this as if it is the only reason to be remember her is in relation to him. Yet part of Violet Gibson’s story remains the similarity to so many other women – even as a single woman her entire life – as being seen or defined by her relationship to a man. This must be what makes her own particular story so memorable: that her attempt to finish a man that she did not want any further relationship with should hold such sway throughout the most significant part of her life, and taint her memory in the minds of others! Even the wording of that sentence makes it seem as if it is only the relationship between a man and a woman. That is what we still tend to think eighty years after her great act of bravery. And yet it is actually the political stage she stepped up to that is the signifier of her bravery, and the defiance of her father and others in her own social circle that must make us question whether all acts of bravery are also forms of insanity as hers became defined. This is the story of one person at a threshold that others do not recognise for what it is. At a time when the whole world was redefining and reinventing itself, this one woman embodies something of the inner turmoil we all must face to be able to transform ourselves. The greater the enforced isolation, the greater the proof that no person is an island. If they were, no effort would be required to silence and exile them. This story must raise the philosophical issues of existence for us all. And with it the social, political, and economic factors that play across our lives and even our spirituality to go on beyond the borders of our own existence into the lives of others.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bob Dyson

    The hype - ' ... the life and times of a woman who sought to forestall catastrophe, whatever the cost' - is overdone, to put it mildly. Any way you look at it, the Hon. Violet Gibson was not a political visionary, a self-sacrificing freedom fighter, a heroic foe of tyrants, etc., etc. I suspect that had she not been the daughter of a peer whose fate it was to decline from a life of wealth, glamour and ease to an ignominious and forsaken death, she wouldn't now be exciting any more interest than The hype - ' ... the life and times of a woman who sought to forestall catastrophe, whatever the cost' - is overdone, to put it mildly. Any way you look at it, the Hon. Violet Gibson was not a political visionary, a self-sacrificing freedom fighter, a heroic foe of tyrants, etc., etc. I suspect that had she not been the daughter of a peer whose fate it was to decline from a life of wealth, glamour and ease to an ignominious and forsaken death, she wouldn't now be exciting any more interest than do many other lunatics who wander across the world's stage. To make a long story short, she was a neurasthenic religious crank who went mad and in 1926 tried to assassinate Mussolini; possibly she was also contemplating having a shot at Pope Pius XI. If her gesture had any effect at all it was possibly to heighten the adulation that Mussolini enjoyed before World War II by creating a sudden upsurge of public sympathy- this has been suggested by people who have reviewed this book. If you watch video footage now of Mussolini's speeches, you will almost certainly come away with an impression of an absurd poseur; we have mostly forgotten how tremendously Mussolini was admired - not only by his own people but by prominent members of the British establishment - in the 1920s and 30s. Perhaps Violet Gibson made an involuntary contribution to his stature. If she did, I think it can only have been in a very small way. Her assassination attempt (despite firing at point-blank range, she succeeded only in grazing the bridge of his nose) was the culmination of an unbalanced personal history. By 1922 she had had a mental breakdown and been committed to a lunatic asylum; by 1924 she had convinced herself that God wanted her to kill someone as a sacrifice; in 1925 she tried to kill herself (as a sacrifice) by shooting herself in the chest; she was inclined to assault people (in one case with a small hammer) for little or no reason. By 1926 she was properly unhinged. Francis Stonor Saunders tries to treat her with sympathy, and gives at least some consideration to the question of whether she really was mad or not; but there seems no doubt that she was. Repatriated to England in 1927 she spent the rest of her life in St Andrew’s asylum in Northampton, largely forgotten or ignored by her family, and subject to periodic fits of delusion and violence. The suggestion that she was put away merely because it would have been inconvenient to leave her at large is not plausible. The Woman Who Shot Mussolini is interesting not because it celebrates the career of a misunderstood heroine or unmasks the injustice of a faulty or politically motivated diagnosis, but for the discursive insights that it gives into pre-War polite society in Dublin, the career of Mussolini, the rise and decline of fascism in Italy, the treatment of mental illness, and the power of control and definition that is vested - vested to this day, after all - in psychiatry. I found it fascinating and very sad; but poor Violet certainly wasn't a world-historical figure, and, all things considered, her deranged act wasn't a particularly significant event.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nick Sweeney

    This was a fantastic look at a range of characters, and also at political trends and movements. It begins with wouldbe assassin Violet Gibson's Anglo-Irish ascendancy background, and the rifts that old and new allegiances caused between members of her family. They seemed like people in search of something, anything - hence one brother's love of all things Irish, including the language and a strange costume highlighted by an orange kilt, which he always wore, despite never living in Ireland; her This was a fantastic look at a range of characters, and also at political trends and movements. It begins with wouldbe assassin Violet Gibson's Anglo-Irish ascendancy background, and the rifts that old and new allegiances caused between members of her family. They seemed like people in search of something, anything - hence one brother's love of all things Irish, including the language and a strange costume highlighted by an orange kilt, which he always wore, despite never living in Ireland; her mother was also drawn to the blatant fakeness of Christian Science. Violet herself outraged all of them by becoming a Catholic. She seemed to have fixed on killing Mussolini for a long time, though it was a wish that was gestating in her, and not a plan, as such. Mussolini's own background is also shown in detail. He was not simply the pompous buffoon portrayed somewhat lazily by commentators. There was much more - and much worse - to him than that. He was also a man in search of something to cling to. His fascism was made up on the spot and was therefore devoid of any solid policy, his friendships were made very unwisely and the disastrous empire-building decisions he took were based on an illusion of his, and his rather backward country's, supposed greatness. You almost feel sorry for the hapless Mussolini as the book goes on; stuck with the dreadful fallout of all those bad friendships and decisions. Not that sorry, though. Violet Gibson came very close to putting the dictator out of the misery to come when she joined a fawning crowd one morning in Rome and took a pot shot at him that struck him on the nose. Mussolini made much of his seeming invincibility, and the fact that he was almost unembarrassable, and within a day he had resumed his duties, including a state visit, with a bandage covering much of his face. What happened to Violet after her arrest takes up the second half of this book, and I don't want to spoil that in a review, so I'll just say that she was very shamefully treated, even after it was decided that it was possibly crazier NOT to shoot Europe's dictators, and long after an Italian partisan group had finished what Violet started, and put an end to Mussolini.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hanne Armstrong

    I read this author's "Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman" (an account of 14th century condottiere John Hawkwood) with great pleasure some years ago, so when I saw this book, bought it immediately. Partly, of course, because I had no idea that a woman had shot Mussolini I wasn't disappointed. Stonor Saunders enters the world of between-war Europe as easily as she does that of the 1300's. Her book speaks not only for and about Violet Gibson, the Anglo-Irish aristocrat who attempted to assassinate Mussoli I read this author's "Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman" (an account of 14th century condottiere John Hawkwood) with great pleasure some years ago, so when I saw this book, bought it immediately. Partly, of course, because I had no idea that a woman had shot Mussolini I wasn't disappointed. Stonor Saunders enters the world of between-war Europe as easily as she does that of the 1300's. Her book speaks not only for and about Violet Gibson, the Anglo-Irish aristocrat who attempted to assassinate Mussolini, but for and about the period generally, and particularly what it was to be an upper class woman at that time. Mussolini, lunatic asylums, social attitudes, are all presented insightfully and readably. Sometimes, though, I do feel that extraneous references are dragged in, but for the most part, this is a well-written, lively, book, well worth reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Francis Stonor Saunders reminds me of the White Queen, as "trying to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast" is a modest feat in comparison to getting at least three interesting things that I hitherto didn't know into each paragraph! I just wish I could retain all the information that I get from each page, all relevant, if not necessarily just around the subject of the book, leading you on to make connections with something similar in the past or future that links to the subject Francis Stonor Saunders reminds me of the White Queen, as "trying to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast" is a modest feat in comparison to getting at least three interesting things that I hitherto didn't know into each paragraph! I just wish I could retain all the information that I get from each page, all relevant, if not necessarily just around the subject of the book, leading you on to make connections with something similar in the past or future that links to the subject under discussion. I am in awe. Whilst this book is not yet as well thumbed and annotated as my copy of her book about the Diabolical Englishman John Hawkwood I am sure that it will be a useful source of reference on Mussolini, the Rise of Fascism, Murder, Madness, Italian Law & Justice and much besides for years to come.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

    The life of Violet Gibson, daughter of Irish aristocracy, who got it into her head to assassinate Mussolini in 1926. Standing but a few feet away in a crowd she leveled a pistol at his head and fired. The gun misfired and clipped the leader's nose. The author does well bringing in social and political influences to bear on the story. Religious mysticism, psychiatric study and fascism, all relatively new, had their impact. It's shocking to read how in love with Mussolini western media and politic The life of Violet Gibson, daughter of Irish aristocracy, who got it into her head to assassinate Mussolini in 1926. Standing but a few feet away in a crowd she leveled a pistol at his head and fired. The gun misfired and clipped the leader's nose. The author does well bringing in social and political influences to bear on the story. Religious mysticism, psychiatric study and fascism, all relatively new, had their impact. It's shocking to read how in love with Mussolini western media and politicians were. The science of psychiatry wasn't much better with Gibson. The poor woman spent the last 25 years of her life cooped up in an asylum outside London. She tried to keep in touch with outside life by writing numerous letters but none were delivered by hospital staff.

  22. 5 out of 5

    allie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Yes, this book is a biography of Violet Gibson, the woman who shot Mussolini. It is also, however, a biography of Mussolini. This duality in the text is, I think, the reason some reviewers find it unnecessarily lengthy. I thought it was a great exploration of the history of madness, fascism (another kind of madness), and of course the erasure of mad women. Frances at times romanticises Violet's condition and is hyper-critical of medical reports of her delusional thinking, referring to the Victor Yes, this book is a biography of Violet Gibson, the woman who shot Mussolini. It is also, however, a biography of Mussolini. This duality in the text is, I think, the reason some reviewers find it unnecessarily lengthy. I thought it was a great exploration of the history of madness, fascism (another kind of madness), and of course the erasure of mad women. Frances at times romanticises Violet's condition and is hyper-critical of medical reports of her delusional thinking, referring to the Victorian (and still all too common) tendency to lock up mad women. She does however accept the possibility that Violet was very ill and that mentally ill people deserve much better than life-long incarceration.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jon Manchester

    This non-fiction book is about an Irish woman who shot Mussolini in April 1926. Unfortunately she only connected with his nose, leaving him very much alive. The book traces her life story, much of which I found only mildly interesting. The historical context made this a "good read" as you learn about Facism, WW2, Ireland vs. England, the development of psychiatry, etc. That said I think for history lovers there are plenty of superior options out there. I felt this book could have been a hundred This non-fiction book is about an Irish woman who shot Mussolini in April 1926. Unfortunately she only connected with his nose, leaving him very much alive. The book traces her life story, much of which I found only mildly interesting. The historical context made this a "good read" as you learn about Facism, WW2, Ireland vs. England, the development of psychiatry, etc. That said I think for history lovers there are plenty of superior options out there. I felt this book could have been a hundred pages shorter (and it was only 318 pages).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen Jean Martinson

    Did you know a 50 year-old woman with a revolver got within 8 inches of Mussolini and shot him in the face? Not just any 50 year-old woman, but a titled Anglo-Irish aristocrat? It was fascinating - and tragic - to learn how the history of the Hon. Violet Gibson intersected with the larger history of Italian Fascism, and to see how she languished alone in an asylum long after Mussolini and European Totalitarianism imploded. Great research, slightly less great interpretations of that research - I c Did you know a 50 year-old woman with a revolver got within 8 inches of Mussolini and shot him in the face? Not just any 50 year-old woman, but a titled Anglo-Irish aristocrat? It was fascinating - and tragic - to learn how the history of the Hon. Violet Gibson intersected with the larger history of Italian Fascism, and to see how she languished alone in an asylum long after Mussolini and European Totalitarianism imploded. Great research, slightly less great interpretations of that research - I contest that journalists and scholars need to team up. Definitely worth the read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    Frances Stonor Saunders is one very bright lady. If her writing weren't so stellar, I'd have been annoyed at her vocabulary. Can't say enough about this book. Takes place before WWII and is a terrific history of Europe about a decade before fascism took hold. Covers Ireland/Britain; mental asylums; Italy; Religion; writers; politics; and so much more. I highly recommend this book. But I also suggest you keep a dictionary close by as you read. Frances Stonor Saunders is one very bright lady. If her writing weren't so stellar, I'd have been annoyed at her vocabulary. Can't say enough about this book. Takes place before WWII and is a terrific history of Europe about a decade before fascism took hold. Covers Ireland/Britain; mental asylums; Italy; Religion; writers; politics; and so much more. I highly recommend this book. But I also suggest you keep a dictionary close by as you read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Fascinating book. Saunders takes a look at a woman who is usually known as a blip on Mussolini's story. It is a tragic look at a woman (and Saunders includes stories of others like her) who spent a good deal of her life in a mental asylum, a victim of her family's embarrassment and society's lack of knowledge. Fascinating book. Saunders takes a look at a woman who is usually known as a blip on Mussolini's story. It is a tragic look at a woman (and Saunders includes stories of others like her) who spent a good deal of her life in a mental asylum, a victim of her family's embarrassment and society's lack of knowledge.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joan Funk

    Interesting from a learning about history perspective. I hadn't realized how much public opinion, particularly foreign public opinion, changed about him during his time in power. Reminds of some relatively recent dictators and governments that have supported them. Also shocking to hear how she was treated by her family. Interesting from a learning about history perspective. I hadn't realized how much public opinion, particularly foreign public opinion, changed about him during his time in power. Reminds of some relatively recent dictators and governments that have supported them. Also shocking to hear how she was treated by her family.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John Levon

    An interesting read, the true story of a very disturbed woman. Does a great job of putting the hugely popular 1920s Mussolini in context. I found some of the writing a little bit pretentious for a straight "event biography", though, and the author seems to identify with Violet Brown just a little too much. An interesting read, the true story of a very disturbed woman. Does a great job of putting the hugely popular 1920s Mussolini in context. I found some of the writing a little bit pretentious for a straight "event biography", though, and the author seems to identify with Violet Brown just a little too much.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I actually couldn't get through this one, and abandoned it. It was more of a look at the history of the period, than a story about the woman who shot Mussolini. Someone who is interested in the history of that period may find it more interesting. I actually couldn't get through this one, and abandoned it. It was more of a look at the history of the period, than a story about the woman who shot Mussolini. Someone who is interested in the history of that period may find it more interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Laura Jean

    An interesting account of the life of Violet Gibson, the only person who attempted to assassinate Mussolini to actually wound him, if not kill him. But more than that, it is an interesting account of how mental illness was treated in the first half of the 20th century, specifically in women.

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