The Woman Who Shot Mussolini (Hardcover)

By Frances Stonor Saunders

Metropolitan Books, 9780805091212, 400pp.

Publication Date: March 30, 2010



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.

About the Author

Frances Stonor Saunders is the author of T"he 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 Society's 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.

Praise For The Woman Who Shot Mussolini

"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