(4. - 1143.) Mussolini’s Daughter - The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe by Caroline Moorehead - Edda Mussolini, the first child of Benito Mussolini, was born in 1910 into extreme poverty in northern Italy. Her father, the son of an anarchist, was a fierce socialist. Sleeping little he was honing his journalistic and oratorical skills while establishing revolutionary credentials. Food was scarce.
After WW I family finances improved though there were frequent “rows” between her parents over his constant affairs. Mussolini was prospering as he moved far from his socialist roots as he created fascism.
At nine, she was already very like her father, passionate, jealous and possessive, unpredictable and volatile, and she had his very black, very round eyes and his imperious stare, all the more striking in her small, angular face.
She was 12 when her father’s famous march on Rome took him to power.
As a lawyer and journalist and blogger I was struck by Moorehead’s assessment:
As a canny and seasoned journalist, Mussolini understood better than anyone ‘the tremendous magic of words’.
With her father caught up in governing Italy and his Roman mistresses, Edda, a rebellious teenager was “at war” with her mother. She did well in school. As with the other Mussolini’s she was very superstitious.
Galeazzo Ciano was the son of Costanzo Ciano, a Minister and Mussolini’s designated political heir should he die. After being trained as a lawyer Galeazzo unsuccessfully tries a writing career before his father pushes him into the diplomatic corps. He does well in Argentina, Brazil and China. He is not anxious to be called back to Rome to be a part of the Italian Embassy to the Vatican.
After meeting at a charity ball Edda and Galeazzo go to the cinema. During the movie Galeazzo asks her to marry him and she says “Why not?” Love is not mentioned.
Their wedding was a grand, carefully orchestrated, spectacle of Fascist “might and rituals and a celebration of fecundity, as distinct from the decadence of other countries”.
Galeazzo is posted to Shanghai where Edda, the youngest of the diplomatic wives, does very well at enhancing the image of Italy. She has her first child, Fabrizo, at 21. Unhappy over her husband’s frequent affairs she resolves to ignore them while regarding him as “a friend”.
There is finally some focus on Edda when she was 23 and sent by her father on an informal diplomatic mission to England to test English reaction to Italy’s plans to invade Ethiopia. Edda’s “good English” was proving useful.
Realizing the Duce listened to his daughter brought those seeking favour from Mussolini to Edda.
In her mid-20’s she becomes her father’s counsellor and a Swiss newspaper calls her the ‘most influential woman in Europe’. Her status is enhanced when her husband is named Foreign Minister. Yet there are no direct stories about how she influenced her father let alone her husband.
About 1941 “an Egyptian magazine described her no longer as simply influential but as ‘the most dangerous woman in Europe’. Edda, it said, ‘rules her father with an iron fist”. This, certainly, had become the accepted view in many circles, but as with so much else in Edda’s life, it has to be seen in context. Her power was never of a concrete kind, not least because she was a woman, and because she was quickly bored with the minutiae of daily decisions. But her closeness to her father and Ciano’s reliance on her, together with her impatience at equivocations made her formidable even when she was least aware of it.
Moorehead’s opinion is firm but again, she provides no examples of actual reliance on her by her father or husband beyond a tenuous role in Italy joining Germany in WW II. Edda favours Italy going with Germany rather than neutrality.
There was no discussion of Spain, a Fascist state which stayed neutral. By staying out of WW II Francisco Franco remained in power in Spain until 1975. Had Mussolini opted for neutrality I expect he would have led Italy long after the war ended.
During WW II Edda served as a Red Cross nurse and narrowly survived a torpedoing off the coast of Albania. She traveled to the Eastern Front to see Italian troops and reported to Mussolini on their suffering.
After her father is deposed in 1943 the Ciano's flee to Germany. Galeazzo has voted in council against Mussolini. They return to Italy amidst the chaos of the new miniature state, the Republic of Salò, the Germans have created for Mussolini in north Italy. It is a bizarre concept.
Edda fights for Galeazzo’s life arguing with her father, writing to Hitler, negotiating with the Kaltenbruner and Himmler to provide them Galeazzo’s diaries, which include incriminating information on Ribbentrop and Goebbels, in exchange for rescuing her husband.
Edda makes a deal with the American government to provide them with copies of the 1,200 pages of diaries she has with her in Switzerland. She sells newspaper serialization rights to the Chicago Daily News for $25,000.
Through the trials and tribulations a family “mantra” develops for the Ciano's which is often exchanged when parting:
‘God send you a good journey and no wind.’
She lives in obscurity for 50 years after the war.
It took 160 pages before Edda had a meaningful presence. The book is far more about her father, her husband, her mother and the Fascist movement. I doubt there was enough material to write a biography of Edda in terms of her involvement with Fascism and power in Italy. She had a big personality but no authority. I wish I had learned more about her time with the Red Cross. Mussolini’s Daughter was an interesting book and well written which never got lost in detail but it was not a biography of Edda.