Sounds a bit disappointing. Not much new information but here goes anyway:
I'm hoping there's a lot more. Edda despised the Petacci family and the influence that Clara had on her father.Was Mussolini’s daughter Edda ‘the most dangerous woman in Europe’?
Edda blackmailed Nazis to try and save her husband, but this biography struggles to present evidence of how she influenced political events.
Review by Nicholas Farrell
Edda Mussolini makes only fleeting appearances in much of this book, which is strange, as it is meant to be her biography. Instead, large chunks are taken up discussing her father, Benito Mussolini, and his invention, Fascism. This is done very competently, and sometimes bravely, as for instance when the author, Caroline Moorehead, notes that Italian Fascism was not anti-Semitic until Mussolini’s fatal alliance with Hitler in the late 1930s, and then only half-heartedly. It is also timed well to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Fascist seizure of power. But I cannot help wondering: what has all that got to do with Edda?
Moorehead, who has written well-regarded biographies of Freya Stark, Iris Origo and Martha Gellhorn, makes the excuse that “Mussolini and Fascism made Edda what she was: to understand her, you have to understand what Italians call il ventennio Fascista, the 20 years of Fascist rule, when Mussolini’s vision and will ruled over every facet of Italian life – sport, education, leisure, health, culture, work – and most of all over Edda, who loved, admired and, for a while, hated him.” This is arguably true, but no justification for reducing Il Duce’s daughter to a walk-on part in her own life story. Perhaps, though, Moorehead had little choice. This is the first book on Edda in English, and the explanation is simple: on the surviving evidence, there is really not all that much to say about her.
True, it was always said that Edda was Mussolini’s favourite of his children, one of the few people he listened to and trusted. She was also the wife of Galeazzo Ciano, his foreign minister. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine in July 1939, with the headline: “She wears the diplomatic trousers”.
A Swiss newspaper called her “the most influential woman in Europe”, a line twisted into the more sensational claim of this book’s subtitle, “The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe”. But was she? Try as she might, Moorehead can find little evidence that shows Edda ever actually influenced events. She even finds herself admitting that Edda was “averse to high political intrigue” and “preferred to spend her time on Capri”.
Nevertheless, Edda was a key player in a tragedy whose plot was so extraordinary that the ancient Greeks would have been seriously proud had they thought of it, and Moorehead tells it well.
With the Allies in Sicily, and Fascist Italy facing military defeat, Edda’s husband, Ciano, was one of a group of senior Fascists who in July 1943 voted against Mussolini at the Fascist Grand Council, thus providing the king, Victor Emmanuel III, with an excuse to arrest him, and replace him as prime minister with Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who signed an armistice with the Allies.
But the Germans swiftly flooded Italy with troops and rescued Mussolini in a dramatic airborne raid on the mountaintop hotel in the Abruzzo where he was held prisoner. They installed Mussolini as the puppet dictator of a new Fascist state – the Repubblica Sociale Italiana – in the north of Italy. Ciano thought that his marriage to Edda would protect him from retribution, but he was imprisoned in Verona, awaiting trial for treason.
The Cianos had had an open marriage since he began to betray her on a regular basis soon after their wedding in 1930, and both had countless affairs. She was a heavy drinker, smoker and gambler. Yet in those dark and desperate final days in Verona – the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – they found true love, perhaps for the first time.
Edda tried to move heaven and earth to save Ciano’s life. She had furious rows with both her father and her mother, Rachele, who retained her peasant mentality to the end and, unlike Mussolini, despised their suave son-in-law. All it required was one word. Yet even though Mussolini liked Ciano, and loved Edda, he could not bring himself to do it.
Edda’s last hope was to threaten to publish Ciano’s diaries abroad, which they said would destroy the reputations of senior Nazis. The SS had sent a pretty undercover agent, Hildegard Beetz, to Ciano’s prison cell each afternoon to seduce him and get him to reveal the whereabouts of the diaries.
But Beetz fell in love with Ciano (she confirmed this after the war) and offered to help him and Edda in their plot to blackmail the Nazis. Edda was not allowed to see her husband and could communicate with him only via Beetz. Incredibly, Himmler agreed to do a deal, and did not tell Hitler: if Edda would hand over one diary beforehand and the rest afterwards, then an SS commando unit would overpower Ciano’s prison guards and whisk him off to neutral Turkey.
Edda arrived at the late-night roadside rendezvous point two hours late because the car she was in, driven by Emilio Pucci, a former lover and future fashion designer, developed punctures in both rear tyres and she had to proceed on foot. No one was there. When she got back to Verona, Beetz told her that Himmler had cancelled the deal because Hitler had found out.
Ciano and four other traitors were found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. The night before the executions on January 11 1944, Mussolini, at home on Lake Garda, was heard pacing his bedroom. At 3am, he called Karl Wolff, SS commander in Italy, to ask him if a pardon would harm him in Hitler’s eyes. “Very much so,” replied Wolff.
Ciano was shot, and Edda fled to Switzerland, with Pucci’s help. At the end of the war, she sold the diaries to the Chicago Daily News amidst huge fanfare and gave a copy to the American OSS, but they contained little of major interest.
Edda died in 1995. Moorehead concludes that she “really hated” her father because she “really loved” him. Some of the best passages in this book are about the island of Capri, which bewitched Edda. Not yet a holiday resort, it was home to an eccentric, cosmopolitan crowd of bohemians, artists and exiles. Donkeys, named after Roman emperors, were the only means of transport. Edda built a house there. “Capri” – Moorehead writes – “was everything that Edda most liked: unconventional, tolerant and amusing.” The very antithesis of Fascism.
I also believe that she visited Hitler alone at Wolfsschanze sometime in the summer of 1943 whilst her father was still under arrest. Would love to know more about that.