In February 2017, Professor Richard Bosworth will publish with Yale University Press the third of a line of books about modern Italy. The first two were Whispering city: Rome and its histories (2011) and Italian Venice: a history (2014, paperback 2015). The new work is entitled Claretta: Mussolini’s last lover and analyses the massive documentation scribbled into her diary by Claretta Petacci (born 1912) from 1932 until her execution in April 1945 alongside her lover, Italian Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini (born 1883). Her all but stenographic jottings are amplified by her own correspondence with the Duce and that of her family (father Francesco Saverio, high society and papal doctor, mother Giuseppina, pious Catholic and determined social climber, brother Marcello, surgeon and man about town, and little sister, Myriam, starlet married into the – probable - aristocracy).
Fascist Italy was the first state to be called ‘totalitarian’, a term we still reckon with. Frequently its image is of a bloody tyrant presiding over an atomised people, totally deprived of the freedom to think. Mussolini’s regime was responsible for the premature deaths of about one million men, women and children (about half in Europe and half in Africa, with more than 7000 Jews also perishing in Italy’s partnership with Nazi Germany in the Holocaust).
Yet Petacci’s diary shows a dictator who was more shock jock than fanatic. Not for nothing has the new American president been parodied as Il Douche. Perhaps more significantly the diary also shows how the Petaccis operated with the slogan ‘all for one and one for all’. Each family member was scarcely an atomised robot. Rather they made their own versions of their public and private lives. As Caroline Moorhead has put it in the first review of the book to appear (Literary Review, February 2017): ‘Bosworth, the author of some twenty books on the Mussolini years, is one of the finest historians of modern Italy, and his deep knowledge and understanding, as well as his formidable research, inform every page of this enjoyable biography. It is, he says, a love story, one suffused with jealousy, passion, betrayal and forgiveness. But it is also a vivid and rare picture of a time when Italy was led astray by a man who yearned to return his country to the glories of the Roman Empire, and who found time, while governing a nation, to enjoy countless seductions and complicated, overlapping relationships with women’.