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Home > 2021 > Fascist Mussolini Murdered A Socialist Novelist | V M Mohanraj

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 13, New Delhi, March 13, 2021

Fascist Mussolini Murdered A Socialist Novelist | V M Mohanraj

Friday 12 March 2021

by V M Mohanraj

Key Words: Mussolini, Fascist, Reformation, Novel, Cardinal, Italy, Socialist, Europe

Few are aware that Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was a socialist before his reincarnation as the founder of the fascist party and eventually the dictator of Italy. And fewer still know that during the period of his life when he was a socialist, he edited the party’s mouthpiece and had even authored a novel which I came across by chance. Naturally, therefore, it piqued my curiosity and after reading the novel (a copy of which is in the Nilgiri library in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India) I delved into his life to know more of this man and his novel.

A leading member of the Italian Socialist Party and of its National Directorate, he was an assistant to the editor of “Il Poplo,” the organ of the Italian socialists. It was then that he penned a novel, “Claudia Patricella, l’Amante del Cardinale: Grande Romanzo dei Tempi del Cardinale Emanuel Madruzzo.” This novel with a long title, originally serialized in “La Vita Trentma”, the weekly supplement of “Il Poplo” was translated into English as “The Cardinal’s Mistress” by Hiram Motherwell and published by Boni and Livelight in 1928 in New York and a year later in London.

After he was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party for his support of the World War I of 1915 –‘18, he founded the Fasci di Combattimento. And prior to World War II, he succeeded in taking the reins of the government of Italy in his ruthless hands, which once wielded a pen as a journalist and a novelist.

This, the only literary work of Mussolini, had passed into oblivion after his expulsion from the Socialist Party but resurfaced when the only extant copy of it was ferreted out by a lady who presented it to the Il Duce. Ostensibly a love story, a clandestine affair between a Cardinal and a courtesan set in the 16th century this is an indictment of the decadent Church as well as an attack on the feudalistic values which the Church symbolized.

It was the period of Renaissance. The Protestant Movement popularly known as the Reformation was at its peak, because of the corruption of the Church. The influence of the Church eroded further, thanks to scientific discoveries like those of Copernicus and Galileo. At the same time the stage was being set for the Industrial Revolution and feudalism was in the throes of death. In short this was a critical period in the history of Europe.

The socialist novelist naturally had no sympathy for the effete forces of society. He rips open the beau ideal mask of the clergy. In this work of critical realism, he reveals not only the lecherous face of the clergy but highlights its alienation from the poor as well. He portrays the priests as “the men who wasted the wealth which the brutalized people have accumulated by their long years of labour, the men who strode with full bellies through the human vale of tears, a smile of satisfaction on their sensual lips.”

The seething masses “exploded with a violence of destroying tempest. The more excitable hurled themselves against the palace door.” It was spontaneous. The revolt soon engulfed the whole city, many more joining the insurrectionists. “The windows of the palace were by now shattered. The portal was on the point of giving way beneath the fury of the people.” The ruling class reacted by suppressing the uprising with an iron hand. Intrigue and murder followed. The Cardinal, pressured by the frightened Emperor, reluctantly accepted the main demands of the rebels and “dragged out the remainder of his existence like a heavy chain.”

In the introduction, the translator states that this was written “with a view to its use as a film” and the celluloid version of this was reportedly a tremendous success. Perhaps it was because of its infamous authorship that no reprint of this novel has been brought out so far. When I read the novel, I thought had Mussolini stayed in the realm of imaginative literature and continued writing novels, he would have been remembered as great socialist realistic novelist. It is a tragic irony that the socialist Mussolini, a budding progressive novelist with his sympathy for the exploited masses died a premature death as a sympathiser of the exploiting class at the hands of the fascist, Mussolini, the dictator of Italy!

* (Author: V M Mohanraj is a freelance writer and has written sixteen books and umpteen articles Including one in ’Mainstream’ on "Nehru’s Economic Policy")

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