Magazine article The Spectator

A Cult of Virility and Violence

Magazine article The Spectator

A Cult of Virility and Violence

Article excerpt

Mussolini's brutal sex-addiction makes for dispiriting reading, but provides material for a fine psychological study, says David Gilmour

Il Duce and His Women

by Roberto Olla

Alma Books, £25, pp. 486,

ISBN 9781846881350

Bunga bunga may be a recent fashion, but adultery for Italian prime ministers has a long history. The first of such statesmen, Count Cavour, had affairs with married women because he was too nervous of being cuckolded to risk having a wife of his own.

One of his successors, Francesco Crispi, suffered such amatory turbulence that the police were often called to break up screeching rows between his wives and his mistresses; in old age he was accused by the press of trigamy because he had fathered children by two women in consecutive years while being married to a third.

Silvio Berlusconi clearly devoted more time to dalliance than Cavour or Crispi, who were after all serious politicians. Yet even he may have been overshadowed in this sphere by the fascist prime minister Benito Mussolini. In this engrossing book Roberto Olla guesses that the Duce had about 400 'relationships', some of which endured a decade or more. Many of them, however, lasted barely half an hour, including the time taken to undress and tidy up afterwards. No moments were wasted on a chat or a cup of tea.

Mussolini served his sexual apprenticeship chiefly in brothels, and later admitted that he regarded all women as prostitutes:

sex with them, he said, was 'like screwing a whore', they existed simply for his 'carnal pleasure'. Strutting about, rolling his eyes, scowling and jutting out his chin, he was proud of his violent behaviour. Women preferred 'men to be brutal', he asserted, 'like cavalry soldiers'. He wanted them to tremble at his 'love-making' (sic), because it was like a 'cyclone, uprooting everything in its path'. Returning to equestrian imagery, he told one lover he wished he could have 'entered [her] on a horse'. In the aftermath of his ruttings he often felt disgusted, not of course at his own behaviour but at the women who had submitted to it. 'I am an animal, ' he liked to brag, convinced that no human being more resembled a lion; 'afterwards I felt nothing but disgust. I wanted to beat her up, throw her on the floor.'

Rachele Mussolini's first experience of her future husband was in a school classroom when, deputising for his mother as the form teacher, he whacked the young pupil's hand with a ruler. Violence remained intrinsic to the subsequent 'courtship'. As he later recalled, he got Rachele 'down on an armchair and, in my usual way, roughly took her virginity.' His engagement was even rougher: confronting both Rachele and her mother, he brandished a revolver and threatened to shoot them both if the girl rejected him. For a couple of decades he saw Rachele just often enough to have children but not enough for him to feel too disgusted. They lived in different cities until 1929, when she and their children moved to Rome to share the Villa Torlonia. Even there he contrived to see little of his family.

In his early years in government, Mussolini lived in Rome in a hotel and then an apartment where, he later boasted, he had '14 women on the go and would see three or four of them every evening, one after the other'. Later his routine became more regimented. He would entertain different ladies each afternoon in his office in the Palazzo Venezia, often taking them 'roughly', without lying down or even removing his boots. In tenderer moments he allowed the 'regulars' to spread themselves on a carpet underneath his desk, while 'newcomers' were led to a stone seat with a mattressy cushion by the window. …

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