Claretta Mussolini's Last Lover R. J. B. Bosworth

Publication date:
21 Feb 2017
Yale University Press
320 pages: 235 x 156mm
24 b-w illus.

A master historian illuminates the tumultuous relationship of Il Duce and his young lover Claretta, whose extraordinarily intimate diaries only recently have become available

Few deaths are as gruesome and infamous as those of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator, and Claretta (or Clara) Petacci, his much-younger lover. Shot dead by Italian partisans after attempting to flee the country in 1945, the couple’s bodies were then hanged upside down in Milan’s main square in ignominious public display. This provocative book is the first to mine Clara’s extensive diaries, family correspondence, and other sources to discover how the last in Mussolini’s long line of lovers became his intimate and how she came to her violent fate at his side.
R. J. B. Bosworth explores the social climbing of Claretta’s family, her naïve and self-interested commitment to fascism, her diary’s graphically detailed accounts of sexual life with Mussolini, and much more. Brimful of new and arresting information, the book sheds intimate light not only on an ordinary-extraordinary woman living at the heart of Italy’s totalitarian fascist state but also on Mussolini himself.

More about this title

R. J. B. Bosworth is senior research fellow in history, Jesus College, Oxford. A renowned Italianist, he is the author of more than two dozen books on Mussolini, fascism, and Italy’s twentieth-century experience. He lives in Oxford, UK.

“What makes R.J.B Bosworth’s new book so captivating is not just the picture he paints of their affair, based on diaries, letters and police reports, but also the light he throws on the corrupt, greedy, scheming world of the Fascist leadership… 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.”—Caroline Moorhead, Literary Review, 10th February 2017.

“Readers are fortunate that the Australian-­born historian is the first English-­language specialist to make extensive use of this material… He writes with erudition, perceptiveness and humour about Claretta and Mussolini — she called him Ben, and he called her Clara —and about the light cast by their affair on the dictator’s personality, his style of rule and Italian social conditions during his 1922­-43 spell as national leader.”—Tony Barber, Financial Times

“That fateful first encounter and the passionate, but doomed affair that followed between Claretta and her ‘Ben’ is detailed in a riveting new biography of Petacci by historian Richard Bosworth.”—Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail

“Most of the world – as Richard Bosworth points out at the start of this scrupulously forensic examination of a woman for whom his own sympathy is discreetly scant – has forgotten about Claretta Petacci… Xenophobic, anti-Semitic, ruthless, amoral and idle, she is fortunate to have fallen into the hands of a calm, kind and fair-minded biographer, one who balances Petacci’s vices against the fact that her life ended with humiliation, hardship and a shameful death.”—Miranda Seymour, Daily Telegraph

“Bosworth ably demonstrates how histories of amorous adventurism can be used to explore central themes of modern political history to great effect.”—Neil Gregor, THES

Claretta: Mussolini’s Last Lover is a book that casts a new light on Mussolini as a failed leader. For readers interested in World War II and the path upon which its leaders trod, this is informative and interesting.”—New York Journal of Books

“Gripping and scholarly”—Bee Wilson, London Review of Books, 16 March 2017.

“RJB Bosworth draws on rarely consulted papers that Petacci kept of their nine-year relationship. One of the finest historians of modern Italy, Bosworth has written both a love story, full of passion and jealousy, and a vivid portrait of Italy under a man who dreamt of recreating the Roman empire . . . Claretta is an extremely enjoyable read.”—Caroline Moorehead, Financial Times

“A worthy companion to Bosworth’s previous biography of Mussolini, this study is more Borgia than bunga bunga, an illuminating history of a folie a deux which could have been sub-titled ‘Fifty Shades of Fascism’.”—Robert Carver, The Tablet