Foreign News: Lady of the Axis

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Like a good deal else in the Mussolini family life, there is no specific date for Edda's birth. She was said to be 19 at the time of her marriage; that would make her 28 or 29 now. It is virtually certain that Edda, whoever her mother was, was born out of wedlock. Socialist Mussolini, an extreme anticlerical, would scarcely have permitted himself a church wedding, and civil weddings were practically unheard of. Besides, it was common knowledge, until at least 1920, that Benito and Rachele had never bothered to go through a marriage ceremony. A romantic story has it that Edda's trips to London, made in the late 1920s ostensibly for pleasure, were to see her real mother, who, it is said, died of tuberculosis about 1930. With this story is linked the conclusion that Edda's tendency toward weak lungs, which have not appeared in the Mussolini boys, was inherited from her mother.

At about the time of Edda's birth Mussolini's journalistic fortunes were changing. Having made a success in Forli with his own paper La Lotta di Classe (The Class Fight), he became editor of Avanti!, Italy's leading Socialist journal. Edda was scarcely able to walk when Papa Benito, loudly opposing the "imperialist" Italian-Turkish War over Libya, spent six months in jail for "resisting" public authorities, and general anti-war violence. Soon afterward he founded Il Popolo d'ltalia, at Milan, still the Mussolini family paper, and changed his anti-war tune to an aggressive demand that Italy join the Allies against Germany and Austria-Hungary. He went to the front in 1916 and was soon severely wounded.

In 1919 when Edda was barely nine, her father formed his first Fascia di Combattimento, and by the time of the famed March on Rome in 1922 (when Benito took a sleeper to Rome, however) she had grown into an impetuous, violent tempered, but intelligent and alert girl of twelve. So undisciplined was the child at one time that Il Duce gave her a strict English governess by the name of Gibson —the same name as that of an Irishwoman who had tried to pot Il Duce with a revolver in 1926. Sent from one school to another, Edda finally acquired a social and cultural veneer, an expertness on piano and violin, a fluency in French and a smattering of English. At 18 (or thereabouts) she took her first serious plunge into the outside world by going, with 125 members of the Italian Navy League, on a semi-official junket to India and Ceylon.

The reception she received opened Signorina Mussolini's eyes to herself. A plainly dressed, not very pretty young girl, she was nevertheless feted everywhere she went. In Travancore, she motored 200 miles through the jungle, escorted part way by elephantcade. She was entertained by the Maharaja of Gwalior, received at New Delhi by Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India (now British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax). One Prince gave her two live tigers for her father. Her cabin on the return voyage was loaded with rare laces, a miniature temple carved in ivory, rugs, tapestries, gold & silver trinkets.

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