I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s article “Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe,” published in The Toronto Daily Star on January 27, 1923. The writer’s observations are not only interesting in light of the role Mussolini would play over the next few decades, but also just a fabulous character sketch.
“If Mussolini would have me taken out and shot tomorrow morning I would still regard him as a bluff. The shooting would be a bluff. Get hold of a good photo of Signor Mussolini some time and study it. You will see the weakness in his mouth which forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by ever 19 year old Fachisto in Italy. Study his past record. Study the coalition that Faschismo is between capital and labor and consider the history of past coalitions. Study his genius for clothing small ideas in big words. Study his propensity for dueling. Really brave men do not have to fight duels, and many cowards duel constantly to make themselves believe they are brave. And then look at his black shirt and his white spats. There is something wrong, even histrionically, with a man who wears white spats with a black shirt.
There is not space here to go into the question of Mussolini as a bluff or as a great and lasting force . . . But let me give you two pictures of Mussolini at Lusanne.”
The first is my personal favorite.
“The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to have. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents “as we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up form the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration, etc.
I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary—help upside down.”