Leda Rafanelli

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Leda Rafanelli
Leda Rafanelli.jpg
Born(1880-09-13)September 13, 1880
OccupationTypesetter, writer and fortune teller

Leda Rafanelli (1880 - 1971) was an Italian publisher and poet who converted to anarchism and Islam at age twenty. Her prolific work addressed individualism, futurism, religion and "feminility" among other topics.


Family and early adolescence[edit]

As an adolescent, Leda showed obvious talent at writing. Her poem, Le gomene, was published by Filippo Turati in the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). At a very young age she moved with her parents to Alexandria, coming into contact with the anarchists who congregated at "The Red Barn," including writer and poet Giuseppe Ungaretti and Enrico Pea. Still a teenager, Rafanelli learned typesetting and became a proponent of individualist anarchism. These years would be depicted many decades later by Maurizio Maggiani in Il coraggio del pettirosso.

Leda in Alexandria[edit]

Although many individualist anarchists would side in favor of World War I as interventionists, Leda confirmed her pacifist convictions. In contrast, the Manifesto of the Sixteen, signed by anarchist communist Peter Kropotkin among others in 1915, supported Italy's entry into the war. According to Rafanelli, genuine individualist tendencies within anarchist ideology were incompatible with the bourgeois-democratic ideas on which the pretext for warmongering rests.

At the end of her stay in Egypt, Rafanelli was introduced to Sufism. The Islamic faith, for Rafanelli, was seen as hostile in character towards the Western world and its attempt to control and monopolize power and culture. Returning from Egypt to Italy with her newly married husband, the anarchist Ugo Polli, she published an article, La Libertà in which she compared the two ways of life: the Christian West and the Islamic East.

In Italy on the eve of and during World War I[edit]

In the period before the First World War, just back to Italy, Leda was very close ideologically to her friend, the poet and composer Pietro Gori and the journalist Armando Borghi. Aided by Olimpio Ballerini, husband of the well-known Florentine anarchist Teresa Fabbrini, Leda and Ugo founded the Rafanelli-Polli publishing house.

The marriage was to be short lived, however. After separating from her husband Rafanelli partnered with painter Carlo Carra for a short but intense relationship which is the subject of Alberto Ciampi's 2005 book, Leda Rafanelli-Carlo Carrà: un romanzo: arte e politica di un incontro. Later she had an affair with Joseph Monnanni, with whom she had a son and published some novels and essays (including Bozzetti sociali, Seme nuovo, Verso la Siberia, Scene della rivoluzione russa). After founding a publishing company, Società Editrice Sociale, at the invitation of the anarchists Ettore Molinari and Nella Giacomelli, she created two magazines La Rivolta (1910) and La Libertà (between 1913 and 1914) with Giuseppe Monnanni. In this period, Benito Mussolini courted Rafanelli by mail. The letters were collected in a book entitled A Woman and Mussolini. The correspondence consisted of forty letters sent to Rafanelli by the future fascist dictator. According to Alessandra Pierotti, who has extensively studied her writing and has had frequent contact with one of her four grandchildren, there was never intimate relations between the two.

It must be recognized that at this time (1913 - 1914) Mussolini was still a respectable revolutionary socialist and had participated in the Red Week, supporting the insurgency with speeches and articles. Vladimir Lenin expressed esteem for Mussolini, considering him a possible leader of the revolution. Mussolini was still director of Avanti, the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party. Rafanelli, for her part, denied ever having been the lover of Mussolini while for the latter it was a source of pride. It should be said that Mussolini could never openly admit to having received a rejection from a woman. However historians PV Cannistraro and BR Sullivan, in their biography of Margherita Sarfatti, argue that the Rafanelli actually had a love affair with the future dictator.

Before and during the First World War, the circle of anarchists linked to Rafanelli would, without any hesitation, advocate a pacifist position and condemn the conflict, despite the proselytes for interventionism in the Left, both in Italy and abroad. The most striking case at the international level was to be Peter Kropotkin, who even for a short period invite them to fight on the side of the Triple Entente. Even Rafanelli's old comrade Giuseppe Ungaretti became a fierce advocate of interventionism, enlisting as a volunteer at the beginning of the conflict.

Between the wars[edit]

With the seizure of power by fascists in 1922, Società Editrice Sociale ceased publication and Rafanelli was compelled towards political silence. Nevertheless, she succeeding in publishing Incantamento (1921), Donne e femmine (1922) and L'oasi. Her last literary creation is of particular importance as it is a harsh denunciation of colonialism published under a false name during the fascist repression of the Libyan resistance movement of the Sufi brotherhoods of Senussiya.

Forced by economic hardship to make ends meet as a fortune teller, Rafanelli lived between Milan and Genoa, finding serenity to write Nada, La signora mia nonna and Le memorie di una chiromante, works imbued with the influences of the oriental novels of her youth. Le memorie di una chiromante (The memories of a fortune teller) also has a strong autobiographical character with clear references to the activities she undertook in order to survive.

After World War II[edit]

At the end of the 1940s, living mostly in Genoa and found a livelihood by teaching the Arabic language, Rafanelli created artistic works in Arabic characters and wrote for Umanità Nova

Part of her work has been collected by Aurelio Chessa, who has created one of the most important Italian anarchist archives, the Camillo Berneri Family Fund. The archive, based in Reggio Emilia, presents the complete collection of all the works and autobiographical writings of Rafanelli, for which a Leda Rafanelli Fund was specifically established.

Works by Rafanelli[edit]

  • Una donna e Mussolini: la corrispondenza amorosa, 1975 Rizzoli
  • Leda Rafanelli-Carlo Carrà: un romanzo: arte e politica di un incontro, 2005 Centro internazionale della grafica
  • L'eroe della folla, 1925 Casa Editrice sociale
  • La caserma... scuola della nazione
  • Alle madri italiane, Nerbini
  • Lavoratori, 1959
  • Bozzetti sociali 1921 Casa editrice sociale
  • La "castità" clericale Società Ed. Milanese
  • Valida braccia: opuscolo di propaganda contro la costruzione di nuove carceri, 1907 Rafanelli-Polli
  • Per l'idea nostra. Raccolta di articoli e bozzetti di propaganda Rafanelli-Polli
  • Amando e combattendo. Racconto sociale, 1906 Serantoni
  • Un'anarchica femminista e rivoluzionaria eccezionale, 1995 Archivio Famiglia Berneri
  • Società presente e società avvenire, 1907 Libr. editrice Rafanelli-Polli
  • La corona e la blouse: confronto sociale Biblioteca della rivista di letteratura operaia "La blouse"
  • Seme nuovo, Romanzo 1912 Società editoriale milanese
  • La bastarda del principe. Madre coronata e madre plebea, 1904 Nerbini
  • Contro la scuola, 1907 Tip. Polli
  • La scuola borghese Libreria editrice sociale
  • Una tragedia Rafanelli-Polli
  • Verso la Siberia
  • Scene della rivoluzione russa
  • Incantamento
  • La signora mia nonna
  • Donne e femmine
  • L'oasi
  • Nada
  • Le memorie di una chiromante

Bibliography on Rafanelli[edit]