Raised in a liberal middle-class Tuscan household, Leda Rafanelli traveled to Egypt in 1900, where she converted to both Islam and anarchism within the three months she spent there. Upon her return to Italy, she became a well-known member of several radical circles. Influencing political debate at a time when Italian women were excluded from public affairs, she co-founded several publishing houses, edited various journals and magazines, and wrote prolifically. Her publishing credits include fifteen novels, forty-nine short stories, hundreds of articles, essays, poems, and other creative works.
Leda Rafanelli does not fit into the categories we conveniently use to classify people by their beliefs. She actively battled against patriarchy, yet she denounced feminism. A faithful Muslim her entire adult life, she nevertheless criticized all religious institutions. Read a little bit more about what she had to say on these subjects here.
When Leda Rafanelli died, she left behind almost 80 years of written work, a testament to her perpetual intellectual and spiritual inquiry. Her legacy of questioning everything – power dynamics, social institutions, religious authority, cultural values – provides inspiration for us as we carve our own paths through an ever-shifting social reality.
Want to hear her voice? Here’s a recording of Leda narrating a story about her friend Pietro Gori:
Many libraries in North America and Europe have copies of Una donna e mussolini (both the 1946 and 1975 editions), which has never been translated into English. If you can read in Italian, use Worldcat to find out if an institution near you has a copy. If you just want a quick rundown of Leda’s relationship to Mussolini, Fabrizio Montanari wrote a concise summary of the book (also in Italian).
Coconino Press just released a graphic novel based on Leda Rafanelli’s life. Leda: Che solo amore e luce ha per confine [Leda: limited only by light and love] is a beautiful title that illustrates Leda’s life from childhood through her late-life career as a palm reader.
The Biblioteca Panizzi in Reggio Emilia, Italy has hosted conferences and workshops on Leda Rafanelli, publishing a collection of papers on Leda in 2007. Under the library’s umbrella, the Archivio Famiglia Berneri-Aurelio Chessa holds one of the largest collections of primary and secondary resources on anarchism.
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