At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – publisher


Accidental death of an aristocratic activist


Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was both one of Italy's richest men and a passionate revolutionary
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was both one of Italy's
richest men and a passionate revolutionary
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a leading European publisher and one of Italy’s richest men, died on this day in 1972 after being blown up while trying to ignite a terrorist bomb on an electricity pylon at Segrate near Milan.

It was a bizarre end to the life and career of a man who had helped revolutionise Italian book publishing. He became famous for his decision to translate and publish Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago after the manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union, where it had been banned on the grounds of being anti-Soviet.

This was an event that shook the Soviet empire and led to Pasternak winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Feltrinelli also started the first chain of book shops in Italy, which still bear his name.

He was born in 1926 into a wealthy, monarchist family. At the instigation of his mother, Feltrinelli was created Marquess of Gargnano when he was 12 by Benito Mussolini.

During the Second World War, the family left their home, Villa Feltrinelli, north of Salò on Lake Garda to make way for Mussolini to live there. But in the later stages of the war, Feltrinelli enrolled in the Italian Communist Party and fought against the Germans and the remnants of Mussolini’s regime.

The newspaper front page announcing the death of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli
The newspaper front page announcing the
death of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli
From 1949 onwards, Feltrinelli collected documents for the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Library in Milan relating to the development of the international labour and socialist movements.

Feltrinelli established a publishing company in Milan in 1954.

His determination to publish Doctor Zhivago in 1957 was vindicated when it became an international best seller. He later sold the film rights to MGM for 450,000 dollars.

But Feltrinelli was criticised by Italian Communist Party members for defying Moscow and as a result decided not to renew his party membership.

He opened his first Feltrinelli book shop in Pisa in 1957 and, by his death, the chain of shops was the largest in Italy.

After meeting Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Feltrinelli published his writings, along with those of Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh.

Among other causes, he gave financial support to the Palestine Liberation Front.

Feltrinelli increasingly advocated guerrilla activity in Italy on behalf of the working classes. Anticipating assassination attempts by the CIA or Mossad, he assumed a battle name, Osvaldo, and went underground.

Feltrinelli celebrates publishing the  banned Russian novel Doctor Zhivago
Feltrinelli celebrates publishing the
banned Russian novel Doctor Zhivago
After he was found dead at the foot of the pylon, apparently killed by his own explosives, his death was immediately thought to be suspicious.

His stepfather, the writer Luigi Barzini, considered but ultimately rejected the idea that he was deliberately killed.

In 1979 during an anti-terrorist trial, Red Brigades defendants read a signed statement to the court saying Feltrinelli had been engaged in an operation to sabotage electricity pylons to cause a blackout in a big area of Milan. They said he committed a technical error that led to his fatal accident and the failure of the whole operation.

Forty years after his death, the newspaper Corriere della Sera published forensic reports claiming Feltrinelli had been tied to the pylon before the bomb was detonated, implying he had been killed and framed by Italian or Israeli security forces. There has also been speculation that Feltrinelli was murdered by the KGB.

The Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli sits on the shore of Lake Garda
The Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli sits on the shore of Lake Garda
Travel tip:

Villa Feltrinelli, which was vacated by the Feltrinelli family to provide a home for Mussolini during the war, is now the Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli in Via Rimembranza, Gargnano. One of the most prestigious hotels in the world, this neo-Gothic villa was built by the Feltrinelli family on the shores of Lake Garda in the 19th century. It is where Mussolini spent his last 600 days, while he headed the Republic of Salò, before he was apprehended and executed while trying to escape from Italy.

Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan
Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan
Travel tip:

The Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Viale Pasubio, Milan, was founded in 1949 as a library. It has an archive of nearly 1.5 million items, 250,000 volumes and 16,000 journals on the themes of equal society and citizens’ rights. The current building, designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, is open to visitors from 9.30 to 17.30 Monday to Friday. To arrange a guided tour, contact visiteguidatefgf@gmail.com.

More reading:

The accidental death of an anarchist

Piazza Fontana bombing

Mussolini's last stand

Also on this day:

1820: The birth of King Victor Emmanuel II

1835: The birth of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who believed there were canals on Mars






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