Three days ago, a man named Claudio Gatti had his theory about the “true identity” of pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante published across the world. The news world and the literary world jumped on the scoop immediately, and quickly reeled from it: readers were disgusted, the book industry felt Ferrante’s pain, women mourned yet another failure by a man to ask for consent. The one thing that remained immovable despite the news – or rather seven things – were the novels of Elena Ferrante.
Amid all the chaotic commentary on this act of selfish intrusion the press has taken out on Ferrante, it seems more important than ever to big up her writing. Though it would surprise nobody if the “real” Ferrante withdrew even further from the public sphere and the clamour of publicity, until she stopped publishing at all, we as readers can still send a collective message to her by supporting her work and raising it above all the noise started by one uncaring journalist. That work is comprised of:
The Neapolitan novels: Four books about two star-crossed best friends, journeying with them throughout a harsh upbringing and complicated adulthood in and around Naples, Italy. The most accurate representation of the violence of patriarchy you’ll ever read. Start with My Brilliant Friend.
Troubling Love: Ferrante’s first novel, also set in a hostile Naples, about the mysteries that surround our parents as long as they’re alive, and what we do with those mysteries when our parents die.
The Days of Abandonment: The standalone novel of Ferrante’s that is most talked about and often suggested as an alternate starting point to My Brilliant Friend. Putting to rest our ideals and fairytales about motherhood and womanhood, this book explores the aftermath of a marital abandonment and its consequences on a family.
The Lost Daughter: Ferrante again discusses the unspoken truth of motherhood and the conflicting emotions that tie us to our children, as one woman navigates life without her family.
The Beach at Night: This children’s picturebook returns to a tale at the centre of The Lost Daughter and is stunningly illustrated by Mara Cerri.
Frantumaglia: The only insights into her personal life that Ferrante has authorised, collected in one volume. Consisting of over 20 years of letters, essays, reflections, and interviews, these fragments give a picture of the author’s artistic aims and ideals.
This “scoop” about an author’s identity comes at an interesting time for the literary community. A New York Times writer, Adam Kirsch, has made a tenuous link between the German translator named by Gatti writing about poor Neapolitan girls, and Lionel Shriver’s embarrassing public moan about cultural appropriation. He avoids making too much of a point about anything, but the article seeks to provoke a conversation: if the person who wrote the Neapolitan novels didn’t suffer all that Lila and Lenu did, isn’t that appropriation of real Neapolitan women’s pain? Even if Ferrante did turn out to be a startlingly wealthy Japanese woman, there is a difference between what Ferrante has written and writing, without consent or care, a shoddy representation of a culture that is not your own, for your own benefit. No matter the “true identity” of Ferrante, the reactions of women around the world to her masterful portrayals of domestic violence, of workplace sexism, of family stigma, of motherhood, of womanhood, will remain. Her understanding and her empathy will always remain.
Another, more pressing, context of this “reveal” and an important aspect of how it’s been received is misogyny. The obvious point to make here has been the traditional respect for male authors’ choice of anonymity, looking at how Thomas Pynchon has been allowed to dabble with fame as he chooses, voicing on The Simpsons, whereas Ferrante has always placed herself far away from the media and was still hunted down. We assume when we read truthful representations of women that they must be autobiographical accounts, and we seek clarification of that in the woman author’s identity, whereas men are free to write as widely as they please without our judgement about their personal lives or a need to strip them naked in the public eye.
Jojo Moyes has led the conversation around our demands of authors in the contemporary literary scene, describing properly horrid examples of what the press have asked of her:
I have lost count of the times I have been asked to write features to accompany a book’s publication, then told – “we really wanted something more personal”. (My favourite was the request for a piece “about your sex life – what would make a great night, the lead‑up, what you would wear, music, moves…”. I’m still curious to know how many male authors have been asked the same.)
The conclusion drawn from all sides here is that Gatti’s article has done a messed up, regrettable thing. Regardless of who wrote these novels, he’s caused irreparable damage to the woman named in his article’s life and freedom, and ignored the heartfelt pleas Ferrante has made about her privacy throughout her career. The thing to do now, as responsible readers, is to forget it ever happened, pick up a book, and get on with it.
Turnaround are proud to be Europa Editions’ UK distributor and you can order all of Ferrante’s writing in English from us
Post by Heather