Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Who is Elena Ferrante? Who cares?

I have greatly enjoyed the writing of the Italian author who uses the nom de plume Elena Ferrante. During the past year, I have read all four of her series of Neapolitan novels, stories of two girls born in Naples in 1944 who grew up in that troubled city where swaggering machismo rules. I found a lot to identify with in those girls, especially in their struggles to develop their complex identities in a society that recognized only one honorable role for girls and women - that of subservient wife and mother.

These books, narrated in a straightforward manner by one of the women characters (named Elena), tell stories of poverty and violence, of the role of education and the ambition to make more out of life than those around you, and mostly they contrast feminism and patriarchy, how the two clash and how they exist side by side. They are humanistic stories that allow us to imagine ourselves as one or more of the characters and to see things from her viewpoint. They've been much acclaimed and rightly so, I think.

During all this time, the author, Elena Ferrante, has maintained her anonymity. She has said in interviews conducted by email that privacy is important to her ability to write. She had no desire to be the public writer making appearances on television and at book stores to gin up interest in her work. Her publishers have assiduously protected her identity.

But, of course, humans being what we are, speculation has run rampant about the identity of this talented and very private writer. 

There have been various announcements through the years that the writer has been unmasked and that it is this person or that person, some female, some male. Over the weekend, however, an article appeared on the website of The New York Review of Books, written by journalist Claudio Gatti, that claims to have finally and definitively discovered Ferrante's identity. He did it, he says by following the money trail and he seems quite proud of his investigative journalism.

Well, color me unimpressed. I will not reveal the name he claims belongs to the writer. You can go read the article yourself or any of the many articles about the article if you want to know. 

Who cares who Elena Ferrante is? She, he, they - whoever it may be writes beautiful, evocative prose that helps me to experience a part of the world, a part of humanity, that I would not otherwise be able to experience. Her writing makes me more empathetic and, in some mysterious way that good literature works, it makes me a better and wiser person. I do not need to invade the privacy of this person whose wish was to remain anonymous in order to receive that benefit. 

Indeed, on her behalf, I deeply resent Claudio Gatti for doing so. One can only hope that the loss of privacy attendant on this article will not imperil the reclusive Ferrante's - whoever she may be - ability to continue writing her wonderful prose.

8 comments:

  1. Well said, Dorothy! If the writer chooses to remain anonymous, who are we to unmask him or her?

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    1. I could understand the need to know if this were nonfiction. One wants to know if the nonfiction writer has some axe to grind. But this is fiction, a work of the imagination, and I don't really care how Ferrante came to imagine it. I only care about what it means to me and how it informs my life. That, I think, is the role of any work of fiction.

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  2. I completely agree. I am glad you brought it to your readers' attention. I do admire good journalists but this one feels like a cheap shot to me. I hope he gets what he deserves.

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    1. I'm not sure what he was expecting but somehow I don't think it was the fury of Ferrante's fans!

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  3. In these days of the internet and social media, privacy seems to be a rare commodity. I agree; if the author prefers to remain anonymous, then his/her wishes should be respected. I just finished a detective novel written under a pseudonym by J.K. Rowling. I really enjoyed it, and would have without knowing she was actually the author. I'm wondering now if she eventually came forward as the author or someone else revealed it.

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    1. As I recall, someone else (from the publishing company) revealed it and then she confirmed it. I think she wanted her mysteries to be judged independently, but that was not to be.

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  4. I agree, if the author would like to remain anonymous, so be it. I want to read these books!

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