Category: Elena Ferrante

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Dayna Tortorici on Elena Ferrante
woolf ferrante

The ‘unmasking’ of Elena Ferrante earlier this year by Italian journalist Claudio Gatti angered many of her fans. Dayna Torcini argues passionately for Ferrante’s anonymity. The full article can be read on the n+1 website:

WHAT IS IT WE WANT FROM OUR AUTHORS? Too much, and of the wrong sort. A writer publishes seven novels and we ask that she sit for a picture. She signs with the name she chose for herself, but we want the one on her passport. We demand her presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair, her presence at the Strega Prize ceremony, her life story, her real estate records, and not for the scholarly reasons we pretend. The truth is we feel entitled to our celebrities and consider publicity the price of fame. “Elena Ferrante: An Answer?” reads the headline of the latest attempt to reveal her identity. To which one might ask: an answer to what?

For an anonymous author, Elena Ferrante is not stingy. She has given many interviews, usually through written correspondence, and furnished her critics with ample material to aid in their task of interpretation. She has shared her literary influences, her political views, an account of her process, and her working definition of literary truth. She has also explained ad nauseam her insistence on being “absent” as an author, her refusal to appear in public as Ferrante or publish under her given name. Her initial reason was shyness. “I was frightened at the thought of having to come out of my shell,” she told the Paris Review, a hesitation most writers will understand. (Writing, at least in theory, is the rare type of performance at which the timid, nervous, and physically ungainly can excel.) Over time, she came to embrace the implicit stance against publicity, the “self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media,” and the facile readings that author-worship tends to encourage. The trouble with reading biographically—as anyone who’s tried it can tell you—is how quickly it slips into reading symptomatically: search the author for clues to the novel and soon you’ll be searching the novel for clues to the author. It’s not a crime, to read this way, but it tends to foreclose other interpretive paths. It also mistakes the author for an analysand, the novel for a dream. Ferrante’s absence keeps things open: “Remove that individual [the author] from the public eye,” she said, and “we discover that the text contains more than we imagine.”

Ferrante’s case against biographical criticism was, in its way, far simpler and more conservative than its antecedents: the New Critics’ “intentional fallacy” and the poststructuralists’ theory of the author-function. For Ferrante, an author’s absence merely restored the basic conditions of literature to the public: it enabled the writer to write and the reader to read. There would be no time-consuming book tour or demoralizing spreads in the Thursday Styles section, where the women writers often go. (What is Elena Ferrante wearing? Can you imagine?) Nor would there be any irritating authority figure saying this or that character is really X, no obnoxious public presence we would have to square, somehow, with the beautiful things she wrote. The persona of the author is an intrusion on the solitary psychic space of a novel. By protecting her privacy, Ferrante protected ours.

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Q&A with Elena Ferrante

In the New York Times
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Elena Ferrante, ‘the global literary sensation nobody knows’ dixit the Guardian, gives a rare email interview to the New York Times:

The author who writes under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante responded to written questions via email through her longtime Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola Ferri. The following is a translated transcript of that interview.

Q. You insist on anonymity and yet are developing a cult following, especially among women, first in Italy and now in the United States and beyond. How do you feel about the reception of your books in the United States in recent years, and your growing readership, especially after James Wood’s review in The New Yorker in January 2013?

Q. Do you feel your books have found the following they deserve in Italy?

A. I don’t do promotional tours in my own country or anywhere. In Italy my first book, “Troubling Love,” sold immediately, thanks to the word of mouth of readers who discovered it and appreciated the writing, and to reviewers who wrote about it positively. Then the director Mario Martone read it and turned it into a memorable film. This helped the book, but it also shifted the media attention onto me personally. Partly for that reason, I didn’t publish anything else for 10 years, at which point, with tremendous anxiety, I decided to publish “The Days of Abandonment.” The book was a success and had a wide readership, even if there was also a lot of resistance to [the protagonist] Olga’s reaction to being abandoned, — the same kind of resistance faced by Delia [the protagonist] in “Troubling Love.” The success of the book and of the film that was made from it focused even more attention onto the absence of the author. It was then that I decided, definitively, to separate my private life from the public life of my books, which overcame countless difficulties and have endured. I can say with a certain pride that in my country, the titles of my novels are better known than my name. I think this is a good outcome.

Q. Where do you see yourself in the Italian literary tradition?

A. I’m a storyteller. I’ve always been more interested in storytelling than in writing. Even today, Italy has a weak narrative tradition. Beautiful, magnificent, very carefully crafted pages abound, but not the flow of storytelling that despite its density manages to sweep you away. A bewitching example is Elsa Morante. I try to learn from her books, but I find them unsurpassable.

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