Elena Ferrante is a brilliant writer whose art rested on keeping her personal and professional lives separate. The author of the Neapolitan novels and a slew of similarly feminist-leaning books, she catalyzed Ferrante Fever, a worldwide obsession with her singular approach to storytelling.
The name “Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym; the author prefers to be anonymous for reasons both personal and artistic that she has laid out in several interviews. But on Sunday, the New York Review of Books ran an article by journalist Claudio Gatti claiming to reveal the books’ true author. The evidence he presents ― paychecks she received from the publisher, increasing in amounts that correlate with the Neapolitan novels’ spike in popularity ― is convincing, but yet to be confirmed. You’ll have to read that article to learn about what he claims to be Ferrante’s true identity; we prefer to respect her wish to remain unknown.
In case you haven’t read the books, here’s a super-brief summary that should not deter you from going out and reading them, experiencing their magic yourself. Two woman born in Naples ― Lenu and Lina ― follow different but parallel trajectories as they come of age. Lina marries young, but employs her smarts in a series of jobs before seeking independence later in life by working on computers.
Lenu takes the educational track, becoming one of the first women to leave her crime-ridden neighborhood to attend university. She goes on to be a writer, but struggles to assert the value of her own feminine approach to making art. Namely, she writes about the domestic sphere; the apolitical. But her relative fame comes at a cost, as she’s unable to separate storytelling from the pressure she feels to save her community through her words.
For the heroine of the story, namelessness would’ve allowed her greater artistic freedom. The author of the novels believes this, too.
“I’m still very interested in testifying against the self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media,” Ferrante said in an interview with The Paris Review, which was conducted through her publisher. “The demand for self-promotion diminishes the actual work of art, whatever that art may be, and it has become universal.”
But Gatti, in the piece that reveals the author’s name and personal information, argued, “by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed, she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity.”
This is in response to something Ferrante said in a 2003 interview, in which she references a sentiment she shared with fellow Italian author Italo Calvino. “Ask me what you want to know, but I won’t tell you the truth, of that you can be sure,” Calvino says, and Ferrante said she’s made the quote a mantra of sorts. But both authors are talking about the value of emotional honesty over factual honesty ― a distinction Ferrante makes both in interviews and in her novels.
Gatti’s argument is basically arrogant gibberish for, “we became interested in her identity, so we deserved to know it.” Which, aside from being a total logical fallacy, is the writer’s way of explaining away the fact that what he did was self-serving. It seems that he revealed Ferrante’s identity simply because he was able to; certainly, he disregarded her wishes, and the wishes of her readers, who voiced their dismay about the news on Twitter. You’ll notice also that Gatti has no issue with self-promotion; his own name sits smugly at the top of his report.
Ferrante has implied ― in the same interview with the Paris Review ― that being outed would deter her from continuing to write. If she follows through, Gatti’s act is a huge loss for those of us who love to read. We can only hope that she’ll craft up a new pseudonym soon.