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Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true?


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Dear Elena Ferrante. And when you did choose to respond to questions, you would do so only on your terms— in writing. You published nothing for a decade after the glowing reviews of your debut. When you reemerged in and with two more slim, raw novels featuring female protagonists navigating difficult and painful moments in their lives, The Days of Abandonment and The Lost Daughteryou stuck to your vow. Your refusal to show your face seemed a bold act as social media exploded, and an even bolder one when your four Neapolitan novels, which trace the lives of two elena life born in poverty in postwar Naples, made you a bona fide global superstar.

With those books, you published more than 1, s in three years, from to You kept your strategic silence even after the bombshell in the fall ofwhen the Italian investigative journalist Claudio Gatti posited that the person writing under your pseudonym was Anita Raja, a retired librarian and freelance literary translator for your Rome-based publisher.

In his sleuthing, Gatti had rifled through financial and real-estate records, and discovered that Raja had struck it rich just when your Neapolitan novels were becoming international best sellers. When his story ran concurrently in The New York Review of Books and outlets in France, Italy, and Germany, readers fiercely defended your right to remain faceless. It was a fraught moment. Various Italian literary sleuths and scholars using computer programs to analyze prose styles had for years proposed that Domenico Starnone elena life be writing your books.

Of course your devoted readers were outraged at the elena life suggestion that a man might be behind your work. You told me in our interview that Starnone was right to be fed up with constantly denying he was Elena Ferrante, and that you felt guilty for causing the intrusion. But you refused to put the mystery to rest. But what about you, Elena? What about the disembodied author behind those texts, the author I feel I know so well, yet know so little about? Yes, you chose absence. And you have pulled off something remarkable.

Your Neapolitan novels are a forceful saga of 20th-century women forging their way out of the world of their working-class mothers and finding their own place in a new world. You work these larger issues quite self-consciously into the Neapolitan novels, which are constructed as a frame within a frame, a story told by Elena, now in her 60s, looking back on the span of her life after learning that Lila has gone missing.

Decades earlier, Elena, the narrator who shares your name, surged ahead of Lila with the publication of a book that drew its inspiration from something Lila had written as a girl. Lila inspires, Elena writes—so whose story is it? Who has authority to say what in fiction?

Who controls the story?

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But wider reading since then—mostly in Italian, because texts I consider key have not been translated into English—has taken me in a different direction. The author is the one who gets the royalty checks!

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So he grew indignant. Why search for biographical details if the central aim of the Elena Ferrante undertaking is the separation of the work and the author, and the consistent evasion or reshuffling of biographical facts? After all, as one of the most famous writers in the world today, you are a legitimate subject for inquiry, whether you welcome it or not.

It can also be read as an attempt to shake up reductive presumptions that fiction, especially confessional fiction by women, must necessarily be rooted in autobiography.

An open letter to elena ferrante—whoever you are

And here my reading has led me to a crucial question: Were he and others wrong to have been looking for a solo elena life You have said that readers should seek your identity and your gender in your writing. To be sure, all authors draw from the works they most admire, as well as from the people around them, for inspiration. In your case, the literary elements combining and recombining are more elusive. So many of us have imagined you as a solitary woman at her desk writing, a woman who, like the protagonists in your fiction, is trying to make sense of her experiences, trying to carve out time and mental space from her family life for her creative work.

Your novels have helped us see our own lives more clearly. Sometimes we have felt that you might even understand our innermost thoughts. But tell me, have we fallen into a trap? But what happens if you, the writer herself, are just as much an invention as your characters are?

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But both of their careers attest to an investment in creative collaboration and a preoccupation with the uncertain boundaries of personal identity and authorship. In his 40s, he published the first of his 14 novels only three of which have been translated into English. His fiction is filled with self-conscious male author-narrators and messy Neapolitan families. One of his screenplays is about two women who switch identities.

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He is also interested in the role of education in social advancement—which happens to be the backbone of your Neapolitan novels. But she has been particularly devoted to the work of the East German author Christa Wolf, well known for her explorations of Communist life in East Germany and her feminist reinterpretations of ancient Greek tales.

To the point that I had the impression that the texts of Christa were expressing me. Check out the full table of contents and find your next story to read.

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The narrator of The Quest for Christa T. She never managed to recognize the limits which, after all, everyone does have. She lost herself in everything, you only had to wait for it. The couple wrote elena life they had become close friends with Wolf over the years and that every book of hers that Raja translated into Italian.

They had, Raja and Starnone continued, come to see Wolf as a paragon of how to be a writer and a human. This tribute intrigued me. Could it be that you, Elena, began as a topic of similarly rich discussions between Raja and Starnone?

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You may portray yourself as a reclusive writer who wants to avoid the usual media juggernaut. But perhaps you are a composite creation—a feminist author imagined into being by other writers, almost certainly masterminded by Starnone in tandem with Raja, with others possibly in the mix too. The quest for Elena life Ferrante, as your emphasis on dissolving boundaries would suggest, need not entail deciphering a clear-cut process of co-authorship—quite the contrary. And maybe the experiment continued as you began to chafe at fictional conventions, and at the kind of writing women are expected to produce, much as Elena Greco does in your Neapolitan novels.

Writing as Elena Ferrante seems to me a metafictional project, a literary game of the highest order. Perhaps you, the construct that is Elena Ferrante, aspire to break down the that too often constrain or pigeonhole a complex literary project.

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You are the inverse phenomenon. You are taking a female name yet are intent on erasing any specific, verifiable female identity in the world.

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They have simply hypothesized that Starnone is you. That novel is narrated by a guilt-ridden adult son whose abusive father feels that having elena life family has held him back from being an artist. This novel, a hall of mirrors, written for the most part in intentionally clumsy prose, is Starnone at his most intricately metafictional—and is about as easy to summarize as an M. Escher print is to describe. But the novel, in which you actually appear as a character—or at least as a specter—is also very much about you.

Among other things, Autobiografia Erotica is a dizzying meditation on whether men can convincingly write about women and women about men. Seventy s before the end of the book, the narrator—like Starnone himself, he is the author of an autobiographical novel called Via Gemito —has a flash of inspiration. Upon receiving a handful of s from a mysterious woman writer, he decides he wants to move beyond his usual material, aging men.

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Is this not the core tale of your Neapolitan quartet? Two years pass as he struggles and, to his own mind, fails to create women characters. He also tries in vain to locate the woman writer who passed him the s. And then the phone starts ringing: Journalists are asking whether he is Ferrante, and he fends off their inquiries—as happened in real life to Starnone. He starts reading your early work and finds himself drawn in, and before long he begins to surmise that the woman writer might be you, Elena. A literary game.

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He must move beyond traditional preconceptions about male and female material, he thinks to himself. Those volumes of yours, he thinks. Reading this, I laughed. Was this a Rosetta Stone, or a dirty metafictional joke? Even as the narrator in this novel declares defeat, an undertaking based on an interplay of female perspectives is about to come to fruition in a different novel, My Brilliant Friendto be followed in short order by three more volumes about that battle to be a new woman.