Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante

Lisa Appegnanasi in The Guardian:

BookLike some bloodhound on the trail of Berlusconi or a mafia magnate, the Italian journalist Claudio Gatti recently unearthed financial documents suggesting that the pseudonymous novelist Elena Ferrante, author of the acclaimed Neapolitan novels, was really a translator with little link to Naples except through her husband. To many of her readers, the outing felt like a violation, and not only of authorial privacy. It also gave off a sweaty odour of macho politics. Rumours had long travelled the Italian circuit suggesting that no woman could be both so brilliant and so popular a writer: ergo Elena must be a man. Now, by linking his “real” Elena to a well-known Neapolitan writer-husband, Gatti had reinforced that rumour. The finger-pointing revelations have been denied. But the fact that they have preceded the publication of a new book of reflections, letters and interviews, by just a few weeks, shadows one’s reading of it: your eyes linger a little over the passages that state or assume a childhood in Naples, that ponder truth and lies. Such is the polluting power of journalistic innuendo – as our tabloids have long known.

Ferrante’s insistence on staying out of the stranglehold of celebrity culture has been to avoid this scrutiny. The reduction of a book to its author and spurious autobiography is one of the recurring themes in her interviews, never conducted in person. “Lacking a true vocation for ‘public interest’, the media,” she writes, “would be inclined, carelessly, to restore a private quality to an object that originated precisely to give a less circumscribed meaning to individual experience. Even Tolstoy is an insignificant shadow if he takes a stroll with Anna Karenina.” And Shakespeare’s plays will remain great whether we know for certain or not that he sported a beard and travelled to Italy.

More here.