Ferrante furore: what’s the story?

Sunday 23 October, 14.00 - 15.00 , Free Stage Hot Off the Press

This Hot Off the Press session is free and open to non-ticket holders.

The identity of the popular Italian writer known as Elena Ferrante, author of the award winning Neapolitan Novels, has long been a mystery to her fans. In interviews conducted via email over the years, as well as in her book Frantumaglia, Ferrante claimed to be the daughter of an impoverished Neapolitan seamstress who grew up in the violent, gang-ridden suburbs of Naples. She has implied that many aspects of her novels’ protagonist and narrator Elena Greco’s life were autobiographical. For many readers, this made the narrative of the Neapolitan Novels all the more compelling.

However, earlier this month journalist Claudio Gatti revealed that he believed Ferrante was in fact Anita Raja, the daughter of a German schoolteacher and Italian magistrate who has spent her life working as translator in Rome, a far cry from the identity she had constructed for herself under her pseudonym.

Gatti’s revelations caused a storm in the literary world. His disclosures were seen as a gross invasion of privacy of someone who had gone out of her way to shun the limelight. Gatti was accused of being a bitter failed writer and a misogynist venting his frustration and jealousy at a female author whose success he could never hope to achieve. The Guardian’s Deborah Orr claimed that unmasking of Ferrante had ‘violated my right not to know’ and ‘rode roughshod over that perfectly satisfactory contract between writer and reader’.

But Ferrante, too, was criticised for having lied to her readers. Her novels, once lauded for their authenticity, were not in fact rooted in personal experience. This, it was argued, had constituted a betrayal of her fans and therefore Gatti’s investigation was legitimate in the public interest.

Should an authors’ identity and life-experience effect how we view their work or should we judge them entirely on their works’ merit? Was the exposure of Ferrante as Raja an assault on the writer’s privacy? Or is there a distinction to be made between anonymity and privacy? Does the furore over Ferrante’s real identity tell us something about the contemporary obsession with identity and authenticity?