A Violent Tussle
It is the rare writer who doesn't give interviews and rarer still the writer who remains reclusive. Rarer again is the writer who remains anonymous. What is unusual about Elena Ferrante isn't only that she remains a figure hiding under a nom de plume but that she gives interviews as a writer who exists beyond the page but who at the same time doesn't have a biography. As she says, I'm still very interested in testifying against the self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media. This demand for self-promotion diminishes the actual work of art, whatever that art may be, and it has become universal. The media simply can't discuss a work of literature without pointing to some writer-hero. And yet there is no work of literature that is not the fruit of tradition, of many skills, of a sort of collective intelligence." (Paris Review) Few writers more than Ferrante has taken at his word Roland Barthes' notion, the death of the author, seeing that what matters is not at all the biographical and intentional figure of the work but the writer as some intermediary figure between tradition and creation. The writer isn't anonymous in the way that someone hides behind a pseudonym as they write thrillers, horror novels, or a ghost-written autobiography writing books that deploy their talent but not at all their subjectivity. No, the writer, as Ferrante couches it, is very much present in the work but only in the work. Their private life is their own and needn't be so much contaminated by fame as the work ruined by biographical imposition. While reading, say, a John Grisham novel one might know nothing about the man behind the book, even if much is known about Grisham through his public profile; with Ferrante one senses much more strongly a being who is writing the books, a personality if you like on the page even if there is no trace of that personality beyond it.
Who is 'Ferrante' since we know nothing of Ferrante? She is someone who writes almost exclusively about the south of Italy and most especially of Naples. The Days of Abandonment may be set mainly in Turin, where the central character, Olga, her husband, and child have recently moved, but the family background is Neapolitan. In Troubling Love, Delia lives in Rome but most of the novel takes place in Naples after she returns to the city for the funeral and to find out more about her mother's death. The four books she wrote that follow the lives of two girls brought up in Naples are often referred to as 'The Neapolitan Novels': My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. 'Ferrante' insists that you can take the person out of Naples but you can't take Naples out of the person. We have a sense of Ferrante because 'Ferrante' focuses so consistently on a given milieu.
Ferrante (let us drop the quotation marks now we have established who we are talking about) is interesting partly because it isn't only that her characters are in one way or another closely affiliated with this city famous for its violent history, for its Mafiosa connections manifest in the Camorra, but also that her work contains a violence indicating that organised crime isn't always the most pressing of threats; disorganised violence is present too. When asked if she has been touched by violence in the city, Ferrante says: "One has to be very fortunate not to be touched even slightly by violence and its various manifestations in Naples. But perhaps that's true of New York, London, Paris. Naples isn't worse than other cities in Italy or in the world." (LA Times) Ferrante has a statistical point but is perhaps a little disingenuous when it comes to a metonymic one. Naples is far behind Marseilles as it comes in as the second most violent city in Europe, and that in terms of violence per head of population it is only a little more so than Kristiansand in Norway: Marseilles has a crime index of 64.35 Naples 58.30 and 56.22 for Kristiansand. Yet associatively Naples will be perceived as a much more violent city than a little-known one in Norway. To set a violent story in a city in Norway will be to defy expectation; to set it in Naples will be to confirm it. Metonymically Naples is a violent city.
This doesn't mean that Ferrante's work falls into cliche; more that it extracts from the assumption of violence an understanding of its many and varied manifestations and none more so than its normalisation; the idea that violence takes many forms. In The Story of a New Name it is the rape of one of the books's main characters Lila on her honeymoon; the other major figure in the novel, the narrator Elena, witnesses her prospective husband Antonio falling to the ground and stuffing earth into his mouth as he despairs about his future. In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena says "after a few minutes my brothers, both at the same time, stood up, went over to the students' table, and started a quarrel in their usual violent manner." The point isn't that they started a violent quarrel but that they do in so their usual aggressive way. Elena presents it as typical behaviour rather than an atypical event. In the book to which we will be paying special attention, Troubling Love, the central character's father eradicates a rival for her mother's affections in the most violent manner possible. He beats the man almost to death, leaving a bit of life in the man only because the central character's uncle intervenes. Nevertheless, the beating is a solution of sorts. The rival leaves the city. The father wouldn't ostensibly seem a violent man and in other circumstances might seem someone who we wouldn't expect to be aggressive at all. He isn't involved in organised crime; he is a mediocre painter who makes his living initially flogging oil paintings of the women American sailors had in their pockets, the women they had left at home. The person who helps him make a living however is none other than Caserta, the man he almost kills. Eradicating Caserta from his life might make him less jealous but doesn't do much for his finances. A solution arrived at becomes another problem set in motion. Our purpose in exploring Ferrante's approach to violence is that to understand Ferrante we needn't concern ourselves with a link between the life and the work, but to comprehend what happens to be the features of the work that make her oeuvre distinctive. What she often explores is a violence that isn't exclusive to those who make a living from it, nor even the men who are more inclined to practice it, but central also to women and children too.
Yet no less important than violence is ambivalence, even if it has some similarities with the violent. If Ferrante's ambivalence doesn't usually take the form of procrastination it is because she is too interested in the impulsive emotions for that: her characters aren't inclined to think through a thought in retreating from action but have ambivalent feelings during the deed or after it, all the better perhaps for violence to become again pronounced. In The Story of a New Name, the young central character and narrator Elena has wonderful sex with an older man, "he applied himself to my body with the care, the devotion, the pride of a man absorbed in demonstrating how thoroughly he knows women." But afterwards, when he proposes they meet the following day, she tells him they must never meet again. "...I told him that what Antonio Cappuccio, Melina's son, could do to him was nothing to what Michele Solara, a person I knew well, would do...I told him Michele was eager to bash his face in..." Here is a woman who knows what she feels in the moment of pleasure but doesn't know what she thinks once that moment is over and social values, such as they are, return. In a scene from Troubling Love, the ambivalence is more present in the act even if violence sits behind it. Here the narrator Delia is having sex with her childhood friend Antonio who she hasn't seen for years and during the miserable act she thinks back to them as children and the violence they witnessed. Lying in bed with Antonio, she recalls to herself that "my father got to him first and threw him to the floor, he pulled his head up by the hair and smashed it against the bannister. The thuds were protracted into an interminable echo. Finally he left him unconscious, in the blood on the floor, on the advice of his brother-in-law, who may have had a gun but was wiser." The person left unconscious was Antonio's father and there she is sleeping with his son. How could there not be ambivalence, especially as we discover later in the book that it was Caserta's father, Antonio's grandfather, who propositioned her and whose sex she touched, but who our narrator blames Caserta for in an act of revenge against Caserta perhaps, or her mother? Sex is very muddy indeed when there are three generations of men involved and when she sleeps with the youngest in the family, an ageing man now who she at the same time remembers as a young boy. In such moments the book earns its title and Delia would struggle not to show ambivalence.
The book is itself predicated on the ambivalent: "I had forgotten nothing but I didn't want to remember" Delia says, and the book is a narrator telling a story who isn't quite sure how much she wishes to tell because she isn't quite sure how much she wishes to recall. The book finds a place between the unreliable narrator (who we usually can't trust) and what Gerard Genette calls the homodiegetic narrator, someone who is part of the story but isn't autodiegetically central to it. In both instances, the narrator's knowledge is limited: either because they cannot be trusted or that they have only partial knowledge. Someone trying to recall their past may find themselves combining these approaches; unreliable in that they cannot recall vividly and that time has worked on those memories; homodiegetically removed because part of their story somehow belongs to someone else if we accept that we are not our younger selves as we happen to be our present selves. How many can claim complete access to childhood events as they can recall the events of the previous day? Ambivalence can often take the form of our past in the context of our present as we may wish not to remember what we can't quite recall. As Nietzsche says, "'I have done that,' says my memory. 'I cannot have done that' - says my pride, and remains adamant. At last memory yields." (Beyond Good and Evil)
Troubling Love works both as an investigation into Delia's mother's death, and also an inquiry into her past. Returning to Naples for the mother's funeral isn't only an opportunity to grieve but also to remember as though, out of the recollections, she hopes to comprehend the mystery involved in her mother's demise to find out why she seemed to have taken her own life, drowning herself in the sea at a place called Spaccavento. The family hired a farmhouse there back in the fifties, a proper halfway house between Rome where Delia lives and Naples where her mother, Amalia, resided. Troubling Love is ostensibly a thriller about a mother's death that potentially could have at least two suspects, perhaps even a third. There is Delia's father and her mother's ex-husband who we find would often beat her up when they were still married, Antonio's father who Amalia had once again been seeing more recently, and Uncle Filippo, who would side with her father when Amalia was getting beaten even if he was also the man who prevented her father from killing Antonio's father. Yet there is also within these possibilities the idea that if the death was indeed a suicide then who isn't likely to feel culpable? Amalia often visited Delia in Rome and in the first few pages the narrator tells us how her mother was a tolerable presence in her life but an irritating person to have around for any longer than Delia could accept. "At the first hint of impatience on my part, she returned to Naples. She gathered her things, gave a last tidying up to the house, and promised to be back soon." She frequently missed the train and wouldn't arrive in Naples till much later, creating in Delia ongoing anxiety relieved only when her mother finally got home, and exacerbating Delia's anger as she believed her mother should have told her that she missed it. But this is both Delia the daughter who is the figure making sure her mother is okay and also the daughter who remembers, as a child, resentfully waiting for Amalia to return: "I longed for her to appear at the end of the street like a future in a crystal ball. I breathed on the glass, fogging it, in order not to see the street without her. If she was late, the anxiety became uncontrollable, overflowing into tremors throughout my body." Everything is in a state of tension, whether it is a memory or a bodily state. Often they are in inexplicable, confused interaction.
Talking about how she begins a new work, Ferrante says "there is a before, made up of fragments of memory, and an after, when the story begins. But before and after, I have to admit, are useful only in answering your question now in an intelligible way." (Paris Review) In Troubling Love, such a remark is manifest in the work: one senses that the present tense narration is weak next to the past tense reflection, as though the potential violence in the story, as it muses over the mother's death, is of little consequence next to the unequivocal violence meted out to her in the past. For all the detective thriller's interest in murder, violence is from a certain point of view an exceptional event exceptional enough for a detective to investigate it. The sort of violence that interests Ferrante is an everyday event; that the people best qualified to investigate are also those who might have very good reasons for wishing not to do so. Part of Delia's ambivalence rests on a need to find out exactly what happened to her mother at the same time she may not always wish to remember what often enough happened to herself in the past. Ambivalence, which can frequently be a passive response to events, in Ferrante's work is usually a ferociously troubling one.
Critic Christopher Taylor sees similarities between Ferrante and Philip Roth, saying "like Philip Roth's her novels are concerned, in a way that's clever and distanced but also consciously intense, with giving voice to parts of the self that not everyone puts on display. " (London Review of Books) Ferrante's early books Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment share with numerous Roth works like The Dying Animal, Everyman and The Humbling a monomaniacal self-absorption, and the multi-character Neapolitan novels can seem like an attempt to reverse this, with detailed potted biographies of the various characters who populate the book. If Delia and Olga can't get out of their heads in the first two books, central character Elena tries to get into everybody else's in the fatter novels. But the reason why the comparison with Roth is interesting isn't only because of the self-absorption, nor even, as Taylor, notes that Ferrante can seem like an angry woman as Roth so often appeared to be an angry man, but in the way each approaches the question of the work speaking for itself. Roth was retreating but not reclusive, determined to claim that Philip Roth was the author of fictional works and that he was not producing factual accounts of his life. In numerous interviews and articles, Roth proclaimed the importance not of his own existence but of the work that happened to get produced by someone who spent most of his time sitting in a room writing. "My public reputation as distinguished from the reputation of my work is something I try to have as little to do with as I can." (Reading Myself and Others) Adding later in the book, in another interview, "as you well know, the intriguing biographical issue and critical issue, for that matter isn't that a writer will write about some of what has happened to him, but how he writes about it, which, when understood properly, takes us a long way to understanding why he writes about it." Roth sees that what is important to a writer isn't so much what has happened to him, since that has happened, but what hasn't. "A more intriguing question is why and how he writes about what hasn't happened how he feeds what's hypothetical or imagined into "what's inspired and controlled by recollection, and how what's recollected spawns the overall fantasy." Roth started writing at a time when American novelists were choosing reclusiveness, even non-publication, from Pynchon to Salinger, but Roth's work exists in a tantalising place between Roth and 'Roth', between the man born in 1932, brought up in a Jewish household who went on to write liberatingly sexual and comedic novels like Portnoy's Complaint (which Ferrante adores, according to Taylor), and the figure who appears in manifold ways in the books, often as Zuckermann or David Kepesh. Roth's work fascinates partly because what we see is how a writer with a given biography keeps creating versions of that self, insisting that the novelist can be so much more than the self they are born with. What Roth makes clear is that to reduce his work to the life is to suggest the writer only has one life when one of the joys of writing is the opportunity to have many; otherwise what is the point of creativity?
Ferrante by remaining anonymous insists on showing that while one may choose to produce a biography out of her work and the comments she makes in interviews about her work, the biographical self can only ever be hypothetical and speculative. Taylor notes that "she grew up in postwar Naples, has a classics degree, studies, teaches, translates, is a divorced or separated mother, has spent time away from Italy" but Ferrante forces upon the critic what Roth wished for: that people would read a life out of the work; not read into the work out of the life. When Taylor says that Ferrante "writes under a pseudonym to protect her family's privacy and ward off her inner censor", it gives her the means to conquer shame without feeling obliged to confront it. Taylor offers the well-known remark by Jacqueline Sussan where she said she would love to meet Philip Roth but wouldn't like to shake the hand of the writer who wrote the masturbatory novel Portnoy's Complaint. Nobody need shake Ferrante's hand; that is not part of the anonymous writer's obligations.
Ferrante insists that "evidently, in a world where philological education has almost completely disappeared, where critics are no longer attentive to style, the decision not to be present as an author generates ill will and this type of fantasy. The experts stare at the empty frame where the image of the author is supposed to be and they don't have the technical tools, or, more simply, the true passion and sensitivity as readers, to fill that space with the works." (Paris Review) Here she could be invoking anyone from Doris Lessing to Michel Foucault. In the eighties, the well established Lessing sent a couple of novels to publishers under the name Jane Somers: ''I wanted to highlight that whole dreadful process in book publishing that 'nothing succeeds like success.' If the books had come out in my name, they would have sold a lot of copies and reviewers would have said, 'Oh, Doris Lessing, how wonderful.'" (New York Times) When eventually published, the reviews didn't recognise the books were written by Lessing, and later when she acknowledged they were, poor sales were turned around. Yet perhaps Lessing's ruse really did generate the ill-will Ferrante talks about and not only because Lessing pulled a trick on the critics but also potentially undermined her very oeuvre. Part of the author-function, as Foucault would say, lies in rejecting the person but acknowledging the work. We might not need an author's biography but we may wish to include within the body of work all the texts written: to write a couple of novels under a pseudonym can seem like undermining that oeuvre by falsely suggesting they are outside the Lessing canon. The reader who buys them when hearing they are by Lessing may of course merely wish to read a name author rather than an unknown but others will be looking to read a writer whose novels they have followed and admired. When Foucault talks about what constitutes the work, he wonders whether we only mean the main texts an author writes or do we also include workbooks, notes for aphorism and so on. Where does it end? "What if, within a workbook filled with aphorisms, one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address, or a laundry list: is it a work or not? Why not?" Later Foucault muses, "if I discover that Shakespeare was not born in the house that we visit today, this is a modification which, obviously, will not alter the functioning of the author's name. But if we proved that Shakespeare did not write those sonnets which pass for his, that would constitute a significant change and affect the manner in which the author's name functions." ('What is an Author?') Lessing was indeed altering that function; Ferrante's anonymity does not.
Ferrante seems well aware of this authorial function when she says she is interested in working against notions of self-promotion: the writer hero. Ferrante wishes to play fair by the writer function as Foucault describes it but not the 'heroic' dimension that insists a writer isn't just the sum of their works but the sum total of their place in the world where they are expected to have their photo taken, describe their childhood and sign copies of their books. None of these need be part of Ferrante's author function, aware, as Foucault proposes, that they are finally irrelevant to the work even if they are usually very good for sales. Ferrante has proved you can sell books, suggesting this 'heroic' dimension isn't necessary. Yet others might insist that paradoxically this has become part of the mystique, an anonymous author who people can endlessly speculate over rather than just focusing on the fiction. After all, numerous papers and magazines picked up on the investigation by an Italian journalist who thought they had exposed Ferrante's identity. Would Ferrante's books sell as well as they do if she did have a biography? This is merely to say that hiding behind the work might not actually make manifest the work but instead make manifest the hiding. Ferrante may not have chosen anonymity for commercial reasons but that doesn't mean her incognito status has hampered sales. It may have augmented them.
However, this could rest partly on the nature of Ferrante's preoccupations that suggest an authorial function that bleeds out beyond the text. If someone wrote Bondian-type thrillers or fantasy fiction in made-up worlds then the stereotypical or archetypal nature of the fiction would indicate a clear separation between the fictional and the authorial. But Ferrante's world suggests consistency of biographical preoccupation, one that proposes a constant authorial revelation within the anonymity. Starting with Troubling Love, through to The Days of Abandonment and onto The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay etc, Ferrante invokes an authorial consistency that can perhaps be described as a vicious vulnerability allied to a ferocious need for confession. The work invokes a self as much as it produces a story and, in this sense, the early work, like Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment, can seem more narratively unclad than the later novels, more determined to repress narrative and express feeling. Troubling Love might suggest a murder mystery as the mother dies in unusual circumstances but increasingly the unusual circumstances are the life Delia leads and the childhood she recalls. Part of that life is its solitariness residing partly in the sexual. "Even when as a girl I had tried to masturbate this had happened. The pleasure spread warmly, without any crescendo, and immediately my skin began to get wet. However much I caressed myself, the only result was that the liquids of my body overflowed..." It was the same with lovers and "I knew that nothing new would happen. It was the start of a well-known rite that I had experienced often as a young woman, hoping that if I changed men frequently my body would eventually come up with the appropriate response." Rather than a frigid reaction to sex, Delia offers a liquid one, which might suggest immense pleasure but instead limits it: "my sex got so wet that the fingers slipped over it without purchase..." The book exposes less the mystery of the dead mother than exposes the person investigating. There turns out to be very little mystery concerning her mother's death but quite a lot concerning Delia's life. In time we find out much about Delia's desire and also her complicated relationship with it as we discover the moment of sexual abuse, the accusation levelled at her mother's lover rather than his father, and where her desire for her mother's lover seems to be present partly because of her mother's relative indifference towards her. Things are emotionally complicated rather than narratively convoluted. In The Days of Abandonment, the story hardly suggests a narrative at all: a woman's husband leaves and she breaks down. The book doesn't initially leave us wondering whether the narrator thinks her husband is having an affair so that the story can build a tantalising plot around her doubts and fears; he leaves on page one, even if later she will find out that he has left her for a much younger woman.
Our point is that the work might be anonymous but it doesn't suggest the impersonal. One needn't insist that Ferrante is doing no more than relating the details of her life, only underneath a pseudonym, but there is certainly a sense of a life behind the nom de plume. When someone writes a manual on how to fix a Renault Clio nobody is left musing over who the author happens to be: the text has in the Foucauldian sense no author-function. "The author's name serves to characterise a certain mode of being of discourse: the fact that the discourse has an author's name, that one can say 'this was written by so-and-so or "so-and-so is its author.' But we might reckon the person who writes books that are generic thrillers, horror stories and romances, doesn't have much of an author-function either. Penny Jordan and Sharon Kendrick have written numerous Mills and Boons books but their author-function is weak even if they are far more available as personalities than Ferrante obviously is. If we suggest that violence and ambivalence happen to be amongst the main forces apparent in Ferrante's work (and often their combination), then that ambivalence and even that violence raise interesting questions about an author's privacy in an age when so many writers close the gap between their authorial and social role, evident in the growth of meet-the-author events, Twitter feeds and autograph signings. If Foucault offers the author-function as a theoretical concept, a way of reading a text that we have noted wouldn't be relevant to a car manual and only very modestly pertinent to a Mills and Boons author, then Ferrante wants a very strong author-function within a very high degree of anonymity and hence the ambivalence and even the violence. After all, if her English translator has any questions, she can't ask Ferrante directly. Discussing writers and their translators, Claire Armistead says, "for Ann Goldstein, translating a more recent superstar, Elena Ferrante, there was no such back and forth. She had no direct contact with the author, whose true identity is a closely guarded secret... and corresponds with her on email via her publisher." (Guardian) Goldstein herself says, "I don't think she intends to be, you know, like Thomas Pynchon or somebody who says, 'I don't want my public.' She does want her public. She's decided to be anonymous and she's been sticking to that for various reasons, but I don't think she's against meeting her readers."(LiteraryHub) However, within that wish to meet the public there contains clearly a stronger impulse not to meet them. Equally, there is in the work a need to reveal at the same time there is a desire to retreat there is a need to explore states of feeling and consciousness that invoke the personal, while simultaneously a desire to remain outside the world of direct recognition.
By using the word violence in this context we mean no more than that Ferrante invokes a response that she then resists. This is Ferrante we are talking about, the figure produced out of the media event that she doesn't entirely avoid. But couldn't this be said in various ways of her work too? Ferrante's characters are constantly prey to violently contradictory emotions. "She must have felt in Lila, I imagine, that elusive quality that seduced at the same time alarmed..." (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay) "When we opened this place, Stefano showed me how to cheat on the weight; and at first I shouted you're a thief, that's how you make money, and then I couldn't resist. I showed him that I learned and immediately found my own ways to cheat..." (The Story of a New Name) In The Days of Abandonment there is moment when the narrator says to her children that, when she announces that she is going to slap them, this isn't the same thing as slapping them, as she then shows them the difference by slapping herself so hard that her nose starts to bleed. Hurtling towards collapse, her wish not to hit her children results in Olga instead hitting herself. In Troubling Love, Delia tries to make sense of her existence less through the life she is leading in Rome than the one she recalls from the Naples of her childhood and the Naples that she returns to after her mother's death. Seeing her father for the first time in years, he says to her "you've gotten old", while adding a little later that she won't be coming to his funeral "...because I'll die after you." Her father then hits her, "and I had trouble controlling the part of me that was annihilated by that gesture." How can one be other than ambivalent when the father you go to for love meets you with insult and acts of aggression? There may be an enormous difference between Olga's wish to hit her kids and instead hitting herself, and the father's wish to punch his daughter, but Ferrante indicates that the violent ambivalence she explores often resides in feelings that cannot be controlled. Her father cannot control his impulse not to hit her and does so, but then Olga doesn't control her impulse either as she ends up slapping herself.
Perhaps finally what Ferrante explores so well is the impulse as a contrary force, a need that might wish to move only in one direction as propulsion but that more 'superficially' resists that desire because of the inadequacy of the subject with which it is expected to interact. Someone might wish to have sex but if the person they desire isn't available the impulse will have to be met nevertheless; they might want to get into a fight but not with the person they hate, who is elsewhere, but with whoever is to hand; or to love someone only to find that person isn't worthy of that love. In Troubling Love, love is troubling as many other things happen to be not least because the categorical impulse is met by an inadequate subject of that desire. Delia may wish to love her father but her father isn't a man who can be loved. Delia might wish to have sex with Antonio but Antonio isn't the man to whom she can project pleasure; indeed she has never found such a man. One might even see the death of her mother as a wish to investigate her case only for Delia to find there is no case as such; her mother took her own life and so the investigation turns into an exploration of Delia's past rather than into a murder enquiry. To stretch a point, even Ferrante's relationship with the literary public can be seen as a wish for a public while wondering whether the public (an impersonal mass with collective demands) can meet the impulsive needs she has to engage with them. Her increasing willingness to accept interviews indicates a writer whose impulse is to engage with her readers while also remaining unsure whether that desire can be achieved. This desire would also include a weekly column for the Guardian over a year. At the end of it, Ferrante said "This exercise ends here: I gave myself a year, and the year is up. I had never done work like this, and I hesitated a good deal before trying it. I was afraid of the weekly deadline; I was afraid of having to write even if I didn't feel like it; I was afraid of the need to publish without having scrupulously considered every word. In the end, curiosity won out." The ambivalence again present.
What we have proposed perhaps a little too provocatively, and with an odd insistent need to kill and resurrect the author simultaneously, all the better to say a little about Ferrante as a 'functional author', as an author with an authorial function, is that what we see driving Ferrante's work isn't only an ambivalence within the material which shows her characters with contrary thoughts and feeling but also one that we can attribute to the author too as she muses over what it means to be an author in the world. Speaking of writing and publishing Troubling Love, she reckoned "I decided to publish Troubling Love not so much because of the story it told, which continued to embarrass and frighten me, but because for the first time it seemed to me that I could say, Here's how I have to write." (Paris Review) It doesn't seem the ambivalence has gone away. It instead permeates the work and offers Ferrante an unusual place in contemporary literature as a figure without a visage but with an authorial personality that is insistently revealing and nothing less than a literary phenomenon. She has not escaped being a writer-hero, however tortuous her wrestling with the notion.
© Tony McKibbin