Written by Fiona Longmuir

In The News

It is not our ‘right’ to know her

Journalist Claudio Gatti claims he’s ‘unmasked’ pseudonymous Italian writer Elena Ferrante. Why the fuck would he do that, asks Fiona Longmuir.

Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan quartet. Photo: Text Publishing & Europa Editions.

Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan quartet. Photo: Text Publishing & Europa Editions.

Ask a woman about Elena Ferrante, and she is likely to recall hurling a book across the room. I read the first of her acclaimed Neapolitan novels this year and halfway through, I put it down with a sigh. “I hate this book,” I said.

I did not hate that book.

Ferrante’s books provoke a visceral reaction because her portrayal of womanhood is so raw, so revealing that it can be almost painful to read. Her account of female friendship, of growing up in Naples, rings so truthfully that it has prompted the inevitable question of how much of her work is autobiographical. This question is harder to answer with Ferrante than with most writers, as no one knows who she is.

Elena Ferrante is a pen name, created to maintain the author’s explicit desire for privacy. Ferrante has spoken about her pseudonym many times in email interviews, explaining that it allows her to protect herself and the community from which she draws her inspiration. Elena Ferrante’s identity is one of the biggest mysteries surrounding current literature. Or at least it was, until journalist Claudio Gatti tasked himself with unmasking her.

The Italian media have long held a fascination with revealing Elena Ferrante’s identity and, often, it centres around whether she is actually a man. Because of course it’s difficult to believe that a woman could have written something of such staggering genius. Unless you have actually bothered to pick up one of her books.

Her Neapolitan novels are unapologetically female, so accurately female that we find ourselves flinging them away from us in pain. The central character of the novels is a female writer, who experiences both the highs and lows of being in the limelight.

“Women are not products. Elena Ferrante is not a product. Her books are the product and they speak for themselves.”

Much of Ferrante’s work deals with the variety of ways that men seek to control, dominate and humiliate women. In dragging her unwillingly into the public eye, this is exactly what Gatti has done. In an email to the Guardian , Gatti expresses the opinion that, as her fans have made her a success, they deserve to know a little about her.

He also muses that in quipping about her fondness for untruths, “she and her publisher seemed not only to have fed public interest in her true identity but to have challenged critics and journalists to go behind the lies.”

So there you go. She actually wanted to be exposed. All of the pleas to be left alone and the quarter century of writing behind a pen name were just a clever ruse, waiting for a man smart enough to see through them and go behind the lies. Because all women want the attention, really, right? I’m not even going to go into how wrong that is. I’ll just leave it there to percolate.

In an age where social media allows us immediate, full-time access to our idols, it’s easy to see where this idea that we deserve something more from artists than their art has come from. A while ago, I nearly bought a badge that said, “women don’t owe you shit”. I’d like to repeat that sentiment and double down with “artists don’t owe you shit”.

Being a woman in the public eye means subjecting yourself to intrusion, expectation and every type of derogatory commentary you can imagine. Writing something fantastic does not and should not mean automatically opting into that. We are not owed access to anyone’s life unless we are specifically invited.

In writing a book that perhaps shares part of herself with us, Ferrante is not signalling that the rest of her is also for sale. Women are not products. Elena Ferrante is not a product. Her books are the product and they speak for themselves. I just hope for Gatti’s sake that his revelations don’t mean Ferrante stops writing because if that’s the case, the next time I hurl a Neapolitan novel, it might be in his direction.

@EscapologistFi

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Written by Fiona Longmuir

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.

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