Financial Times

Women of 2015: Elena Ferrante, writer

The woman behind some of today’s best-loved literary fiction is determined to remain an enigma. The FT is granted a rare interview

Scenes of Naples in the 1950s and 1960s. The city provides the setting for Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet

In 1991, when her first novel, L’amore molesto (Troubling Love), was about to be published, its author wrote a letter to her Italian publishers. “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t . . . Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least ­expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.”

The least expensive, possibly, but certainly the most enigmatic, and by now the most successful. Since then, seven of her novels, published under the pen name Elena Ferrante, have been translated into English, and she has become the best-known Italian writer of literary fiction alive today. In September, the fourth and concluding book of her Neapolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child, was published. Sales of the Neapolitan quartet have now reached 750,000 in the US and are approaching 250,000 in the UK. Foreign editions stand at 39.

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The Atlantic

The Story of a New Language: Elena Ferrante’s American Translator


The literary labors of three women have brought American readers the best-selling Neapolitan novels, which have met with a level of acclaim rare for serious fiction of non-English origins. We know the most about Elena Greco, an Italian woman in her mid-60s who responded to the inexplicable disappearance of her friend Lila by painstakingly recording the story of their decades-long friendship, a “story that [she] thought would never end.” She narrates that story through four volumes: “bold, gorgeous, relentless novels,” as one reviewer has called them.But Elena Greco is fictional. She is the creation of Elena Ferrante, who is herself a creation. Readers know little more about the author than her name, which isn’t her name at all but a pseudonym. She doesn’t go on book tours or give journalists in-person interviews; the resounding success of her novels is due almost entirely to the merits of the text and the glowing reviews they’ve inspired among critics and lay readers alike.

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Vanity Fair


The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels

“I prefer to think of myself as being inside a tangled knot; tangled knots fascinate me.”

The Paris Review

Elena Ferrante, Art of Fiction No. 228

Interviewed by Sandro and Sandra Ferri

Over the past ten years, the translation into English of Elena Ferrante’s ­novels—including Troubling Love, The Days of Abandonment, The Lost Daughter, and the first three volumes of the tetralogy known in English as the Neapolitan Novels—have won her a passionate following outside her native Italy; the fourth of the Neapolitan Novels will appear in English, as The Story of the Lost Child, this fall. It is now common to hear Ferrante called the most ­important Italian writer of her generation, yet since the original publication of her first novel, Troubling Love, in 1992, she has rigorously protected her privacy and has declined to make public appearances. (“Elena Ferrante” is a pen name.) She has also ­refused to give any interviews over the telephone or in person, ­until now.

Her interviewers—her publishers, Sandro and Sandra Ferri, and their daughter, Eva—describe how the interview was conducted:

“Our conversation with Ferrante began in Naples. Our original plan was to visit the neighborhood depicted in the Neapolitan Novels, then walk along the seafront, but at the last moment Ferrante changed her mind about the neighborhood. Places of the imagination are visited in books, she said. Seen in reality they may be hard to recognize; they are disappointing, they might even seem fake. We tried the seafront, but in the end, because it was a rainy evening, we retreated to the lobby of the Hotel Royal Continental, just ­opposite the Castel dell’Ovo.

“From here, out of the rain, we could every so often glimpse people passing along the street and imagine the characters who have for so long occupied our imaginations and our hearts. There was no particular need to meet in Naples, but Ferrante, who was in the city for family reasons, invited us and we took advantage of the occasion to celebrate the completion of The Story of the Lost Child. The conversation continued late into the night and resumed the next day over lunch (clams), then again in Rome, at our house (tea and tisane). At the end, each of us had a notebook full of notes. We compared them and reorganized the material according to Ferrante’s directions.”

The Editors

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The New York Times

‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me’

Elena Ferrante, Author of Naples Novels, Stays Mysterious

Q. and A.: Elena Ferrante


The author who writes under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante responded to written questions via email through her longtime Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola Ferri. The following is a translated transcript of that interview.

Q. You insist on anonymity and yet are developing a cult following, especially among women, first in Italy and now in the United States and beyond. How do you feel about the reception of your books in the United States in recent years, and your growing readership, especially after James Wood’s review in The New Yorker in January 2013?

A. I appreciated James Wood’s review very much. The critical attention that he dedicated to my books not only helped them find readers but in a way it also helped me to read them. Writers, because they write, are condemned never to be readers of their own stories. What happens to the reader when he reads a story for the first time is effectively what the narrator experiences while he writes. The memory of first putting a story into words will always prevent writers from reading their work as an ordinary reader would. Critics like Wood not only help readers to read but especially, perhaps, help the author as well. Their function also becomes fundamental in helping faraway literary worlds to migrate. I never asked myself how the women in my stories would be received outside Italy. I wrote first and foremost for myself, and if I published I did so leaving the task of finding readers to the book itself. Now I know that thanks to Europa Editions [Ferrante’s English-language publisher], to Ann Goldstein [her English-language translator] and to Wood and so many other reviewers and writers and readers, the heart of these stories has burst forth, and it is not only Italian. I’m both surprised and happy.

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Financial Times

Q&A with author Elena Ferrante


‘What book changed my life? Books don’t change your life. If they are good, they can hurt and bring confusion’


A street view of Naples, where Elena Ferrante was born

Italian writer Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. Her debut novel, Troubling Love (1992), won various prizes in Italy and was made into a film by Mario Martone. The Days of Abandonment (2002) stayed on the Italian bestseller list for a year, and was translated into 19 languages. It was followed by The Lost Daughter (2006) and the loose trilogy My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012) and Those Who Leave and Those who Stay (2013). Ferrante remains incognito.

Who is your perfect reader?

Those who read for the pleasure of reading and fall in love with a text regardless of who is the author.

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