Neapolitan professor issues denial as mystery of the award-winning author only deepens
By Rob Crilly, New York
With every new novel and every literary prize, the mystery only deepens.
Just who is Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous author whose four Neapolitan novels have won international acclaim?
An Italian historian is the latest to claim to have solved the literary parlour game.
Marco Santagata, a writer and Dante expert, said in Corriere della Sera’s literary insert on Sunday that careful study of the novels had led him to conclude the author was really Marcella Marmo, a Neapolitan professor who studied in Pisa.
He pored over details in The Story of a New Name, Ferrante’s second novel which was set in Pisa during the 1960s.
One of its protagonists studied at the prestigious Scuola Normale.
And the book uses a number of street names which changed in 1968 leading Mr Santagata to conclude the author may have left the city then.
After scouring old Scuola Normale year books, he realised that Professor Marmo was the only Neapolitan to have studied there during the correct period.
“I did philological work, as if I were studying the attribution of an ancient text, even though it’s a modern text,” Mr Santagata told The New York Times.
Interest in the identity of Ferrante could not be greater. The final title in the Neapolitan quartet, The Story of The Lost Child, is a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
His conclusion set the Italian literary world abuzz when the theory was published on Sunday morning.
Just one problem: Prof Marmo rapidly denied being the mysterious author.
“I thank all those who thought I was a happy best-seller writer, but as I tried to say in recent days, I am not Elena Ferrante,” she said in a statement carried by the ANSA news agency.
Of course, the real Elena Ferrante is unlikely to give up his or her identity without a fight.
In a letter to her editor in 1991, she patiently explained that who would not be doing any publicity for her first novel.
“If the book is worth something, it should be enough,” she wrote. “I will not participate in debates and conferences, if I am invited. I will not go to accept prizes, if I am given any. I will never promote the book, above all on television, in Italy or, should the need arise, abroad.”
All of which means the literary sleuthing will have to continue.