The Observer

Elena Ferrante: ‘I believe that books, once written, have no need of their authors’

1950s Italy

The first novel written under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante was published in 1992. By 2014 the name was celebrated internationally as that of a mysterious author of a highly praised series of Neapolitan novels. The writer made global headlines last month when her closely guarded anonymity was apparently unmasked by Italian journalist Claudi Gatti in the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. This is an extract from her latest book, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey, a selection of her letters, interviews and reflections, which is published this week by Europa Editions.

Letter of 21 September 1991. Sandra Ozzola and Sandro Ferri are Elena Ferrante’s publishers and founders of Edizioni E/O and Europa Editions. Her first novel, Troubling Love, was published the following year.

Dear Sandra,
During the meeting I had recently with you and your husband, which was very enjoyable, you asked me what I intend to do for the promotion of Troubling Love(it’s good that you’re getting me used to calling the book by its final title). You asked the question ironically, with one of your bemused expressions. There and then, I didn’t have the courage to answer you: I thought I had already been clear with Sandro; he had said that he absolutely agreed with my decision, and I hoped that he wouldn’t return to the subject, even jokingly. Now I’m answering in writing, which eliminates awkward pauses, hesitations, any possibility of compliance.

I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad. I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum. I am absolutely committed in this sense to myself and my family. I hope not to be forced to change my mind. I understand that this may cause some difficulties at the publishing house. I have great respect for your work, I liked you both immediately, and I don’t want to cause trouble. If you no longer mean to support me, tell me right away, I’ll understand. It’s not at all necessary for me to publish this book. To explain all the reasons for my decision is, as you know, hard for me. I will only tell you that it’s a small wager with myself, with my convictions. 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. There are plenty of examples. I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of night-time miracle, like the gifts of the Befana [the Befana is an old woman who brings gifts to good children – somewhat in the manner of Santa Claus – on the eve of Epiphany, 6 January], which I waited for as a child. I went to bed in great excitement and in the morning I woke up and the gifts were there, but no one had seen the Befana. True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known; they are the very small miracles of the secret spirits of the home or the great miracles that leave us truly astonished. I still have this childish wish for marvels, large or small, I still believe in them.

Therefore, dear Sandra, I will say to you clearly: if Troubling Love does not have, in itself, thread enough to weave, well, it means that you and I were mistaken; if, on the other hand, it does, the thread will be woven where it can be, and we will have only to thank the readers for their patience in taking it by the end and pulling.

Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the publishing house’s least expensive author. I’ll spare you even my presence.
Warmly, Elena

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