Little Atoms

Elena Ferrante versus Italy

By Cristina Marconi

How the novelist’s global success has rattled Italy’s stale, male establishment

A call for submissions for The Works of Elena Ferrante: History, Poetics and Theory, a volume edited by American academics, expired a couple of weeks ago. The New Yorker has just written its umpteenth article on the Neapolitan novelist, calling her “a genius” and a “titanic novelist”.

Meanwhile in Italy the elusive writer has been dragged into the mire by part of the Italian literary establishment unable to cope with a woman whose impressive success at home and abroad is not matched by any desire to be in the limelight.

Elena Ferrante’s ability to speak to a wide public all over the world is unparalleled in Italian history. When her name was put up for the shortlist for the prestigious Premio Strega award, someone suggested she should first reveal her real identity, notwithstanding the fact that she had already been an (anonymous) contender for the prize back in 1992 with her debut novel Troubling Love. Then a wolf pack of male intellectuals took pleasure in diminishing her literary qualities, comparing her to lightweight pop romance novelists and relying on a staggeringly misogynist narrative which would sound completely misplaced anywhere else.

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