New Humanist

Taking off the mask: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels

In these compelling books, the Italian writer – whose real identity is hidden – combines the novel with feminist polemic.

This article is a preview from the Spring 2015 edition of New Humanist. You can find out more and subscribe here.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series (known in Italian as the Brilliant Friend novels) could be at the intersection of a publisher’s fantasy Venn diagram; they occupy the spot where Anglophone readers notice novels in translation and male critics read women seriously. This is a remarkable amount of commercial success and critical acclaim for what, on the face of it, is a female bildungsroman that begins in 1950s Naples. Three instalments of what Ferrante has said is really one novel have been published so far, with a fourth and final volume due to appear later this year. My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay are set over 60 years and run to some 1,200 pages in Ann Goldstein’s English translation. It all seems a great departure from Ferrante’s three previous novels, each of which is a slim work narrated by a woman in crisis, spanning a short period in the near present.

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