Elena Ferrante

The success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels has sparked worldwide buzz in and out of academia, in literary journals, and in book clubs. Ferrante is the author of seven novels, a collection of papers related to her work as a writer, and a children’s book, The Beach at Night.... ... more

The success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels has sparked worldwide buzz in and out of academia, in literary journals, and in book clubs. Ferrante is the author of seven novels, a collection of papers related to her work as a writer, and a children’s book, The Beach at Night.1 When it comes to Ferrante, we may feel, indeed, stranded on a beach, at night, left there to collect the tokens of her presence and whereabouts in this world. The tokens are words and in them we find the lucid exactness of worlds inhabited by characters who are as vivid and real as she is elusive. They deal with what the author has called frantumaglia, a term she borrows from her mother and her Neapolitan dialect (frantummàglia), which she describes as "un malessere non altrimenti definibile che rimandava ad una folla di cose eterogenee nella testa, detriti su un’acqua limacciosa del cervello" ("a malaise that could not be defined otherwise and that hinted at a crowded, heterogeneous mix of things in her head, like rubbles floating on a brain’s muddy waters" [La frantumaglia; 94]). Ferrante’s compelling narrative dives into such muddy waters and surfaces from them with the strength of truth, where truth does not mean moral clarity, but stems from the unmistakable verity of naked human emotions. The origin of the word frantumaglia is very material; it refers, in fact, to a pile of fragments from broken objects that cannot be pieced together again.

This Colloquy seeks to bring together in one ongoing conversation, from a variety of intellectual perspectives, the voices of the international discourse about Elena Ferrante’s novels and the significance of her work in the contemporary literary landscape.

As for who she might be, in light of the quite disturbing invasion of privacy that Anita Raja has undergone, and considering the fact that in both La frantumaglia and several other interviews Ferrante gives us enough detail about what of her life experience gets into her novels, I repeat here what I have previously noted in an article for Storie: who cares? But if we do, why do we? This Colloquy would welcome any contribution that convincingly argues why the author’s biographic data would cast more light on her fiction, or why knowing her name would be at all important, and for whom. In the meantime, I propose again Ferrante’s response to a reader who sought to know her identity: "La personalità di chi scrive storie è tutta nella virtualità dei suoi libri. Guardi li dentro e ci troverà gli occhi, il sesso, lo stile di vita, la classe sociale e la voce dell’es" ("The personality of those who write stories is contained entirely in the virtual worlds of their books. Look in there and you will find their eyes, sex, life style, social class, and the voice of their Id" [La frantumaglia199]).


  • 1. Elena Ferrante’s works, all translated by Ann Goldstein, are: L'amore molesto (1992; Troubling Love, 2006); I giorni dell'abbandono (2002; The Days of Abandonment, 2005); La frantumaglia (2003; Frantumaglia. A Writer’s Journey, November 2016); La figlia oscura (2006; The Lost Daughter, 2008); La spiaggia di notte (2007; The Beach at Night, November 2016); L'amica geniale (2011; My Brilliant Friend, 2012); Storia del nuovo cognome (2012; The Story of a New Name, 2013); Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta (2013; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, 2014); Storia della bambina perduta (2014; The Story of the Lost Child, 2015).
Barbara Alfano's picture
Curator Barbara Alfano

A native of Naples, Italy, Barbara Alfano is a member of the faculty at Bennington College

A native of Naples, Italy, Barbara Alfano is a member of the faculty at Bennington College in Vermont, where she teaches Italian literature, language, and culture. She moved to the USA in 1999 to pursue a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, which she earned at Penn State in 2004. She specializes in contemporary Italian narrative, with a focus on representations of America, issues of identity and the individual, love, and women’s writing. She is the writer of The Mirage of America in Contemporary Italian Literature and Film (University of Toronto Press, 2013). Her essays have appeared in Italica, Forum Italicum, Variaciones Borges, and Humanities. In 2009, she published her first collection of short stories in Italian, Mi chiedevo (Manni Editori).

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The Honest Truth: Ferrante's Frantumaglia

by Barbara AlfanoEssay
Despite our horror, there is something undeniably positive that Claudio Gatti’s revelation accomplishes for readers and scholars of Ferrante: in spite of its intent, it confirms the absolute truth of Ferrante’s La frantumaglia as a programmatic work, completely coherent with the writer’s thought on authorship. more

Lettura, scrittura e autoriflessione nel ciclo de L'amica geniale di Elena Ferrante

by Olivia SantovettiJournal Article
73 (2016)
The article explores the theme of reading and writing in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet. The fictional character of Elena, the writer, will be analysed in its relationship with Lila, the non-writer. In the symbiotic relationship between the two friends, reading and writing appear as something more complex than simply a way of redeeming themselves from their oppressive reality (in Italian... more

Elena Ferrante's Run-ons

by Christopher WarleyEssay
Ferrante's run-on sentences are the mechanism for producing a distinctive reality effect. They deny, at the micro-level, any logical cohesion or narrative arc or life story, even as they are part of a retrospective narration whose end is never really in doubt. more

Fabricating Stories

by Victor Xavier Zarour ZarzarEssay
"While L'amore molesto does not reveal what love itself is, it certainly makes it clear that the act of loving and being loved is a viscous affair. One we cannot escape from, as it adheres to the self as skin does to flesh. We can only, this novel suggests, try to understand it, or rather, mold it and reimagine it in an effort to make it coherent—palatable." more

Metamorfosi del tempo. Il ciclo dell'Amica geniale

by Tiziana De RogatisJournal Article
73 (2016)
Mi chiedo come mai questa favola aspra e scomoda che è L’amica geniale sia stata condivisa o anche solo intuita da così tante lettrici e lettori, al punto da fare di questa quadrilogia uno dei testi più apprezzati dell’attuale World Literature. Forse perché abbiamo tutti bisogno oggi di una narrazione che ci mostri dall’interno il nucleo oscuro della nostra contemporaneità.... more

Chi ha paura di Elena Ferrante?

by Tiziana De RogatisJournal Article
73 (2016)
Who's afraid of Elena Ferrante? De Rogatis considers the controversial status of Elena Ferrante's work within the world of Italian criticism (in Italian).  more

Tabloid Footprints Everywhere

by Christiane SwensonEssay
"When we treat a short story like a personal essay, we end up projecting our own ideals onto the characters. Instead of viewing fiction as an opportunity to enrich our view of the world, or as a way to explore emotional and philosophical themes—in the way that a painting, for example, explores color—we’re asking it for lessons on how to live. When we cannot even understand that a... more

The Metamorphosis of Time

by Tiziana De RogatisJournal Article
The novels of the Neapolitan Quartet, starting with My Brilliant Friend, follow the lives of friends Lila and Elena from their childhood in a poor suburb of Naples to maturity, from 1950 when they are six to 2010.  Friendship, a part of women’s lives which is fundamental and yet little developed in literature so far, emerges dramatically in this story as practice of difference... more