Elena Ferrante

The success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (2011-14) has sparked worldwide buzz in and out of academia, in literary journals, and in book clubs. Ferrante is the author of eight novels, a collection of papers related to her work as a writer, Frantumaglia, and a children’s book, ... ... more

The success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (2011-14) has sparked worldwide buzz in and out of academia, in literary journals, and in book clubs. Ferrante is the author of eight novels, a collection of papers related to her work as a writer, Frantumaglia, 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): "it referred to a miscellaneous crowd of things in her head, debris in a muddy water of the brain. The frantumaglia was mysterious, it provoked mysterious actions, it was the source of all suffering not traceable to a single obvious cause" (Frantumaglia, Kindle edition). Ferrante’s compelling narrative dives into terribly muddy waters and surfaces from them with the strength of truth, where truth means not moral clarity but 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 Ferrante’s novels and the significance of her work in the contemporary literary landscape.

As for who Ferrante might be, I propose again her response to a reader who sought to know her identity: "[. . .] what is better than reading in a room that is dark except for the light of a single reading lamp? Or what is better than the darkness of a theater or a cinema? The personality of a novelist exists utterly in the virtual realm of his or her books. Look there and you will find eyes, sex, lifestyle, social class, and the id" (Frantumaglia, Kindle edition).


  • 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, 2016); La figlia oscura (2006; The Lost Daughter , 2008); La spiaggia di notte (2007; The Beach at Night, 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); L'invenzione occasionale (2019; Incidental Inventions, 2019); and La vida bugiarda degli adulti (2019; The Lying Life of Adults, 2020).
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 author of The Mirage of America in Contemporary Italian Literature and Film (University of Toronto Press, 2013). In 2019, she co-edited Italian Quarterly’s special issue “Projecting Americanism Abroad; The Case of Cold War Italy.” 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). Alfano’s teaching interests focus on e-learning and pedagogy. She loves journalism, which she has practiced since 1992.

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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.  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

Pains, Pens, and Poets: Review of Elena Ferrante, In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2022)

by Carlotta Moro, Rebecca WalkerNewJournal Article
Reading in Translation
Elena Ferrante's new volume, In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing (2022), is the culmination of decades of narrative enterprise. It is comprised of four essays dedicated to Ferrante’s formation as a reader and a writer. more