Elena Ferrante

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Elena Ferrante
GenreLiterary fiction
Years active1992–present
Notable worksThe Days of Abandonment, Neapolitan Novels

Elena Ferrante (Italian pronunciation: [ˌɛːlena ferˈrante]) is a pseudonymous Italian novelist. Ferrante's books, originally published in Italian, have been translated into many languages. Her four-book series of Neapolitan Novels are her most widely known works.[1][2]

Time magazine called Ferrante one of the 100 most influential people in 2016.[3]


Not many facts are known about Elena Ferrante's biography, due to the author's anonymity. She has claimed in interviews that she was born in Naples, the daughter of a seamstress, and that she has three sisters. Her knowledge of classical literature has also led critics to claim that she must have studied literature.[4]


Early novels and Frantumaglia[edit]

The first appearance of her work in English was the publication of a short story, "Delia's Elevator". translated by Adria Frizzi in the anthology After the War (2004).[5] It narrates the movements of the title character on the day of her mother's burial, particularly her return to her safe retreat in the old elevator in the apartment building where she grew up.

The story was later expanded into Ferrante's first novel, Troubling Love (in the original version, L'Amore Molesto), originally published in 1992. The novel follows protagonist Delia when she returns home following the mysterious death of her mother, a poor seamstress, who had been found drowned on an Italian beach, wearing nothing but a luxury bra. The novel was a critical success, and won the prestigious Premio Procida-Isola di Arturo Elsa Morante.[6]

In 2002, Ferrante published her second novel, The Days of Abandonment (in the original version, I Giorni dell'Abbandono). The novel tells the story of protagonist Olga, whose life unravels when her husband of 15 years abruptly tells her he is leaving her for a younger woman. Olga becomes haunted by the visions of abandoned women she saw as a child. The novel was also a huge success with Italian and international critics.[7] Critic Janet Maslin, writing for The New York Times has said: "Both the novel's emotional and carnal candor are potent. Once Olga begins seeing herself as, in Simone de Beauvoir's words, a woman destroyed, she begins a downward spiral that includes hallucination, terror of poison and grim sexual self-abasement with her aging neighbor."[8]

In 2003, Ferrante published her first non-fiction book, La Frantumaglia, which was translated into English, as Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey, in 2016. The book is a collection of essays and interviews, and it was republished several times to include content on her following novels.

In 2006, Ferrante published her third novel, The Lost Daughter (in the original version, La Figlia Oscura). The novel follows Leda, a woman who is spending her vacations on an Italian beach, and becomes obsessed with a nearby Italian family, especially with a woman and her young daughter. That makes her think of her own time as a young mother, and the existential despair that led her to leave her family for two years. The book was later adapted as a film for Netflix in the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhall.

In 2007, she also published her first children's novel, La spiaggia di notte (translated into English by Ann Goldstein, as The Beach at Night, in 2016). The book tells the story of a doll who is forgotten on the beach at night.

The Neapolitan Novels[edit]

The Neapolitan Novels is a set of four novels published between 2011 and 2015. They tell the life story of two perceptive and intelligent girls, Lila and Lenu, born in Naples in 1944, who try to create lives for themselves within a violent and stultifying culture. The series consists of My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015), which was nominated for the Strega Prize, the most prestigious Italian literary award,[9] as well as the International Booker Prize.

The fourth book of Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, The Story of the Lost Child, appeared on The New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2015.[10] In 2019, The Guardian ranked My Brilliant Friend the 11th best book since 2000.[11] The overall series was also listed in Vulture as one of the 12 "New Classics" since 2000.[12]

Elissa Schappel, writing for Vanity Fair, reviewed the last book of the Quartet as "This is Ferrante at the height of her brilliance."[13] Roger Cohen wrote for the New York Review of Books: "The interacting qualities of the two women are central to the quartet, which is at once introspective and sweeping, personal and political, covering the more than six decades of the two women's lives and the way those lives intersect with Italy's upheavals, from the revolutionary violence of the leftist Red Brigades to radical feminism."[14]

In The Guardian, it was noted the growing popularity of Ferrante, especially among writers: "Partly because her work describes domestic experiences – such as vivid sexual jealousy and other forms of shame – that are underexplored in fiction, Ferrante's reputation is soaring, especially among women (Zadie Smith, Mona Simpson and Jhumpa Lahiri are fans)".[15]

Darrin Franich has called the novels the series of the decade, saying: "The Neapolitan Novels are the series of the decade because they are so clearly of this decade: conflicted, revisionist, desperate, hopeful, revolutionary, euphorically feminine even in the face of assaultive male corrosion."[16]

Judith Shulevitz in The Atlantic, praised particularly how the books circle back to its start, to Lila and Lenu's childhood games, in the final installment.[17] Maureen Corregan has also praised the ending of the novels, caling it "Perfect Devastation".[18]

Later work[edit]

Her first novel after finishing the quartet, The Lying Life of Adults, was translated into English by Ann Goldstein and played with the stereotypical teenage-girl-coming-of-age structure.[19]

In 2019, Ferrante also published a book that collected her columns in the English newspaper The Guardian, entitled Incidental Inventions. The book was also published in Italian as L'invenzione occasionale. In 2022, she published In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing (in the original version I margini e il dettato), based on a series of lectures she wrote for the 2021 Umberto Eco lecture series, sponsored by the University of Bologna. The text was read by the Italian actress Manuela Mandracchia in the Arena del Sole [it], in Bologna, from 17 to 19 November, and streamed live.[20]


Despite being recognized as a novelist on an international scale,[21] Ferrante has kept her identity secret since the 1992 publication of her first novel.[22] Speculation as to her true identity has been rife, and several theories, based on information Ferrante has given in interviews as well as analysis drawn from the content of her novels, have been put forth.

Ferrante holds that "books, once they are written, have no need of their authors."[4] She has repeatedly argued that anonymity is a precondition for her work[23] and that keeping her true name out of the spotlight is key to her writing process.[24] According to Ferrante,


Once I knew that the completed book would make its way in the world without me, once I knew that nothing of the concrete, physical me would ever appear beside the volume—as if the book were a little dog and I were its master—it made me see something new about writing. I felt as though I had released the words from myself.[22]

In 2003, Ferrante published Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey, a volume of letters, essays, reflections and interviews, which sheds some light on her background. It was the first scholarly monograph on Elena Ferrante, a detailed (self-)study of her poetics drawing on Western literary and philosophical texts while also constructing its own theoretical framework.[15] The 2003 original edition was followed by two expanded versions, in 2007 and in 2015. The 2015 volume was the first one to be published in English in 2016.[15] In a 2013 article for The New Yorker, critic James Wood summarized what is generally accepted about Ferrante, based in part on letters collected in that volume:

a number of her letters have been collected and published. From them, we learn that she grew up in Naples, and has lived for periods outside Italy. She has a classics degree; she has referred to being a mother. One could also infer from her fiction and from her interviews that she is not now married ... In addition to writing, "I study, I translate, I teach."[4]

In March 2016, Marco Santagata, an Italian novelist and philologist, a scholar of Petrarch and Dante, and a professor at the University of Pisa,[26] published a paper detailing his theory of Ferrante's identity. Santagata's paper drew on philological analysis of Ferrante's writing, close study of the details about the cityscape of Pisa described in the novel, and the fact that the author reveals an expert knowledge of modern Italian politics. Based on this information, he concluded that the author had lived in Pisa but left by 1966, and therefore identified the probable author as Neapolitan professor Marcella Marmo, who studied in Pisa from 1964 to 1966. Both Marmo and the publisher deny Santagata's identification.[1]

In October 2016, investigative reporter Claudio Gatti published an article jointly in Il Sole 24 Ore and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that relied on financial records related to real estate transactions and royalties payments to draw the conclusion that Anita Raja, a Rome-based translator, is the real author behind the Ferrante pseudonym.[27] Gatti's article was criticized by many in the literary world as a violation of privacy,[23][28][29] though Gatti contends that "by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed, she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity."[23] The writer Jeanette Winterson, in a Guardian article, denounced Gatti's investigations as malicious and sexist, saying "At the bottom of this so-called investigation into Ferrante's identity is an obsessional outrage at the success of a writer – female – who decided to write, publish and promote her books on her own terms."[30] Others have compared the unwanted publishing of her personal information to doxxing,[31] and to a violation of privacy,[32] something heightened by the violent language used by Gatti, who said she wanted it to happen.[33] Others responding to Gatti's article suggested that knowledge of Ferrante's biography is indeed relevant.[34][35] Sarah Setzer in an article in Jezebel, blamed the way we eclypse women's artist brilliance with scandal.[36]

In December 2016, the controversial Italian prankster[37] Tommaso Debenedetti published on the website of the Spanish daily El Mundo a purported interview with Raja confirming she was Elena Ferrante.[38] This was quickly denied by Ferrante's publisher, who called the interview a fake.[39]

In September 2017, a team of scholars, computer scientists, philologists and linguists at the University of Padua analyzed 150 novels written in Italian by 40 different authors, including seven books by Elena Ferrante, but none by Raja. Based on analysis using several authorship attribution models, they concluded that Anita Raja's husband, author and journalist Domenico Starnone, is the probable author of the Ferrante novels.[40] Raja has worked for E/O Publishing as copy editor and has been editing Starnone's books for years.

Ferrante has repeatedly dismissed suggestions that she is actually a man, telling Vanity Fair in 2015 that questions about her gender are rooted in a presumed "weakness" of female writers.[41]


  • L'amore molesto (1992; English translation: Troubling Love, 2006);
  • I giorni dell'abbandono (2002; English translation: The Days of Abandonment, 2005)
  • La Frantumaglia: Carte 1991-2003. The book was later republished in extended versions:
    • Ferrante, Elena. La Frantumaglia: Carte 1991-2003: Tessere 2003-2007. E/O, 2007.
    • Ferrante, Elena. La Frantumaglia: Carte 1991-2003: Tessere 2003-2007: Lettere 2011-2016. E/O, 2015. (2003; English translation Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey, 2016)
  • La figlia oscura (2006; English translation: The lost daughter, 2008)
  • La spiaggia di notte (2007; English translation: The Beach at Night, 2016)
  • The Neapolitan novels:
    • L'amica geniale (2011; English translation: My Brilliant Friend, 2012). OCLC 778419313.
    • Storia del nuovo cognome, L'amica geniale volume 2 (2012; English translation: The Story of a New Name, 2013). OCLC 829451619.
    • Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta, L'amica geniale volume 3 (2013; English translation: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, 2014). OCLC 870919836.
    • Storia della bambina perduta, L'amica geniale volume 4 (2014; English translation: The Story of the Lost Child, 2015). OCLC 910239891.
  • L'invenzione occasionale (2019; English translation: Incidental Inventions, 2019). OCLC 1102387847.
  • La vita bugiarda degli adulti (2019; English translation, The Lying Life of Adults, 2020). OCLC 1126993616
  • I margini e il dettato (2021); English translation, In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing, 2022).


Several of Ferrante's novels have been turned into films and series. Troubling love (L'amore molesto) became the feature film Nasty Love directed by Mario Martone, while The Days of Abandonment (I giorni dell'abbandono) became a film of the same title directed by Roberto Faenza.

The Lost Daughter, the 2021 directorial debut film of Maggie Gyllenhaal, starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley, is based on the novel of the same name.

In 2016, it was reported that a 32-part television series inspired by the Neapolitan Novels was in the works, co-produced by the Italian producer Wildside for Fandango Productions, with screenwriting led by the writer Francesco Piccolo.[42] In September 2018, the first two episodes of the renamed My Brilliant Friend, an Italian and Neapolitan-language miniseries co-produced by American premium cable network HBO and Italian networks RAI and TIMvision,[43] were aired at the Venice Film Festival.[44] HBO started airing the complete eight episode miniseries, focusing on the first book in The Neapolitan Novels, in November 2018.[43] The second series of eight episodes was aired in 2020. Season Three, also consisting of eight episodes, showed on Rai and HBO in early 2022.

On 12 May 2020, Netflix announced a drama series based on The Lying Life of Adults.[45][46] The series of the same name was released by Netflix in January 2023.[47]

Film adaptations[edit]

TV shows[edit]

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ a b Donadio, Rachel (13 March 2016). "Who Is Elena Ferrante? An Educated Guess Causes a Stir". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  2. ^ Turner, Jenny (October 2014). "The Secret Sharer. Elena Ferrante's existential fiction". Harper's Magazine.
  3. ^ Groff, Lauren. "Elena Ferrante: The World's 100 Most Influential People". TIME.com. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Wood, James (13 January 2013). "Women on the Verge: The Fiction of Elena Ferrante". The New Yorker. Retrieved 29 January 2013 – via Newyorker.com.
  5. ^ King, Martha (2004). After the War: A Collection of Short Fiction by Postwar Italian Women. New York: Italica Press. ISBN 978-0-934977-55-5.
  6. ^ "Albo vincitori – Procida Isola di Arturo Elsa Morante". 9 May 2019. Archived from the original on 9 May 2019. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  7. ^ Wood, James (13 January 2013). "Women on the verge: the fiction of Elena Ferrante". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  8. ^ Maslin, Reviewed by Janet (9 September 2005). "The Days of Abandonment". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  9. ^ Wise, Louis (21 March 2015). "Elena Ferrante: mystery creator of her Neapolitan Novels". theaustralian.com.au. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  10. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2015". The New York Times. 3 December 2015.
  11. ^ Guardian Staff (21 September 2019). "The 100 best books of the 21st century". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  12. ^ "100 Best Books of the 21st Century (So Far)". Vulture (New York Magazine). 17 September 2018. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  13. ^ Schappel, Elissa (27 August 2015). "The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  14. ^ Cohen, Roger. "The Violent World of Elena Ferrante | Roger Cohen". ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  15. ^ a b c Milkova, Stiliana (2022). Elena Ferrante as World Literature (1st ed.). New York: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 17. ISBN 9781501371912.
  16. ^ Franich, Darren (15 November 2019). "Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels are the best book series of the decade". EW.com. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  17. ^ Shulevitz, Judith (12 September 2015). "The Hypnotic Genius of Elena Ferrante". The Atlantic. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  18. ^ Corregan, Maureen (10 September 2015). "'Lost Child' Wraps Up Ferrante's Neapolitan Series With 'Perfect Devastation'". NPR. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  19. ^ "New Stories, Old Pieces: On Elena Ferrante's "The Lying Life of Adults"". Cleveland Review of Books. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  20. ^ culturale, Settore Biblioteche e Welfare (21 September 2021). "Umberto Eco Lectures". Settore Biblioteche e Welfare culturale. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  21. ^ Waldman, Adelle (15 January 2016). "The Ideal Marriage, According to Novels". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  22. ^ a b Ferri, Sandro; Ferri, Sandra (Spring 2015). "Interview: Elena Ferrante, Art of Fiction No. 228". No. 212. The Paris Review. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  23. ^ a b c Shepherd, Alex (2 October 2016). "The NYRB's argument for doxing Elena Ferrante is not very good". The New Republic. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  24. ^ Domonoske, Camila (3 October 2016). "For Literary World, Unmasking Elena Ferrante's Not A Scoop. It's A Disgrace". The Two-Way. National Public Radio. Retrieved 22 January 2021 – via NPR.org.
  25. ^ "Elena Ferrante: Journalist defends unmasking 'anonymous' author". BBC.com. 3 October 2016. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  26. ^ "Università di Pisa UniMap".
  27. ^ Gatti, Claudio (10 October 2016). "Elena Ferrante: An Answer?". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  28. ^ Staff writers (3 October 2016). "Backlash for Reporter Who 'Outs' ID of Anonymous Writer Behind Elena Ferrante". Sky News. Yahoo! Lifestyle. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  29. ^ Alexander, Lucy (5 October 2016). "Why is the exposure of Elena Ferrante causing such outrage?". BBC News Online. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  30. ^ Winterson, Jeanette (7 October 2016). "The malice and sexism behind the 'unmasking' of Elena Ferrante". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  31. ^ "Doxxing Elena Ferrante Will Get You Nowhere". Jezebel. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  32. ^ Dall'Asén, Massimiliano Jattoni (3 October 2016). "Michela Murgia "Sbagliato violare la privacy di Elena Ferrante"". iO Donna (in Italian). Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  33. ^ Orr, Deborah (3 October 2016). "The unmasking of Elena Ferrante has violated my right not to know". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  34. ^ Emre, Merve; Gutkin, Len (6 October 2016). "The Elenic Question". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  35. ^ "Bluebeard". n+1. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  36. ^ "How We Eclipse Women's Literary Brilliance With 'Scandal'". Jezebel. 7 December 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  37. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (30 June 2016). "Meet the internet's 'greatest liar' Tommaso Debenedetti, whose hoaxes have fooled millions". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  38. ^ Debenedetti, Tommaso (10 December 2016). "Anita Raja a Tommaso Debenedetti: 'Yo soy Elena Ferrante'". El Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  39. ^ Staff writers (5 October 2016). "Anita Raja conferma su Twitter: 'sono io Elena Ferrante. Ma ora lasciatemi vivere (e scrivere) in pace'. Ma dalla casa editrice smentiscono: 'tutto falso, è un fake'". LaNotizia. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  40. ^ Savoy, Jacques (September 2017). "Elena Ferrante Unmasked". Université de Neuchâtel. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  41. ^ Schappell, Elissa (27 August 2015). "The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  42. ^ Moylan, Brian (9 February 2016). "Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels set for TV adaptation". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  43. ^ a b "My Brilliant Friend Debuts Sunday, Nov. 18 on HBO". HBO. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  44. ^ D'Addario, Daniel (2 September 2018). "TV Review: 'My Brilliant Friend' on HBO". Variety. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  45. ^ "The Lying Life of Adults | Announcement | Netflix". Netflix. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  46. ^ "Netflix & Italy's Fandango to Develop Series Based on Elena Ferrante's 'The Lying Life of Adults'". 12 May 2020.
  47. ^ Nicholson, Rebecca (5 January 2023). "The Lying Life of Adults: another impeccable Elena Ferrante TV show". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  48. ^ Groff, Lauren (21 April 2016). "The 100 Most Influential People: Elena Ferrante". Time. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  49. ^ "'Anonymous' author on international Man Booker longlist". BBC News. 10 March 2016.
  50. ^ "Elena Ferrante could be the first-ever anonymous Booker winner". The Times of India.
  51. ^ "2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Results". Independent Publisher. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  52. ^ Chad W. Post (14 April 2014). "2014 Best Translated Book Awards: Fiction Finalists". Three Percent. Retrieved 18 April 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]