Neapolitan Novels

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The Neapolitan Novels are a 4-part series by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions (New York). It includes the following novels: 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). The series has been characterized as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story.[1] In an interview for the Harper's Magazine, Elena Ferrante stated that she considers the four books to be "a single novel", published serially for reasons of length and duration.[2] The series has sold over 10 million copies in 40 countries.[3]

The series follows the lives of two perceptive and intelligent girls, Elena (sometimes called “Lenù”) Greco and Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo, from childhood to adulthood and old age, as they try to create lives for themselves amidst the violent and stultifying culture of their home – a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy.[4] The novels are narrated by Elena Greco.

The series was adapted into a play by April De Angelis that opened at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in March 2017.[5] The first book in the series has also been adapted into an HBO television series entitled My Brilliant Friend.

Synopsis[edit]

My Brilliant Friend[edit]

The Neapolitan Novels begin in 2010 when the son of an old friend telephones the main character, a woman in her 60s named Elena (familiarly called “Lenù”). Elena's childhood friend Lila has disappeared, and her son is unable to find her. Elena recognizes this behavior as something Lila, in her later years, has always talked about doing, and believes her disappearance to be a conscious decision. In the spirit of their loving but ambivalent ways towards each other, Elena begins to put on paper everything she can remember about Lila, beginning in 1950s Naples.

Elena and Lila grow up in a poor neighborhood full of violence and strife, where Lila alone realizes that an innocent man has been framed for murder by local gangsters, the Solara family. No one expects the girls to be educated beyond elementary school. Elena is diligent and captures the attention of Maestra Oliviero, one of her primary school teachers, a spinster who encourages her to escape the life of the impoverished plebeian class. To everyone's surprise, the very rebellious Lila turns out to be a prodigy who has taught herself to read and write. She quickly earns the highest grades in the class, seemingly without effort. Elena is both fascinated and intimidated by Lila, especially after Lila writes a story which Elena feels shows real genius. She begins to push herself to keep up with Lila and ignores her teacher's warning not to associate with "plebs." Once, when Lila throws Elena's doll into the basement chute of the local loan shark, Elena does the same to Lila's doll, as proof that she can be as bold as her friend. When Lila fearlessly goes to the loan shark to ask for the return of the dolls, Elena goes with her, though they are ultimately unable to retrieve them.

The paths of the two girls diverge when Lila's parents refuse to pay for further education after elementary school. Elena's father, however, agrees to pay for Elena to continue studying, after being pressured by the concerned teacher, to the aggravation of her bitter, jealous mother. To prove her worthiness, Lila secretly takes the middle school exam, which so enrages her father that he throws her through a glass window, crashing onto the pavement below. After recovering from her injuries, Lila encourages Elena to skip school in an attempt to get Elena's parents to withdraw their support for her education. But Elena forgives Lila, knowing how hard it is for Lila to be left behind while she moves forward. Elena attends middle school and eventually high school. Lila insists that Elena, being Lila's brilliant friend, should never stop studying.

With Elena studying, Lila occupies herself with her father's shoe shop. Much to his irritation, she dreams of designing new types of shoes to make them rich. She also grows very beautiful, attracting most of the neighborhood's young men including Marcello Solara, the young son of the powerful local Camorra leader. Despite being pressured by her family to marry Marcello, Lila considers the Solaras to be fundamentally evil. To escape Marcello, she accepts Stefano Caracci, the owner of the local grocery, when he asks her to marry him. After the Caraccis sweeten the deal by agreeing to finance Lila's shoe project, her family agree to the marriage. Lila and Stefano marry when she is sixteen. At the wedding, Elena, who has been dating Antonio Capuccio, a car mechanic, is repelled by the boisterous behavior of the "plebs." Stefano breaks two promises to Lila, by inviting the Solara brothers to their wedding reception and by selling them the shoes Lila and her brother handcrafted, and that Stefano told her he would treasure forever. Lila considers the marriage over as soon as it begins.

The Story of a New Name[edit]

No longer feeling anything for Stefano, Lila is cold to him during their marriage. Stefano rapes her on their honeymoon, causing a further rift. The Solaras gradually take over the increasingly lucrative shoe project and Lila, despite rebelling, is forced to help them with the shoe shop.

As Lila in different ways continues to rebel, both her family and her in-laws worry about her not having become pregnant yet. Her doctor blames it on stress and prescribes a vacation. Lila, desperate to not be alone with her mother and sister-in-law, talks Elena into coming with her. Elena, who is meanwhile still doing very well in school and has fallen in love with a haughty older boy called Nino Sarratore, agrees on the condition that they go to a particular beach resort, knowing Nino will be there. Elena is naively unaware of Nino's lack of interest in her and of his jealousy of her writing talent. Soon Elena and Lila are increasingly spending their days with Nino. Surprisingly, it is Lila and Nino who fall in love with each other and begin an affair, even using Elena as their common confidante. Feeling dejected, Elena gives in to the advances of Donato Sarratore, Nino's father, who takes her virginity.

As the vacation comes to an end, Lila finally becomes pregnant and she and Nino plan to live together. However, their affair is brief, as Nino comes to resent Lila's intellect and abruptly leaves her. Lila eventually returns to her husband Stefano. After giving birth to a son, she becomes obsessed with the idea that early childhood education is the most important and tries her best to teach her son to read and write. After discovering that Stefano is having an affair with Ada Cappuccio, Lila finally decides to leave him for good. She escapes to a smaller, more run-down neighborhood with Enzo, a childhood friend who is in love with her and has promised to protect her.

Elena graduates from high school with no concrete plans. After hearing about a free university in Pisa, she passes their exams and is able to get a university education. Elena has a difficult time there, because of her obvious poverty and the fact that she is sexually active. Eventually, she meets Pietro Airota, who is an awkward, dry, but kind and proper intellectual from an important family. The two become friends and upon graduation, he proposes to Elena, who accepts. Before graduation, Elena writes a small story based on her life which contains a fictionalized account of the night she lost her virginity to Donato Sarratore. Elena gives it to Pietro as a present. He, in turn, gives it to his mother, Adele, who passes it along to a publishing house, which immediately accepts it. The book leads to financial success and critical acclaim for Elena. To her disappointment, no one from the neighborhood mentions the book except to comment on the sexual passages, and not even Lila shows any interest in it.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay[edit]

Before her wedding, Elena sees Lila briefly and learns that she has been working in a sausage factory where she is constantly brutalized and sexually harassed. She has also fallen in love with Enzo, with the two of them studying computer programming together, but she refuses to let their relationship turn sexual as she does not want to become pregnant again. After Elena helps her obtain the pill, Lila does consummate her relationship with Enzo. Meanwhile, Elena, who did not want to have children until after writing a second book, becomes pregnant right away. A few years go by, and Elena does manage to write another book before the birth of her second daughter, but after Lila and Adele tell her it is no good, she decides to abandon the project and devote herself to being a wife and mother.

Elena runs into Nino again, after her husband Pietro brings him home. She discovers she is still attracted to him, despite the fact that he abandoned her friend after their love affair. Inspired by his attention, she writes a feminist text which Adele deems worthy of publication. She and Nino also start an affair, which makes Elena realize she is unhappy in her marriage and determines her to leave Pietro.

Elena shares her plans with Lila, who is horrified. Although Lila now realizes that her son, who she believed was Nino's, is actually biologically Stefano's, she still harbours resentment towards Nino and views him as an empty, wasteful person. Lila's fortunes are on the rise: she and Enzo now work successfully as computer programmers. Lila is tempted to work for Michele Solara, who remains so obsessed with her, that he is willing to pay her an exorbitant amount of money. Elena also learns that her younger sister is sleeping with Marcello Solara.

The Story of the Lost Child[edit]

After several months of strife, Elena finally succeeds in leaving Pietro. However, she learns from Lila that despite promises that he had also left his wife, Nino has done no such thing. Despite an initial attempt to break up with him, Elena eventually decides to accept Nino the way he is and moves with her daughters to Naples so she can be closer to him. She becomes pregnant with Nino's child at the same time Lila conceives a daughter with Enzo. They give birth to daughters one month apart. Lila names her child Tina, the same name as Elena's long-lost doll, while Elena names her daughter Imma, after her mother, who dies of cancer shortly after her granddaughter's birth. Overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising three daughters, Elena finds herself in financial difficulties despite help from Pietro and Nino. One day she discovers Nino having sex with her housekeeper, and then learns from Lila that he has continued to have multiple affairs with many women, both before and during their time together, even propositioning Lila. Disgusted with Nino, Elena finally finds the strength to break up with him for good.

In the midst of this turmoil, Elena tries to finish a third book she has been contractually obligated to write, but having no time she simply sends her publisher the book she wrote when she was pregnant with her middle child, a thinly veiled account of her childhood, expecting it to be rejected. The publisher is instead hugely supportive, considering it a great work.

Encouraged by her publisher, Elena and her children move into an apartment just above her old friend Lila. She realizes that the neighbourhood has severely changed from when she grew up. Many people, including Elena's own brothers, are now involved in the selling and using of drugs for the Solaras, while Lila is considered a saviour in the neighbourhood, the only one who can stand up to the Solaras and who employs people in her computer business, helping to take them away from drugs.

The success of Elena's book causes trouble for the Solaras, when a newspaper article reveals it contains fictionalized accounts of their illegal dealings. The Solaras bring a lawsuit against Elena through Carmen Peluso, her childhood schoolmate, and their stranglehold on the neighbourhood seems more vicious than ever. After Michele hurts Lila, Lila gives all the proof of their illegal dealings to Elena and together they write a piece documenting the crimes of the Solaras. Elena realizes this will do nothing to stop them, but Lila has it published anyway, only to become bitterly disillusioned when all it does is grant Elena more fame.

Shortly after, Elena asks Nino to reappear and be part of their daughter's life. During an outing with all the children, Tina mysteriously disappears. Enzo believes that the Solaras kidnapped and/or killed her, while Lila maintains that their daughter is still alive and might one day come back to them.

Elena and Lila continue to be increasingly alienated from each other as Lila despairs about her lost daughter. Elena, by then an even more famous writer, moves out of their childhood neighborhood for the last time. Lila becomes obsessed with the history of Naples and the cyclical nature of human life. Recognizing the seeming insignificance of it all, it somehow makes sense for her that it should be desirable to disappear without a trace, though this will be difficult in the new computer age. Decades pass, though they stay in touch, until Elena finally writes a small novel about their friendship. At that point, Lila shuts Elena out of her life. Later, catching up to the start of the book, Lila is still yet to be found with no new traces of her. One day Elena receives in the mail the two dolls that they lost when they were children. The meaning of this is ambiguous.

Themes[edit]

Central themes in the novels include women’s friendship and the shaping of women’s lives by their social milieu, sexual and intellectual jealousy and competition within female friendships, female ambivalence about filial and maternal roles, the ascent of intelligent children out of violent domestic and social environments, class conflict, the role of literature and the social responsibility of the writer amidst social upheaval and within protest movements, the changing conditions of women in the 1970s, early computerization, and the Italian factory strikes of the 1970s.[6][7]

Awards[edit]

  • My Brilliant Friend: Longlist of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.[8]
  • The Story of the Lost Child: nominated for the Strega Prize, an Italian literary award.

Characters[edit]

Greco family[edit]

  • Elena (“Lenù”) Greco (as an adult becomes a successful author)
    • two daughters by husband Pietro Airota
    • one daughter by later affair with Nino Sarratore
  • Vittorio Greco (Elena's father, doorman at the city hall)
  • Immacolata Greco (Elena's mother, housewife)
  • Peppe, Gianni, and Elisa Greco (Elena's younger siblings)

Cerullo family[edit]

  • Raffaella (“Lila” or “Lina”) Cerullo (as an adult runs a successful computer business)
    • one son by first husband Stefano Caracci (not by Nino Sarratore, as she first thought)
    • one daughter by second husband Enzo Scanno
  • Fernando Cerullo (Lila's father, works in a shoe shop)
  • Nunzia Cerullo (Lila's mother, housewife)
  • Rino Cerullo (Lila's older brother, five to seven years older than Lila, works at the family's shoe shop)
  • several unnamed younger siblings of Rino and Lila

Sarratore family[edit]

  • Donato Sarratore (train ticket inspector and wannabe poet)
  • Lidia Sarratore (Donato's wife, housewife)
  • Nino Sarratore (their eldest son, two years older than Lila and Elena, as an adult becomes a politician)
  • Marisa Sarratore (Nino's sister, of an age with Lila and Elena)
  • Pino, Clelia, and Ciro Sarratore (younger children)

Caracci family[edit]

  • Don Achille Caracci (owns and works in a grocery shop, former loan shark and black market agent)
  • Maria Caracci (his wife, works at the family's grocery shop)
  • Stefano Caracci (their eldest son, five to seven years older than Lila and Elena, works at the family's grocery shop)
  • Pinuccia Caracci (Stefano's younger sister)
  • Alfonso Caracci (Stefano and Pinuccia's younger brother, of an age with Lila and Elena)

Solara family[edit]

(the neighborhood's mafia, they own a bar as well as several other businesses, legal or not)

  • Silvio Solara
  • Manuela Solara (his wife, known as a loan shark)
  • Marcello Solara
  • Michele Solara

Spagnuolo family[edit]

  • Gigliola Spagnuolo (of an age with Lila and Elena)
  • Her father (pastry chef)
  • Her mother (housewife)
  • Gigliola's younger brother

Peluso family[edit]

  • Pasquale Peluso (construction worker)
  • Carmela (“Carmen”) Peluso (his younger sister, of an age with Lila and Elena)
  • Their father (carpenter)
  • Their mother (housewife)

Scanno family[edit]

  • Nicola Scanno (fruit and vegetables seller)
  • Assunta Scanno (his wife, fruit and vegetable seller)
  • Enzo Scanno (their eldest son, as an adult runs a successful computer business with Lila)
  • younger children

Cappuccio family[edit]

  • The late father Cappuccio
  • Melina Cappuccio (the mad woman, in love with Donato Sarratore, cleans the neighborhood's buildings' staircases)
  • Antonio Cappuccio (their son, works in a garage)
  • Ada Cappuccio (Antonio's sister, helps her mother clean staircases, later works at the Caracci grocery shop)
  • younger children

Airota family[edit]

  • Guido Airota (Greek literature professor)
  • Adele Airota (his wife, literary critic)
  • Mariarosa Airota (their daughter, history of art professor in Milan)
  • Pietro Airota (their son, of an age with Elena, also a professor)

Adaptations[edit]

My Brilliant Friend, a two-part, five-and-a-half-hour stage adaptation of the Neapolitan Novels, opened at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in March 2017.[5] The play was adapted by April De Angelis, directed by Melly Still, and starred Niamh Cusack as Lenu and Catherine McCormack as Lila.[9]

A 32-part television series The Neapolitan Novels is also in the works and will be co-produced by the Italian producer Wildside for Fandango Productions, with screenwriting led by the writer Francesco Piccolo.[10] On March 30, 2017, it was announced that HBO and RAI would broadcast the first eight episodes which are an adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the four Neapolitan Novels,[11] and they premiered on HBO on November 18, 2018.[12]

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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.[13]
  • 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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ahmed, Fatema (April 28, 2015). "Taking off the mask: Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels". The New Humanist. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
  2. ^ Jenny Turner, "The Secret Sharer. Elena Ferrante's existential fiction", Harper's Magazine, October 2014.
  3. ^ https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/elena-ferrante-interview-my-brilliant-friend-hbo-show-women-artists-1152626
  4. ^ Wood, James (January 21, 2013). "Women on the Verge" The fiction of Elena Ferrante". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Vincent, Alice (October 3, 2016). "First stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novels announced in wake of identity scandal". The Telegraph.
  6. ^ O'Rourke, Meghan (October 31, 2014). "Elena Ferrante: the global literary sensation nobody knows". The Guardian. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
  7. ^ Fischer, Molly (September 4, 2014). "Elena Ferrante and the Force of Female Friendships". The New Yorker.
  8. ^ "My Brilliant Friend". International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Archived from the original on 2015-07-22.
  9. ^ Billington, Michael (March 14, 2017). "My Brilliant Friend review – triumphant staging of Elena Ferrante's quartet". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Moylan, Brian (February 9, 2016). "Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels set for TV adaptation". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (March 30, 2017). "HBO, Rai to Adapt Elena Ferrante's 'My Brilliant Friend' as Drama Series". Variety.
  12. ^ Roxborough, Scott (September 3, 2018). "HBO's Big Italian Bet With 'My Brilliant Friend'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  13. ^ Luzzi, Joseph (September 27, 2013). "It Started in Naples: Elena Ferrante's 'Story of a New Name'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 20, 2015.

External links[edit]