Neapolitan Novels

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The Neapolitan Novels is 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 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.[3] 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.[4] The series is also being adapted into a 32-part television series titled The Neapolitan Novels.[5]

Synopsis[edit]

My Brilliant Friend[edit]

The Neapolitan Novels begin in 2010 when the son of an old friend telephones the main character, a firm woman in her 60s named Elena. Elena's childhood friend Lila has disappeared, and her son is unable to find any trace of her. Elena recognizes this as something Lila in her later years has always talked about doing, and believes her disappearance to be a conscious action. In the spirit of their spiteful 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 no one expects them to go anywhere past elementary school in terms of education. Elena is diligent and captures the attention of one of the teachers. The bigger surprise is Lila though, who despite being a very troublesome girl is a prodigy who teaches herself to read and quickly earns the highest grades in the class, seemingly without trying. Elena is both fascinated and intimidated by her peer. She begins to push herself to keep up with Lila. For example, when Lila throws Elena's doll into a basement chute, Elena does the same to Lila's doll. When Lila goes to ask for them back from the local loan shark, Elena follows her though they are ultimately unable to retrieve them. The paths of the two girls diverge when Lila's parents refuse to pay for her to continue her schooling after elementary school while Elena's parents, after much pressure from a concerned teacher, agree. Elena first attends middle school, and then high school.

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 the powerful young son of the local Camorra leader, Marcello Solara. Considering him fundamentally evil, despite her family's pressure to marry such a rich man, Lila gets the owner of the local grocery, Stefano, to ask her to marry him instead. After Stefano's family sweeten the deal by agreeing to finance Lila's shoe project, Lila's family agree to let her marry Stefano. Lila and Stefano marry when she is sixteen. At the wedding Stefano breaks two promises to Lila, by inviting the Solara brothers to attend their wedding and by selling them the shoes she and her brother hand crafted, 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 shop.

As Lila in different ways continues to rebel, both her family and her in-laws worry more 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, who is meanwhile still doing very well in school and has fallen in love with an older boy called Nino Sarratore, into coming with her. Elena agrees on the condition that they go to a particular beach resort, knowing Nino will be there. Soon enough 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 Capuccio, Lila finally decides to leave him for good. She escapes to a smaller, more run-down neighbourhood with Enzo, a childhood friend who is in love with her and has vowed 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, Nino's father. 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 neighbourhood mentions the book except to comment on the sexual passages, and not even Lila is interested in it.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay[edit]

Before her marriage, 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, 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 worth of publication. She and Nino also start an affair, which causes Elena to realize she is unhappy in her marriage and to finally leave Pietro.

Elena shares her plans with Lila, who is horrified. Although she now realizes that her son, whom 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 currently sleeping with Marcello Solara.

The Story of the Lost Child[edit]

After several months of strife, Elena finally succeeds in leaving Pietro for good. However, she learns from Lila that despite promises that he had left his wife, Nino has done no such thing. Elena 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 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 Nino and Pietro. She also discovers Nino having sex with her housekeeper and learns from Lila that he has continued to have multiple affairs with many women, both before and after 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 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 his daughter, while Lila maintains that their daughter is still alive and might one day be returned to them.

Elena and Lila continue to be increasingly alienated from each other as Lila despairs about her lost daughter. Before Elena, by then an even more famous writer, moves out of her childhood's 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, as difficult as it is constantly becoming in the new computer age. Decades pass, though they stay in touch, and Elena finally writes a small novel about their friendship. 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
  • 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
  • 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 her, works at the family's shoe shop)
  • several unnamed younger siblings of Rino and Lila

Sarratore family[edit]

  • Donato Sarratore (ticket inspector in trains)
  • Lidia Sarratore (Donato's wife, housewife)
  • Nino Sarratore (their eldest son, two years older than Lila and Elena)
  • 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)
  • younger children

Capuccio family[edit]

  • The late father Capuccio
  • Melina Capuccio (the mad woman, cleans the neighborhood's buildings's staircases)
  • Antonio Capuccio (their son, works in a garage)
  • Ada Capuccio (Antonio's sister, helps her mother cleaning the stairs)
  • 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[10]

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.[11]
  • 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. ^ Wood, James (January 21, 2013). "Women on the Verge" The fiction of Elena Ferrante". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Vincent, Alice (October 3, 2016). "First stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novels announced in wake of identity scandal". The Telegraph. 
  5. ^ a b Moylan, Brian (February 9, 2016). "Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels set for TV adaptation". The Guardian. 
  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. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (March 30, 2017). "HBO, Rai to Adapt Elena Ferrante's 'My Brilliant Friend' as Drama Series". Variety. 
  11. ^ 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]