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December 2016 Issue [Readings]

Prose by Any Other Name


From interviews conducted by journalists and readers with Elena Ferrante since 2003. The correspondence is included in Frantumaglia, a collection of Ferrante’s papers that was published last month by Europa Editions. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

You could have the sort of fame that many people seek. Why have you chosen not to appear?

Freud tells of a woman who was afraid that someone would use her name to take possession of her personality. The woman began by refusing to write her name, and then she stopped writing completely. I am not at that point: I intend to continue to write. But when I read that story of illness it right away seemed meaningful.

Have you ever felt a surge of ego that made you want to throw open your window and cry, “It’s I who have created this world”?

My home is on the upper floors, I’m afraid of heights, and my ego gladly avoids leaning out the window.

I need to be sure whether you are a man or a woman. Establish your age. Deduce your lifestyle, your social class. I appreciate your writing but not the darkness that surrounds you.

What is better than a room that is dark except for the light of a single reading lamp? Look in the books and you will find eyes, sex, lifestyle, social class, and the id.

Are you really convinced that the life of an author doesn’t add anything?

Northrop Frye said that writers are simple people, neither wiser nor better than anyone else. Our faces do not do us any favors.

Are you willing to give a brief description of yourself?

Allow me to cite Italo Calvino: “I don’t give biographical facts, or I give false ones, or anyway I always try to change them from one time to the next. Ask me what you want to know, but I won’t tell you the truth, of that you can be sure.” I could tell you that I am as beautiful and athletic as a star, or that I’ve been in a wheelchair since adolescence, or that I’m a woman afraid even of her own shadow, or that I adore begonias, or that I write only between two and five in the morning, or any other nonsense. The problem is that, unlike Calvino, I hate answering a question with a chain of lies.

Will you tell us who you are?

Elena Ferrante. I’ve published seven books. Isn’t that sufficient?

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