Academic journal article Italica

Narrative Friendships in Elisabetta Rasy's Posillipo and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels

Academic journal article Italica

Narrative Friendships in Elisabetta Rasy's Posillipo and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels

Article excerpt

Abstract: Female friendship has long been a popular theme in modern Italian literature, one that became especially prominent during the 1970s when women's bonds became a catalyst for female liberation and emancipation. However, representations of women's friendships have changed since then, with portrayals that are more complex and nuanced than had been previously seen. This article showcases how Elisabetta Rasy and Elena Ferrante expand on Adriana Cavarero's theory of amicizia narrativa or narrative friendship to accommodate their own ideas about friendship among women. While Cavarero argues that amicizia narrativa is predicated upon the act of listening to a friend's story and then narrating it back to her to allow for the friend's self-validation, Rasy and Ferrante demonstrate how the friend's story is instead used for the narrator's own benefit. Using Cavarero's theory as a critical framework, this article offers a comparative reading of Rasy's and Ferrante's portrayals of female friendship in their respective works, Posillipo and the Neapolitan novels, to argue how these two contemporary authors illustrate the complications that may arise in women's friendships such as ambivalence and competition.

Keywords: Female friendship, Adriana Cavarero, Elena Ferrante, Elisabetta Rasy, feminist theory, women writers.

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1. Introduction

In Tu che mi guardi tu che mi racconti (1997) Adriana Cavarero contributes to past feminist discussions on the significance of women's friendship to female identity by defining what she calls an amicizia narrativa. According to Cavarero, an amicizia narrativa is founded on the reciprocal narration of two women's life stories. Through a specific process of narration, one in which a woman tells her life story to a friend who in turn narrates it back to her, the woman understands who she is, while recognizing her inner desire of having her life narrated. (1) Cavarero's theory assumes a positive relationship between the act of narration and friendship: it supposes that a woman wishes to have her story narrated by her friend and that the friend's narration helps validate her life experiences. But what happens if the relationship between narration and friendship is reversed? That is, what happens when a woman narrates her friend's story in order to establish her own (the narrator's) identity? The novels of two contemporary Neapolitan authors, Elisabetta Rasy and Elena Ferrante, explore this very question through the friendships of their protagonists.

In this article, I conduct a comparative study to argue that Elisabetta Rasy's and Elena Ferrante's representations of female friendship distort and expand on Cavarero's concept of amicizia narrativa. Their texts, Rasy's Posillipo (1997) and the four novels that make up Ferrante's Neapolitan novels (2011-14), demonstrate the difficulties that can arise when women narrate friendship. (2) Taken together, these texts reveal what happens when a woman narrates her friend's life story for the purpose of discovering her own identity, thus both problematizing Cavarero's theory and pointing toward a new understanding of friendship in the modern era. (3) Additionally, both Rasy and Ferrante set their stories in post-WWII Naples, focusing on its culture and social reality as told through tales of female friendship. (4) However, while Rasy describes Naples with whimsical nostalgia, portraying it as the setting in which all her vibrant childhood memories took place, Ferrante details the harsh, inescapable realities that typify the Southern Italian city, namely poverty and violence.

In contrast to Cavarero's amicizia narrativa, Rasy and Ferrante portray friendships in which the narrator depends on her friend's life story for her own sense of self. In Posillipo, the narrator's relationship with her friend Fiammetta reveals, at times, traits of Cavarero's amicizia narrativa, especially seen in the way Fiammetta, as the friend, struggles to narrate her life story. …

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