Newspaper article International New York Times

Who Is Elena Ferrante? an Educated Guess Causes a Stir ; Naples Professor Named in Article Denies She Is Author of Popular Novels

Newspaper article International New York Times

Who Is Elena Ferrante? an Educated Guess Causes a Stir ; Naples Professor Named in Article Denies She Is Author of Popular Novels

Article excerpt

An article in an Italian newspaper suggested that a professor in Naples is the author of the popular novels, who writes under a pseudonym. She denied the report.

As her following grows, so does the mystery surrounding the pseudonymous Italian writer Elena Ferrante, whose Neapolitan novels on the lifelong friendship of two women have become a global phenomenon.

Figuring out the identity of Ms. Ferrante, who has never been identified, has become one of the literary world's favorite guessing games, and on Sunday Italy's leading daily, Corriere della Sera, delivered its latest twist: Ms. Ferrante might be a professor in Naples named Marcella Marmo.

Ms. Ferrante's publisher, Edizioni E/O in Rome, swiftly denied the report, as it has every other stab at unmasking Ms. Ferrante over the years.

"It's nonsense," said Sandra Ozzola Ferri, half of the husband- and-wife team that runs the publishing house. Ms. Marmo, a professor of contemporary history at Federico II University of Naples, also denied the assertion. "I'm not Elena Ferrante," she said, in a telephone interview on Sunday.

Over the weekend, Ms. Marmo had been responding to an article in Corriere della Sera's Sunday literary supplement and an accompanying video, in which Marco Santagata, a novelist and university professor, argued that Ms. Ferrante fit the profile of Ms. Marmo. He based his analysis on a close reading of passages in parts of one of Ms. Ferrante's novels set in the 1960s in Pisa, where one the book's protagonists, Elena Greco, studied classics at the prestigious Scuola Normale. Both Mr. Santagata and Ms. Marmo studied at the Normale in the 1960s.

"I created a profile -- I didn't say it was her," Mr. Santagata said in a telephone interview, adding that he had never met or been in touch with Ms. Marmo. He said he had determined that some street names in the books were changed in Pisa after 1968, suggesting that the author must have left Pisa before then. Looking in Scuola Normale yearbooks, he found she seemed to be the only Neapolitan woman at Pisa in the mid 1960s who had become an expert in the contemporary Italian history that is the backdrop to Ms. Ferrante's Naples books.

"I did philological work, as if I were studying the attribution of an ancient text, even though it's a modern text," added Mr. Santagata, a philologist by training who teaches at the University of Pisa.

Ms. Ferrante has published under a pseudonym since her first novel, "Troubling Love," appeared in Italian in 1992. Her author notes say simply that she was born in Naples. In recent years Ms. Ferrante has given interviews, including one with The New York Times, but always via email through her publishers.

Ms. Ferri said she didn't think Ms. Ferrante would respond to Mr. Santagata's essay. Or that she would reveal her true identity. "For now, I don't think she has any intention of changing her position," she said.

Published between 2010 and 2014, Ms. Ferrante's Neapolitan novels -- "My Brilliant Friend," "The Story of a New Name," "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" and "The Story of the Lost Child" -- have rocketed the novelist from near obscurity to international fame since the first appeared in English translation in 2012. …

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