Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: What Elena Ferrante Owes Me

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

What Elena Ferrante Owes Me

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What does a writer owe a reader? Isn’t that what’s at question in an investigative journalist’s hunting down and gleefully exposing the person he says—ta-da!--is Elena Ferrante? I will not write the name he has uncovered. I will accept what has been given to me—thoughtful, well-written fiction that, as the best fiction does, illuminates reality.

A confession: I am not among the legions of Ferrante fanatics. I like her books, but I don’t love them. “Pride and Prejudice” will not need to share its permanent place on my nightstand. That said, I enjoyed reading the books and I appreciate that many readers, especially many women readers, heard their own voices in her words.

When I heard the disclaimer that “Elena Ferrante” was a pseudonym and that her true identity was unknown, my reaction was a shrug. Wasn't her “true identity’ being the author of those works? I was totally fine with a writer who chose not to open his or her life up to close scrutiny, who—just imagine!-- was uninterested in celebrity, a writer who merely sought to offer us his or her soul and tears and imagination and efforts, and, in exchange, be granted the personal privacy she requested. 

Do readers have the right to barge into a writer’s life and rummage around for clues? Do we have the right to demand context, background, further explanation? Can we not respect something that grows entirely out of imagination? Of course who the writer is has bearing on the work. Maybe it would have made a difference to me to know that these women’s lives had been created by a man. Though Emma Bovary…though Anna Karenina …though…But we can do the work of understanding on our own. What advantage is there in knowing that Elena Ferrante did not personally experience these exact adversities, challenges, and triumphs, but different ones? 

Go in peace, Elena Ferrante. I thank you for characters worth knowing, ideas worth thinking about. You gave me the offering of your gifts; I gave you my attention. We gave each other our time. What more do we possibly owe each other?


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