Elena Ferrante writes evocative and haunting novels about women living in Italy just after the Second World War. Her name is a pseudonym and until recently, no one knew who she was.
That was until a journalist decided he had the right, without Ms Ferrante’s permission, to rip away that anonymity and reveal her alleged true identity to the world.
I hate this. Elena Ferrante said that she wrote anonymously to give her the freedom to write what she wished. There’s a possibility that a lot of what she writes is autobiographical, and she wishes to protect her family. And she wants the peace and time to write without being bothered by everything that comes with being a writer – the publicity, the tours and so on.
She didn’t set out to be a famous writer. But her books spoke to a lot of people, especially women, and she became very popular. This made this journalist believe that he had the right to chase her down and expose her. His excuse was that she had made a lot of money from this novels, so he, as a reader, had the right to know who his money is going to.
Rubbish. He just didn’t want a woman hiding herself for him. He demanded the right to know everything about this woman, just because she was famous. It’s the same thinking that leads people to hack the computers of famous actresses to get nude photos, and then are surprised when people complain. But they’re sexy in the movies, they argue, so their body belongs to me, and I want to see it. I don’t her to hide away from me. I don’t her to control who sees her when.
And now that this man thinks he knows she is, he is demanding to know why she didn’t about the relatives he thinks are interesting. First he rips away her chosen identity, and now he’s trying to tell her what to do with her talent.
Many of Elena’s readers are furious. We didn’t want to know, they argue.
We liked her anonymity. We liked imagining who she was and that perhaps this part of the books were true, or maybe this part – but her actual identity wasn’t important. Her invisibility meant we concentrated only on the writing, not the writer. We liked the cloak that shrouded her, we didn’t want it ripped to shreds. This is an intrusion into her life. This is against all the beliefs espoused in the books. The books talk about women taking the power back from the men who control them, and this man has stolen Elena Ferrante’s power.
She may never publish again now her anonymity is gone, and that would be a huge loss. I hope he enjoys his five minutes of fame. He’s done his best to destroy a good writer, because he thought he had the right to expose this woman.
The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
The Women Of Baker Street