Elena Ferrante’s “The Lying Life of Adults”

Editors’ Introduction

August 31, 2020

We conclude Women in Translation Month with a tribute to one of the most influential women writers today who publishes under the pseudonym “Elena Ferrante.” Ferrante’s use of a pen name is an act of resistance to the gender bias in the (Italian) literary establishment, to the status- and image-obsessed media, and to a culture where the value of a literary text is judged not by its quality but by the author’s existing reputation or “aura.” It is significant that Ferrante, whatever her real gender, adopts the pen name of a woman, electing a female identity despite all the obstacles this choice entails. Our contributor the Italian scholar Tiziana de Rogatis, who is also the author of the book Elena Ferrante’s Key Words, summarizes the meaning of such a choice in the Italian context:

This is no easy choice in a country like Italy, where male-dominated journalism, publishing, and academia den[y] visibility – and I should add respect – to women writers, despite a long stream of extraordinary women of letters. Nonetheless, Ferrante has chosen to identify as a woman. In essence, this means that, for a long time, the author chose to count for less: she’s had fewer opportunities for publication; she’s been labelled as a writer of sentimental novels aimed at a female readership; and she’s been ignored by cultural reviews.

Ferrante’s pseudonym is not a marketing strategy as many Italian (male) journalists and literary critics have claimed so as to undermine the significance of her success precisely as a woman writer. Instead, to write under a pseudonym is to countermand a patriarchal mentality that demands the author’s––especially a female author’s––visibility and availability.  

On the occasion of the publication of Ferrante’s new novel The Lying Life of Adults, translated by Ann Goldstein, we asked seven literary critics, translators, and professionals to share with us their first impressions and to reflect on some of the novel’s key themes, images, or ideas. The seven essays address different aspects of the text, including Ferrante’s pseudonymous identity in the context of a novel about lies and deception. They also note the continuity of Ferrante’s poetics over the course of her oeuvre, while acknowledging the new themes and directions pursued in The Lying Life of Adults.

The recurring topic of Ferrante’s pseudonym and the question of her gender relate directly to the two exclusive first English translations we publish alongside the seven essays. Translated by Dorothy Potter Snyder, Greta Alonso’s pithy pronouncement on her own pseudonymous identity and Eloy Tizón’s incisive discussion of gender, names, and authorship illuminate Ferrante’s perspective as well. As Greta Alonso states in her essay, “Do you exist? Are you a marketing strategy? I exist. It’s hard to grasp that there are decisions that are not made with money in mind, and I understand the distrust inspired by anything that is different.”

We are delighted to collaborate with a team of stellar contributors and present their insightful readings that celebrate women writers in general and women writers in translation in particular. 

Stiliana Milkova & Barbara Halla

Editors, Special Issue on Elena Ferrante

On Elena Ferrante’s “The Lying Life of Adults”

“Innocence Redeemed” by Richard Carvalho

“The Truth that Lies Behind the Lies” by Tiziana de Rogatis, translated by Serena Todesco

“The Lying Life of Narrators” by Alyssa Granacki

“Under His Watchful Eye: Family and Power in The Lying Life of Adults” by Barbara Halla

“Alone with Language” by David Kurnick

“The Gospel According to Elena Ferrante” by Carlotta Moro

“Elusions and Delusions” by Rachel Tay

On Gender, Pseudonyms, and Authorship: Perspectives from Spain

“The Names” by Eloy Tizón & “A Shield, a Shelter, a Place to Hide” by Greta Alonso, translated by Dorothy Potter Snyder

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