Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels have given women readers a lot to celebrate — and, OK, much to lament, too. In immersive prose, the pseudonymous Italian author has written a feminist epic series focusing on two female friends in Naples, Italy as they grow up in the second half of the 20th century and mature into the beginning of the 21st. (And, in case you were wondering, it's absolutely as good as the hype.)
Although Ferrante herself, through her pen name, hasn't explicitly taken up the label of feminist, women of many stripes have been buoyed to see their experiences rendered so vividly in such astute detail. Of course, not every reader has been subjected to the interpersonal violence of these books' particular relationships — but, certainly, the patriarchal milieu within which these scenes of abuse occur has been immediately recognizable to countless readers worldwide. In short: It's insanely affecting to see yourself within these pages, even indirectly, and there's so much to take from the scenes Ferrante paints with her expert hand.
Part cautionary tale and part inspiration, the Neapolitan Novels offer women of all ages insight into what earlier feminist writers called the "feminine mystique" — the particular anger, grief, and frustration of the role of women as The Second Sex. Ferrante's urgent literary achievement chronicles women stuck but also reckoning with their situations — and ultimately working to break free.
difference between the frustration of Lila's gifts and Elena's
eventual situation as a woman who accomplishes tremendous career success can be
summed up in one word: school. Lila is forced to drop out after
elementary school and Elena ultimately goes on to university. When
Lila eventually finds an outlet in the computer company, it's because
she — through Enzo — takes courses and studies everything she
could get her hands on about the subject. Keep on learning.
Think For Yourself
How painful it was to read about Elena contorting her personality for Nino's and Lila's approval! How wonderful it was when she finally cast off her sophomoric adulation in favor of finding her own opinions. The superficial flattery of being uncritically agreeing didn't serve anyone.
Don't Give Up
How many times did Elena want to throw in the towel on her studies? In fact, she was busy convincing herself to accept her place as the gas station attendant's wife when she would get the prod she needed to keep at it. In the end, Carmela seems to make herself happy in that situation, so there's no shame in any position in life. The difference is that Elena didn't truly want it and was ready to abandon her goals too often.
Without Maestra Oliviero's advocacy and money for books, without similar help from Lila, without the eventual encouragement from her mother, Elena would not have made it through school. No one lives in a vacuum.
The Unfaithful Charmer
Oh, Nino: Don't think we didn't see your parlor tricks! Elena could have saved herself a lot of heartache if she'd found another way to shake up her marriage to Pietro (or even a better way to leave him) than running off with that philandering scoundrel.
When Elena and Lila both stood up for themselves against all odds, Lila starting her business, Elena putting her foot down with Adele, for example, they clearly got what they demanded. Maybe the meek will inherit the earth. Meantime, enough with the stereotype of the demure woman.
To The Beach
How happy Lila was swimming! How beautiful and relaxed Elena in the sun. There's nothing like putting oneself in pleasurable surroundings to refresh the body and spirit.
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