Who Is Elena Ferrante?

by Emma Cueto

Who is Elena Ferrante? Well, in one sense she's the Italian author of the popular Neapolitan Novels series, but the name Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym, and her real identity has always been a bit of a mystery. Now, an Italian writer has claimed Elena Ferrante is Naples-based history professor Marcella Marmo. Both Marmo and Ferrante's publisher have denied this, but the claim has caused quite a stir.

Speculating about Elena Ferrante's true identity has been a popular game in Italian literary circles for a long time now, and there have been plenty of public guesses, all of which have been denied by Ferrante's publishers. The latest theory comes from Italian novelist and professor Marco Santagata, who published a piece in the leading Italian paper Corriere della Sera claiming that Marcella Marmo, a history professor at University of Naples Federico II, had penned Ferrante's books.

Santagata's reasoning isn't bad. He noted that in the Neapolitan Novels certain street names in Pisa appeared to be outdated, the names having been changed in 1968. He concluded the author must have left Pisa before the name changes, and that he or she possibly studied at the same school in Pisa that the character in the books attends. Santagata also imagined that the author was most likely an expert on Italian history, and probably comes from Naples, as is noted in the brief author biography for Ferrante. It's not a bad set of criteria, and when he investigated, he found only one name that seemed to fit: Marcella Marmo.

Marmo, on the other hand, assures him he is mistaken. "I thank all those who thought I was a happy best-seller writer, but as I tried to say in recent days, I am not Elena Ferrante,” Marmo said in a statement. She told Corriere della Sera, in fact, that she has only ever even read the first book in the series, and joked that the paper should provide her with the rest after running the piece claiming she had written them.

Elena Ferrante's publishers have been just as adamant, and perhaps a little less good natured, in insisting Marmo is not the author of the Neapolitan Novels. Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who runs the publishing house Edizioni E/O with her husband, called the claims "nonsense."

We deny that Elena Ferrante is Marcella Marmo," the publishing house said in a statement, "and we hope to go back to talking about the book and not the identity of the author.”

The fourth and final book in Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels series, The Story of the Lost Child, has been long-listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.

So is this all just one big mix up? Did Santagata go wrong somewhere? Is Marcella Marmo really Elena Ferrante but unwilling to give up her anonymity? There's really no way to know, but as ever, guessing at famous authors' secret identities remains an entertaining game. It's the closest thing we'll ever get to trying to figure out who super heroes are.