When the literary scandal broke, of Claudio Gatti unmasking the ‘true identity’ of Elena Ferrante in 2016, most people seemed content to accept that she was Anita Raja, the wife of novelist and journalist Domenico Starnone. However, now that Elena Ferrante prolongs her identity, even signing up to write a column for Saturday Guardian, maybe it’s time to challenge this ruse again? There are many points of evidence:
1 Anita Raja actually left Naples when she was aged three, whereas Starnone grew up in the tenement area around the station, one of a family of five, whose father was a railway worker. He therefore had the first-hand memories and experiences to elaborate into a fictional quartet.
2 The royalty payments for the Neapolitan Novels were apparently paid into the bank account of his wife; but you would, wouldn’t you, if you’d suddenly come into unaccustomedly large royalty income? Starnone then bought an eleven-room apartment in Rome, which seemed disproportionate to his previous income…
3 Crucially, Ms Raja had no need to create an alternative identity, if she was indeed author of the Neapolitan Novels. Why not simply publish under her own name?
4 Whereas I can imagine that Starnone was drawn into creating this ‘alter ego’ as a kind of dare, to see if it was possible to pass himself off and tap into the female readership market. But now that the ruse has become so successful, it’s too late to get out! So all correspondence is conducted by email, no face-to-face interviews, and he daren’t let on in case he loses his loyal female readers…
5 Then there is the chronology of publication: Starnone wrote ten books between 1988 and 2000, but only three in the last seventeen years. By contrast, ‘Elena Ferrante’ only wrote one before 2000, but seven since, suggesting that this is one and the same identity, switching pen names.
6 It could be that Starnone’s publishers, keen to shore up the profitable dual identity, suggested around 2014 that it was time that ‘Starnone’ produced another novel(Ties, Starnone, 2014), so in desperation he revisited their work of 2002 (The Days of Abandonment, Ferrante, 2002) to expand it into a three-handed version of the theme.
7 Which brings us to the detail of Ties and its incredibly close similarity to The Days of Abandonment: both deal in startling symmetry with a rejected wife’s anguish at ‘abandonment’, with echoes of detail down to a glass vessel which is broken in both versions. If this was not plagiarism, then it was ‘uxorious collaboration’, or else simply ‘authorial revisiting’. Why did nobody query this in 2014, before the actual ‘reveal’ in 2016?
8 Finally, in September 2017, a team of scholars, computer scientists and linguists at the University of Padua analysed 150 novels written in Italian by 40 different authors, including seven books by Elena Ferrante. Based on analysis using several authorship attribution models, they concluded that Anita Raja’s husband Domenico Starnone is the probable author of Ferrante’s works. Say no more!
So why this continued subterfuge, including by Saturday Guardian? Well, when you have a precious feminist icon on this scale, you don’t rock the boat. And after all the years when the Brontes, Colette and The Wife hid behind male identities, maybe it’s time to turn the tables and have a male author believing it’s preferable to masquerade as female!