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10.9.15

À mon chevet: 'Storia della bambina perduta'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
I was very tired, and paid less and less attention to my appearance; I lost weight. And yet my editors and the audiences I encountered night after night liked me. Moving here and there, discussing with this and that person in a language that wasn't mine but that I rapidly learned to manage, I gradually rediscovered an aptitude that I had displayed years before, with my previous book: I had a natural ability to transform small private events into public reflection. Every night I improvised successfully, starting from my own experience. I talked about the world I came from, about the poverty and squalor, male and also female rages, about Carmen and her bond with her brother, her justifications for violent actions that she would surely never commit. I talked about how, since I was a girl, I had observed in my mother and other women the more humiliating aspects of family life, of motherhood, of subjection to males. I talked about how, for love of a man, one could be driven to be guilty of every possible infamy toward other women, toward children. I talked about my difficult relationship with the feminist groups in Florence and Milan, and, as I did, an experience that I had underestimated suddenly became important: I discovered in public what I had learned by watching that painful effort of excavation. I talked about how, to assert myself, I had always sought to be male in intelligence -- I started off every evening saying I felt that I had been invented by men, colonized by their imagination -- and I told how I had recently seen a male childhood friend of mine make every effort possible to subvert himself, extracting from himself a female.

I drew often on that half-hour spent in the Solaras' shop, but I only realized it later, maybe because Lila never came to my mind. I don't know why I didn't at any point allude to our friendship. Probably it seemed to me that, although she had dragged me into the swelling sea of her desires and those of our childhood friends, she didn't have the capacity to decipher what she had put before my eyes. Did she see, for example, what in a flash I had seen in Alfonso? Did she reflect on it? I ruled that out. She was mired in the lota, the filth, of the neighborhood, she was was satisfied with it. I, on the other hand, in those French days, felt that I was at the center of chaos and yet had tools with which to distinguish its laws. That conviction, reinforced by the small success of my book, helped me to be somewhat less anxious about the future, as if, truly, everything that I was capable of adding up with words written and spoken were destined to add up in reality as well. Look, I said to myself, the couple collapses, the family collapses, every cultural cage collapses, every possible social-democratic accommodation collapses, and meanwhile everything tries violently to assume another form that up to now would have been unthinkable: Nino and me, the sum of my children and his, the hegemony of the working class, socialism and Communism, and above all the unforeseen subject, the woman, I. Night after night, I went around recognizing myself in an idea that suggested general disintegration and, at the same time, new composition.

-- Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child, pp. 56-57 (trans. Ann Goldstein)
The wait for the last volume of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels is over -- see my posts on Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3. If the earlier installments of these more autobiographical novels allude to the publication of Ferrante's first novel, L'amore molesto, the last volume seems to be related to her shorter, earlier novels I giorni dell'abbandono and La figlia oscura. Like her characters in those books, "Elena" watches her marriage fall apart, which distances her from her children. Like the narrators in those early novels, she is the one most deeply affected, as she experiences her own lack of caring, ashamed of her feelings. Even the title of this novel alludes to the story told in La figlia oscura. We do not know if Elena Ferrante is an actual person or an assumed identity, but some of the passages in this book, like the one quoted above, seem like hints that the author may really be a man, as so many of the rumors have it. At some point, someone who knows the identity of "Elena Ferrante" will hopefully let the cat out of the bag.

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