Monday, February 25, 2019

Rachel Donadio's search for Elena Ferrante leads to Autobiografia Erotica di Aristide Gambía

Rachel Donadio nails it. In a recent Atlantic article, she provides convincing evidence for Domenico’s involvement in the works attributed to Elena Ferrante but goes beyond identifying Starnone as co-author to explore questions about the nature of authorship and commonly held assumptions about gender and literature.

When I first read Ferrante's novels, I was convinced they were written by a woman. There were just too many intimate details of life in a female body. However, after Claudio Gatti’s well-documented revelation that Ferrante was Anita Raja, possibly working in collaboration with her husband Domenico Starnone, I could no longer ignore the mounting evidence that Starnone was involved in the creation of works attributed to Ferrante. Four groups of analysts using different text analysis programs independently came to the same conclusion that Starnone was in all likelihood the principal author of Ferrante’s novels. Furthermore, references to collaborative authorship abound in the Neapolitan Quartet and in Ferrante’s many interviews collected in Frantumaglia.

When writing my book, In Search of Elena Ferrante, I turned to Starnone’s novels for further clues as to his contribution to Ferrante’s novels; however, unlike Donadio I was limited to those books translated into English. I found many stylistic and thematic similarities to Ferrante. First Execution ,like the Neapolitan novels, explores the ethical implications of political violence. Starnone’s Ties is strikingly similar to Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment; both novels begin with a man abandoning his wife and children for a much younger woman, leaving his wife distraught, angry and unwilling to accept her husband’s betrayal.

Starnone's Trick has thematic similarities to Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Like Elena Greco, Daniele Mallarico, the narrator of Trick, longed to escape Naples and his difficult family; like Elena, through education and talent he managed to do so. Several of the details of working class life recalled by Mallarico in Trick are reminiscent of descriptions of Elena’s family dealing with the difficulties of a large family living in a relatively small space. Elena at times speculates on what she might have become if she hadn’t had the strength to leave Naples, and what the far more talented Lila might have become if her family, like Elena’s, had allowed her to continue her education. Similarly, the elderly artist in Trick becomes obsessed with the roads not taken.

These similarities between Starnone’s works and those attributed to Ferrante strengthened the case for his co-authorship. However, I believed that if I could read Starnone’s novels which had not been translated into English, I would have an even stronger case.

My hunch was confirmed when I read Rachel Donadio’s article. She analyzed Starnone’s 2011 novel Autobiografia Erotica di Aristide Gambía published the same year that My Brilliant Friend appeared in Italian. Donadio describes it as a “dizzying meditation on whether men can convincingly write about women and women about men." “Elena Ferrante” actually appears as a character in Autobiografia Erotica and the narrator Aristide Gambía decides he no longer wants to write about aging men: instead he will explore women’s lives, and “the battle … to become a new woman.”

I found Donadio’s analysis somewhat hard to follow but that may be a reflection on her source—she describes the novel as “Starnone at his most intricately metafictional… about as easy to summarize as an M. C. Escher print is to describe.”

Both in Autobiografia Erotica as in his novels Trick and Ties, Starnone leaves many clues about his relationship to the fictional Elena Ferrante. It certainly seems like he wants to be found out. The decision to publish under the pseudonym of Elena Ferrante was made over two decades ago, before Ferrante became an international sensation. Could Starnone at this point in his life want recognition for his contribution towards the creation of the fictional character Elena Ferrante and her powerful novels? Starnone has apparently published fourteen works of fiction, eleven of which have not been translated into English, and which I would very much like to read. If Starnone were publicly identified as the co-author of the Neapolitan Quartet, I expect some of these books would be translated and made available to the English speaking reader.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Milan:The Northern Italy Diaries, part V

Milan Cathedral

Milan was a surprise—both a pleasant and unpleasant surprise. We had visited Milan in the 1980s and I remembered it as a grimy city in desperate need of a clean up. Well, at some point between then and now the cleanup occurred and Milan sparkles. According to our hotel staff, the city got a makeover in 2015 when it hosted the World Expo. The cathedral is now gleaming white.

Now for the unpleasant surprise. Milan is one of –perhaps the most--expensive cities we have visited. Although we regretted not spending more time in Turin and Genoa, were happy not to have done so in Milan. That said, I would advise any traveller to Northern Italy to spend a few days in Milan. The Brera Museum alone is worth one full day. When we visited the Brera in 1980, we were astonished at how few people were there in this world class museum. We had its amazing collection almost to ourselves.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, 1606 at the Brera

That’s no longer the case, but the number of tourists is not oppressive as it is in Italy’s other major museums. The Brera has had a major make over with a beautiful courtyard and attractive restaurant. Courtyard at the Brera

Another highlight for me was my visit to the Milan Women's Bookstore- a must stop for any feminist visitor to Milan.

We spent our last day taking a trip to Lake Como. I love the Italian lake district and couldn't resist one last glimpse:

Friday, February 15, 2019

Genoa: The Northern Italy Diaries, part IV

Genoa like Turin is an open air architectural museum, but with a very different feel. There is no French influence as in Turin; Genoa is very much an Italian city—in some ways reminiscent of Naples. Both are port cities built on steep hills with a rich architectural heritage; however unlike Naples, in Genoa for the most part the baroque buildings are in good shape and the city is clean with very little trash and graffiti.

Unfortunately, we both got sick for a few days—Rick with some kind of virus, me with what I think was food poisoning. However, we tried not to let it keep us from enjoying the city, but it did slow us down. Fortunately, the central historic district is very compact, with the spectacular squares, cathedral, museums all within easy walking distance.

In Genoa we stayed in another NH collection hotel,NH Marina, and although it lacks the charm of the small boutique hotels we used to seek out, it had all the creature comforts we now require and the staff was wonderful. When I became violently ill, they came immediately to clean up the mess, change sheets etc. It came on quickly and passed quickly and was no doubt food poisoning. I’m now a bit wary of picturesque little trattorias in the historic districts of European cities and I will be much less likely to order shellfish in one of these charming little restaurants.

NH Marina is in the Porto Antico district, right on the water. I rarely pass up the opportunity to stay by a body of water. Porto Antico

And since Porto Antico is a short walk to the Centro Historico, we had easy access to the cultural attractions without the urban congestion. It was just a five minute walk from our hotel into the outer fringe of the Centro Historico. Cathedral inthe Centro Historico

Unlike the grand squares and impressive architecture of the area around the cathedral, the outer fringe is a medieval warren of narrow lanes, arcades, and picturesque restaurants. I recommend SOHO, an attractive restaurant with very good food at reasonable prices and friendly staff—assuming you are willing to put up with slow service. So many Italian restaurants appear to be understaffed. We ate twice at Soho, excellent food and no food poisoning

The food poisoning set us back and unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Museo di Palazzo Reale, but on our last day in Genoa, despite the rain, we did manage to see the palazzos of the via Garibaldi, considered by Michelin to be the most beautiful street in Italy. I can see calling it the most architecturally impressive street in Italy, but for me beautiful for has to include greenery. On the Via Garibaldi, the greenery was all in the interior courtyards.
Interior courtyard, Via Garibaldi
Also, two of the palazzos on the Via Garibaldi, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Blanco, have been turned into art museums—a consolation for not getting to the Museo di Palazzo Reale.

We had one truly magical day taking a train along the astonishingly beautiful Ligurian coast (the Italian Riviera). The Ligurian coast has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site—and for good reason. We stopped in the town of Portofino, once a sleepy fishing village, now a tourist mecca, but still charming.

We’d also like to see Genoa again some day, but as with Turin, it’s not likely to happen.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Turin, an open air architectural museum:Northern Italy Diaries, part III

Turin Cathedral

Turin was a surprise. Because of its association with Fiat and the auto industry, I expected a grim industrial city and was unprepared for its architectural riches, the legacy of the French Savoy dynasty which moved its capital from Chambéry to Turin in 1563. The French influence is very much in evidence both in the beautifully restored Baroque buildings in Turin's historic center and the spectacular piazzas. Piazza Castello with Palazzo Reale

Turin’s San Carlo with its twin churches is considered one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. I’d rank it number two, right after San Marco. twin churches of Piazza di San Carlo

Turin rightly boasts of being a city of museums, and we regret not having had more time for the museums. We spent much of our time walking around the city and only managed the first floor of the Sabauda Art Museum and the Museum of Resistance, Deportation, War, Rights and Liberty,which describes its mission as “communicating the history and memory of the values of the Resistance.” Rick thought the exhibits were badly organized, and that may be the case, but the recordings of personal testimony by surviving resistance fighters and holocaust survivors was compelling.

I couldn’t leave Turn without a brief visit to The Egyptian Museum,the oldest museum in the world dedicated entirely to Egyptian culture . It was unfortunately a very brief visit but I did get some sense of the vast scope of the collection.Anyone with a serious interest in Egyptian art should put Turin on their must see list.

We wish we had given more time to Turin and would like to return someday, but at this stage in our lives that is probably not going to happen.