The Ferrante Letters: An Experiment in Collective Criticism

Sarah Chihaya, Merve Emre, Katherine Hill, and Jill Richards. Columbia Univ., $25 (280p) ISBN 978-0-231-19457-0
As this thoughtful and thought-provoking compilation records, over the summer of 2015 four English professors decided to try out a new approach to criticism. Seeking to carry out a flexible, “permeable” dialogue instead of solitary study, Chihaya, Emre, Hill, and Richards (from, respectively, Princeton, Oxford, Adelphi, and Yale), settled on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. In hopes of “encoding the intimate labor of conversation as part of a scholarly work,” they exchanged letters recording their responses, both intellectual and visceral, to reading Ferrante’s epic tale of female friendship in post-WWII Italy (“Oh Nino,” Richards laments of one character, “why are you such a tool?”). Ferrante’s stylistic choices produce debates about narrator reliability, the erasure of women from public spaces, and the tension, in Emre’s words, between the “incessant need to minister to another human being” experienced by mothers and the “unbroken time and seclusion” sought by writers. The letters are followed by more considered essays from each contributor written a few years later, including Emre’s on what Ferrante’s decision to remain pseudonymous says about the nature of authorship. Several guest writers also contribute their thoughts in an appendix. The combination of intellectual rigor and personal reaction makes this fascinating reading for Ferrante fans. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/18/2019
Release date: 01/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-0-231-55088-8
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-231-19456-3
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