‘The Ferrante Effect’: In Italy, Women Writers Are Ascendant

‘The Ferrante Effect’: In Italy, Women Writers Are Ascendant

Some of Italy’s female critics think their male counterparts are missing the point.

Tiziana de Rogatis, a critic whose book on Ferrante’s diction came out in the United States this month, said that Ferrante, like Morante, is a sophisticated thinker and writer who chooses to write plainly and empathetically to be understood. Academia, she said, eventually catches up with great authors “first popular with the public.”

Some writers and literature professors argue that dusty elitism, more than overt sexism, hinders women from being recognized.

“There is a widespread idea here that literary fiction should be virtuoso and self-referential,” said Elisa Gambaro, a scholar at the University of Milan. As a result, fiction that is commercially successful is often disparaged.

But some women say it should be the other way around.

“To put it bluntly, women writers tend to be less self-referential, because they’re less used to thinking of themselves as the center of the world,” said Brogi, the contemporary literature scholar at the University for Foreigners of Siena. She said women developed literary language to make themselves better understood — and incidentally, easier to translate — because they were so often ignored. It was a condition, she said, that Ferrante had eloquently coined as “smarginatura,” or, roughly put, being pushed to the margins.

But this new crop of women writers is pushing toward the center.

“We are standing up for each other, and calling out the double standards,” Durastanti said. “This sense of sisterhood wasn’t there a few years ago.”

Terranova said the results were already there to see.

“Italy always had great women writers,” she said. “The truly new thing is that, for the first time, they’re getting recognition.”

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