Intrigue in fiction

A great literary mystery has been solved but does that change the nature of the work?

Elena Ferrante books on sale at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer whose work follows two girls as they grow up in Naples, has been at the centre of a literary mystery. Over four books, Ferrante developed a powerfully authentic glimpse into the lives of women in the poorer neighbourhoods of the city. The Neapolitan novels, as they are known, are international bestsellers.

So what is the mystery? Elena Ferrante is the pen name used by a guarded writer who has refused to reveal her identity despite her incredible global success. Her anonymity has given way to a popular guessing game in literary circles about her true identity. Some said she was actually a man or even a collection of different people. In responses to written questions couriered through her publisher in Rome, Ferrante explained that her identity didn’t have any bearing on her work.

Last week, an Italian journalist solved the mystery of Ferrante’s identity by reviewing financial records. Needless to say, the revelation has caused a stir. In the current climate of instant information, not knowing the elusive identity of a writer was something most people couldn’t palate. Now that we know Elena Ferrante’s true identity, does her work change? Will we read her work differently? Can a work of art such as Ferrante’s writing stand on its own two feet without intimate knowledge of its creator? The jury is out but the mystery, for better or worse, has been solved.