Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, starting with My Brilliant Friend and ending with last year’s publication of The Story of the Lost Girl, was such a compelling work of genius that yes, of course people are fascinated by her secret identity. You see, Ferrante is anonymous—we know she’s Italian, and anyone who reads her books is more or less convinced she’s female. Beyond that, her true name seems to be a very well-kept secret. Which doesn’t stop people from guessing, because mysteries beg to be solved.
The problem is, nobody can seem to crack it. The latest guess, according to The Guardian, comes from Marco Santagata, professor at the University of Pisa. According to him, Ferrante is the pen name of Marcella Marmo, professor of contemporary history at the University of Naples Federico II.
“I did something simple,” Santagata said to Corrier, an Italian outlet. “I took the yearbook of the (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa) students in the 60s and I looked at which names could respond to all of these requirements. Marcella Marmo corresponds to my identikit.”
As The Guardian notes, Marmo studied at Pisa from ‘64 to ‘66, which corresponds roughly with the character Elena Greco, who is widely believed to be a stand-in for the author. Additionally, there’s a reference to a bar and Christmas party which would not have been known beyond a tight circle of students. Also, there were significant events in Pisa after 1966 that did not make the novel, another sign—per Santagata—that Ferrante had already left.
It’s compelling, as theories go, but there’s a problem—both Marmo and Ferrante’s publisher, E/O, deny the theory. “Truly, no, I am not Elena Ferrante,” said Marmo, adding that she had only read the first novel of the Neapolitan series.
“We deny that Elena Ferrante is Marcella Marmo,” added E/O, “and we hope to go back to talking about the book and not the identity of the author.”
A convincing denial, but then again, that’s what they would say, isn’t it? Until we have solid proof, though, the mystery lives on.