In the Neapolitan Quartet, a sprawling epic following the lives of two women in post-war Italy, the author, Elena Ferrante, explores the intimate relationship between politics and art, pushing at the borders we often construct between the two. At a particularly critical moment in the novels, the central character, Elena Greco, a poor girl from Naples who rises to the position of a successful novelist, is told by her more politically radical friends that she is not doing enough, that “this, objectively, is not the moment for writing novels.” But then, when is? The current political climate in Italy is in a state of immense uncertainty. While modern Italian history is littered with such windows, the rise of the Brothers of Italy party, bringing with it a far-right, nationalist political agenda the likes of which the country hasn’t faced in eighty years, is unquestionably extraordinary. Much of the existing discourse surrounding Ferrante's work focuses on her portrayals of female friendship as well as cultural and family dynamics, less on the politics of the novels, which initially appears to evolve primarily in the background. However, a closer reading reveals layers of political dimension, deeply interwoven into nearly every facet of the novels: the depoliticization and disenfranchisement of women in Italian society, the lack of recognition for art by women writers, the deemphasis on art as a politically engaged, and even politically transformative, act. In doing a close reading of the central female characters in Ferrante’s work, as well as an examination of the enigma of the author herself, this paper hopes to illuminate both the artistic and political barriers faced by women writers in Italy today as well as the ways in which Ferrante—in her writing and her actions—proposes to navigate and transcend these spaces, ultimately demonstrating the immediacy, relevance, and crucial nature of politically engaged art for today's Italy.
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Lillestrand, Ryan A.
"Smarginatura: The Art and Politics of Elena Ferrante,"
Claremont-UC Undergraduate Research Conference on the European Union:
Vol. 2023, Article 12.
Available at: https://scholarship.claremont.edu/urceu/vol2023/iss1/12