Monday, September 26, 2016

Ferrante Read-along, Adolescence, Postponed . . .

Goodness, What was I thinking?
You, perhaps, knowing I was to fly somewhere this past Sunday, that I was embarking on ten weeks' travel, wondered how I'd ever manage to post on ten more chapters. I was wilfully optimistic and woefully unrealistic.

But even as I adjust to jetlag here in Rome, I'm plotting ways to write a few words about the first ten chapters in the section covering Elena's and Lila's adolescence. As I've been rereading, I've been so aware of how little guidance they had as they experienced the strange and wondrous and often terrifying changes to their bodies and negotiated newly delineated relationships between the genders. Perhaps you might jump in here to help me out as I try to carve a few hours' reading and writing time out of my limited days in Rome (and no, sadly, I don't think I'll try to manage a trip to Naples of the five I have here this trip).

I always welcome your comments here, but they would be particularly welcome now when I've probably bitten off more than I can chew. That said, I promise I will be back soon with an observation or two. Thanks for your understanding and patience meanwhile.

EDITED TO ADD: I wasn't sure of the best way to do this, but if I start a new post, we'll have my thoughts and your comments on these ten chapters in two different places, and I'd prefer to keep them together.  Thank you so much for jumping in and getting the conversation started -- more than that, really, as you've opened up most of the important topics this volume introduces.

Now let's see what I can add, and again, I'm sorry, but I will just set out my observations moving chapter by chapter, rather than finding time to organise my points into a more coherent whole Please excuse...
 In the first chapter of this section, "The Story of the Shoes," I'm once again drawn to note the narrative style -- The adult Elena is careful to point out that the term "dissolving margins" isn't her own, but one that Lila always used. Besides once again alerting us to her narrative control in this way, she also performs some interesting sleight-of-hand, folding one story inside another. She's describing the end of 1958, New Year's Eve, the beginning of 1959, but it turns out that Elena is reconstructing the evening from Lila's account offered to her "years late. . . in November 1980." But it gets more complicated when we read that Lila first used that term in November 1980, but by the time Elena is writing her narrative, it has become a term that Lila "always used." This telescoping of narratives all happens in the opening paragraph -- rather a virtuoso display, really. And then in the second paragraph of this chapter, the adult Elena again asserts her control, interrupting her reportage to say that she "will explain [Lila's role in the New Year's ritual] later.

There is so much temptation to speculate about what a present-day psychiatrist might make of Lila's condition. My response, instead, is to see the truth in Lila's dissolving margins. I think of what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan speaks of as one of the stages an infant passes through moving toward subjectivity -- "the body in bits and pieces," not yet perceiving herself as an autonomous, coherent, being. I think of some of what Slavoj Zizek has written about madness, suicide, as reasonable response to a society that demands too high a price for subjectivity within it. I guess I'm wondering if we see Lila's inchoate intuition that the society she's growing into offers only limited subjectivity to women, and at such a cost.

And I think, also, of the novel as bildungsroman, a novel that traditionally offered a narrative of a young person's education, building, toward healthy eventual integration into society. Traditionally, however, the "young person" was male. Much feminist ink has been spilled over the limitations of literature to represent women after they had either married or died, generally still young, and it might be worth thinking about how powerfully Ferrante's novel responds to that limited tradition, tracing women's lives into their seventh decade, and also implicating the society that "builds" them of having made unreasonable demands. Some have used the term misbildungsroman to describe novels that detail the impossibility of being educated and healthily integrated into a society that is both damaged and damaging to its subjects -- Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum is the stand-out example for me. And in some ways, I see the work Ferrante does here in the same vein.

But I'm thinking off the cuff here, throwing out ideas without as much evidence as I would prefer. Perhaps that's okay considering our purposes here. It's significant to me, at any rate, that both of Lila's perceptions concern males who have power over her, and violence (although at that time, she hadn't expected anything but support and kindness from her brother). Also significant that she "had perceived for the first time unknown entities that broke down the outline of the world and demonstrated its terrifying nature." Given all the forces that govern their lives, yet are generally invisible to them, I'm not sure Lila's affliction isn't at least in part an enhanced, and difficult, acuity.

Obviously, there's so much else to discuss in these ten chapters, but rather than hold us all up waiting for me to post while I'm sauntering around Rome in search of the best gelato (not really -- I just keep going back to FataMorgana every day!), I'm going to click "Publish" on this, and add as I can, and I invite you to do the same in the comments below.  I'll be back here as soon as possible, adding more on these first ten chapters of this section and moving through the next ten. . .


  1. Maybe I could help a bit:
    First,an addition to Childhood section:-to illustrate,to myself,some facts:
    There was an article in" Daily mail"(via Grazia) last year about Kalaidzi minority of the Romani people in Bulgaria-girls are still banned to continue education after they reach 15 years,they are banned to communicate with boys and go out,because they have to remain virgins till mariagge. Their parents sell them ( yes,sell!)to future husband and after mariagge they become the property of their husband. The honour of their family, and all the girls and women in the family,depends on this fact.
    Back to Lila and Elena:
    Elena starts with the story about Lila's confession about her "dissolving margin" ("smarginatura"),some kind of dissociative identity issues,together with panic attacs,starting from the moment when her father had thrown her through the window.I assume that Lila had to dettach herself from what had really happened,to remain actually sane.
    Lila had to reinvent herself in a lot of different and difficult situations,when she was confronted with an obstacle (or more indeed),she had to try to find another way to express herself,her many gifts and intelligence.
    Both her and Elena,have to live,through the period of chagrin and kind of depression ,alone-Lila had to deal with her father's decision to stop with the education and had chosen to did it alone,while Elena was actually left alone,abandoned by Lila,to deal with all the changes during puberty (without any knowledge about it),and difficulties in secondary school.However,Elena "had made a place for her-Lila-in me"
    The fact was that Lila had chosen to heal her wounds alone,while Elena felt abandoned
    Lila worked and learned "in dark"
    "In flourishing neighbourhood"(materially but not intellectually),Lila tried to find her way (leaving second best kind of course),without school,to success and prosperity. She was a visionary,and if she were permitted and supported in her plan about shoe-making bussiness ,she could became another Ferragamo :-)
    She is sharing only some of her secrets with Elena (learning Latin by herself). When they were united again,Elena started to make progress again,"she studied for Lila more than herself",while Lila studied for herself only (never missing the opportunity to show, or suggest,her superiority!)
    Elena needed Lila as a mirror,her success seemed smaller without Lila's approval,she seems to be whole and clever and happy only when,and if,she could share it with Lila-"there was somerhing unbearable in the things.....only if you reinvented it all,as in a game,became acceptable. The essential,however,was to know how to play,and she and I,only she and I,knew how to do it"
    A bit about Solara brothers:they were wealthy and handsome bullies who bullied especially girls without strong male protection
    Lila,with her slow physical development,was ,in fact,lucky and protected,having time to prepare herself, how to deal with them
    At the end (sorry,it is too long,but I find this part of book very,very important and just couldn't stop,but I am very curious about your thoughts about it)
    Small,but important scene when Elena had failed in Latin and she,completely unexpected,got encouragement from her mother,to learn by herself,because "she could do it"!

    1. Thank you so much.....this much appreciated.

    2. Thanks, Dottoressa. Really helpful, much to think about -- the novel just keeps opening and opening, doesn't it?!

  2. The FIAT the Solara brothers drove can be found here, with apologies for the ugly link:;_ylt=A0LEVjCYculXyLcAINwnnIlQ?p=fiat+1100&fr=yhs-mozilla-002&fr2=piv-web&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-002#id=44&

    When I read the books, it never occurred to me to look up the car and it was the first thing my husband did when he got to pages 107-112>

    Chacun a son gout?


    1. That's wonderful! I'd never think of looking it up either, but these details call us in different ways -- a perfect example of how each of us reads our own novel. . .
      That Fiat reminds me somewhat of the Sunbeam Imp I drove, once a long, long time ago. . .

    2. Believe it or not,I did remember Fiat 1100 (and some other old Fiat models) from my childhood,because they stop producing it around 1970. There are still some to see at oldtimer rallys
      As a very little child (2-3yrs) my son was all in cars (men!),so we had to read a catalog of all cars in the world (and than go for a walk,looking for them-Pokemon came later!)-I still remember that they continued to produce this model in India (and Renault 4-my first car-,I think, in Brasil,but am not sure)
      Yes,it is so interesting how we read :-)

  3. Popping back in to say that is a newer model, but you get the picture...

  4. nyreader, I looked up the car on this read, too, to see how 'posh' the Solaras were.

    The girls don't seem to have much guidance, it's true, but there are bits and pieces...Dottoressa (D, your comments are wonderful!) mentions Elena's mother (nameless! Interesting.) says she can do it, or at least there is nothing saying she can't. Lenu then says "That was all she said, or at least it's what I remember." So. Perhaps something important is missing there. And Maestra Oliviero, for all her blue fairy rejection, suggests Lenu should tell Lila she is learning Greek.

    What does it mean to be brilliant/geniale? Is it intelligence and ability to learn and retain? Does it need some coping skills...compromise, ability to take direction, to adapt to authority, to manage disappointment and defeat, to move about in the world with some degree of comfort to be fully utilized?

    I'm thinking about these things as I read, and of course, looking for evidence to support my theories :)

    Mater, your willful optimism is part of your charm lol! And so many times, most times, you pull off the most amazing feats of organization and achievement! Your mission now is to enjoy your vacation, and just chat with us as time permits...

    1. Thank you so much,always pleasure to read your comments (and think of them afterwards ),even without compliments ;-)
      My answer to what does it mean to be brilliant/geniale,and is it really good or bad,- in this particular case- would spoil the story!
      Very interesting conversation

  5. Yes, I'm glad both you and D commented on E's mother's reaching-out. And it's true, the adult E suggests the possibility of something more by saying "at least it's what I remember." And Maestra O. plays such an important role, a decisive one, even, despite, as you point out, that "blue fairy rejection."
    I think that's the question for many of us: what does it mean to be brilliant/ géniale? And how interesting that the Italian word can be translated in both directions. Some of us find it a contradiction, in a woman at least. . .
    I read your last paragraph while out in a restaurant, solo at my table, and oh, it made me smile so broadly. . . What a lovely, lovely thing to say. Thank you!