Before doing that, I'll just point out for those of you who haven't visited before, or at least not often, that I've already posted a few times about Ferrante's Neapolitan series (i.e. My Brilliant Friend and the three volumes following it). You can find those posts, if you're interested, here, but there may be a few spoilers. What those posts show, I think, is that having read all four books in the series through in relatively quick succession (I had to wait for the fourth to be published in English), I closed the last pages of the final volume and turned almost immediately back to the introduction of the first one. Despite the linearity -- an inexorable pull to the end, to find out what happens, to follow these two women's lives -- the "frame story" of the series, I believe you will agree should you read all four titles, circles us right back to where we started.
For now, though, it is time to get started. We can think about endings and circling back later.
Rereading My Brilliant Friend, I decide I should pay more attention to the epigraph. My copy of Goethe's Faust is packed away in storage with all our moving boxes, but a little Googling takes me to this article by Alice Brittan, published in Open Letters Monthly in September 2015. In the article, Brittan helpfully "unpacks," as we used often to say in academe, the provenance and the significance of this quotation as epigraph at the beginning not only of My Brilliant Friend but also, by extension, of the entire Neapolitan series.
Most of you are reading this novel for the first time, and you are too eager to get on with it to read Brittan's article -- which, fair warning, is replete with "spoilers," as it's a work of literary criticism (i.e. analysis) rather than a review. But it's worth at least skimming the paragraphs that consider the epigraph. In case even that much time away from Ferrante's pages is too much for you, let me summarise very briefly: Brittan sketches the scene for those who haven't read Faust, describing the devil, Mephistopheles, interrupting a "colloquium of archangels" to scorn humanity as "a rather sorry sight." God disagrees, and bets the devil that he will not be able to seduce the professor Dr. Faust to abandon his allegiance to good.
What is arguably shocking in Goethe's play is that when the devil boasts that he will be able to bring the man to the ground, to the level of the Eve-tempting snake, Goethe's God answers, Brittan tells us, that he never "never hated those who were like you" (i.e., like Mephistopheles, the devil). And this is when, as Brittan points out, God makes the speech which Ferrante has taken for her epigraph, a speech in which he points out that humanity is prone to boredom, to "unqualified repose," and that therefore God has gifted human beings with a companion, the Devil, "who works, excites, and must create."
Brittan goes on to link the creative energies associated with Mephistopheles to the chaotic creative power that Lina/Lila unleashes throughout and from which Lenù, the story's writer-narrator, benefits. We don't need to decide whether that's a viable reading of the epigraph's relation to the novel/series, but I do think it's worth keeping in mind throughout that the epigraph draws attention to the compromises creativity might seem to demand of one's morality. That the epigraph suggests that Good and Evil might be more complicatedly intertwined than we sometimes like to believe. That "unqualified repose" is worth disturbing, perhaps even at the cost of one's soul. . . Or not, because, of course, in the end Faust will suffer. . .
Something else the Goethe quotation does, Brittan argues and I would agree, is place the novel in a category labeled World Literature. That is, as much as the novel is so specifically about two girls growing to older women in (and out of, for one of them) a neighbourhood of Naples, it also has universal or international relevance. We can find out something in these novels about the human condition that is not limited to its Neapolitan provenance, important, absolutely integral, undeniably, though that regional flavour is.
That's enough to get us started, I think. Now perhaps you could leave a Comment below and introduce yourself briefly if you haven't visited before. Feel free to use the Anonymous option, but it would be great if you used a name within that option, at the end of your comment -- fine if it's a nickname or psuedonym, just something so we can get a sense of who's saying what as we move through the book together. For now, perhaps just your name and a few words about where you are in the novel (just starting, finished, re-reading, halfway through) and what you think so far. Let's try to avoid spoilers, for now, in consideration for those who haven't read as far yet.
On Friday, I'll post a few thoughts about the Prologue, and next Monday, on Chapters 1-10 of the section Childhood. I'm really looking forward to our conversation! (oh, and a recommendation: I wouldn't bother spending much time looking at the Cast of Characters before you begin reading, but you may find it useful to refer back to as you get caught up in the Neapolitan neighbourhood's complex relationships).
So now, over to you. I'd love to know who's out there, reading along. Please introduce yourselves below.