Opinions appear still to be sharply divided about whether outing is OK or not. Julien Assange (I suppose that’s his real name, but who’d be surprised if it wasn’t) does us some kind of service by revealing many of the secrets held by governments, though of course endangering spies by outing them is hardly an innocent ploy. In the end we can’t really know whether the harm Wikileaks has done is outweighed by the good. Personally I think governments make secret far too many things: they are our representatives after all.
Now Elena Ferrante has been outed by Claudio Gatti in the New York Review of Books blog, and many people are shocked and appalled. Rumors of Ms Raja and Ms Ferrante’s common identity have apparently been circulating for a couple of years. (The only other real suspect was actually Ms Raja’s husband!) Ferrante, who has said she’d not write any more if her identity was disclosed, presumably isn’t pleased. Alexandra Schwartz comments disapprovingly in The New Yorker. The “discovery” of Ferrante’s real identity appears to be the result of investigation of Ms Raja’s spending — “follow the money” wins again. It all sounds convincing, but might of course all result from massive inexplicable co-incidence.
The publisher Edizioni e/o has been milking the mystery of their author’s identity, arranging anonymous interviews and encouraging her to write Frantumaglia, Ferrante’s pseudo-autobiographical collection of pieces. Obviously, as Ms Ferrante’s publisher, they have been being showered with money, and have every interest in keeping the story going. Their revenues went up 65% in 2014, and another 150% the following year. (Ms Raja’s earnings appear to have increased by similar percentages.) Cynically one is tempted to think that Ms Ferante’s threat not to write any more if outed, hides the fact that maybe she’s reached the end of the Naples story and won’t be writing any sequels anyway, whether as Ms Raja or Ms Ferrante. People who are acting all shocked are probably just dancing to the tune played by shrewd media maestros by keeping the story alive. WHAT DOES IT MATTER? If you like the books, why do you care whether they are written by Elena Ferrante or Anita Raja? I’m pretty sure that one part of the implicit bargain you make for fame and fortune is that your privacy is no longer under your control. You either sign up for this deal or you don’t. Having it both ways isn’t an available option. Ms Ferrante-Raja has had a good innings: her privacy had pretty much held for 25 years. Now she’s got quite a bit to compensate her for its loss.
On the BBC program “World Have Your Say” on 5 October it was claimed that knowing the real identity of the author takes away from the reality with which she writes: in other words these readers claim that what she writes appears real, almost to them non-fiction, and now they can’t believe this any more because it’s been revealed that the author isn’t a Neapolitan but a Roman who thus couldn’t be writing autobiography! Why do these readers privilege the hints at a fictitious autobiography over the real facts? Why does it matter whether she had three sisters or not? She has kind of warned these fans: as she wrote in Frantumaglia, “I don’t at all hate lies, in life I find them useful and I resort to them when necessary to shield my person, feelings, pressures.” Caveat emptor. Fiction is fiction, and it’s merely shrewd marketing to blur its edges. Surely if you get into a novel and are enchanted into its fictional world to the extent you believe it to be real, then the last thing you are thinking about is the person who wrote the book. The character speaking in their own voice is either convincing or not. Why does discovering that it’s Anita reporting the words rather than Elena make them less impactful?
I expressed my view Pseudonymy last year.