Since the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the so-called “Neapolitan novels” released by the pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante, readers have enjoyed speculating about the writer’s real identity nearly as much as they enjoy her books. Now one Italian newspaper thinks they’ve cracked the code. Milan’s Corriere della Sera has just published an article in their books section La Lettura by writer and professor Marco Santagata, in which he claims to reveal the true identity of the mysterious author.
Santagata’s guess is Marcella Marmo, a professor at, appropriately enough, a Neapolitan university. The key turned out to be Ferrante’s descriptions of Pisa: She used pre-1968 street names and didn’t use any of the lingo adopted after the 1966 flood of the Arno. Santagata used this to date the time Ferrante must have attended the Normale di Pisa, the same university Santagata attended, and that led him to Marmo. For now, Santagata’s theory is unconfirmed—even if Marmo confesses, it may be best to let the books speak for themselves—but we’ve emailed Marmo (Ferrante?!) for comment and we’ll update if we hear back.
Update, March 12, 7:30 PM: In a new interview with the Corriere della Sera, Marcella Marmo has denied the paper’s claim that she is Ferrante. In the interview, Marmo characterizes herself as “timid and reserved,” qualities that, according to her, mean she could not be such an important author. In fact, Marmo claims to have only read My Brilliant Friend, and requested that the newspaper buy her copies of Ferrante’s other books to make up for all the phone calls and interview requests she’s been receiving since the story ran (including Slate’s).
Marmo remembered another woman at the Normale di Pisa who would meet Santagata’s qualifications, but couldn’t recall her name. Santagata identified her as Maria Mercogliano, but ruled her out as a possible Ferrante because Mercogliano was in Pisa during the flood of 1966 and the student occupation of 1967. Marmo also suggested Neapolitan author Silvio Perrella. (When Corriere della Sera contacted Perrella, he had no comment.)
Ferrante’s publisher, Edizioni E/O, has also released a statement, saying (in Italian), “We deny that Elena Ferrante is Marcella Marmo and hope that everyone can get back to discussing the book and not the identity of the author.”
In a video from Corriere della Sera, Santagata lays out the specific historical clues he found in the Neapolitan novels that led him to Marmo. You can watch it in Italian below, though so far there’s no English translation.
Update, March 13, 9:20 PM: In an email to Slate, Marcella Marmo points to a wire story (in Italian) quoting her denial. A rough translation of her statement:
Notoriety has no upside. It’s never pleasant. Thank you to everyone who thought that I could be a happy bestseller writer, but as I’ve already tried in vain to say in recent days, I am not Elena Ferrante. Despite having left no possibility for doubt, the story that I am behind Ferrante’s identity continues to circulate. I politely ask the press to put away the mystery stories and leave me to my work in history.
Read more in Slate about Elena Ferrante: