Do you think female fiction is constitutionally weak?


Not at all. I’m talking about my adolescent anxieties. For obvious historical reasons, women’s writing has a less dense and varied tradition than male writing, but it has extremely high points and also an extraordinary foundational value—just think of Jane Austen. The twentieth century, besides, was a century of radical change for women. Feminist thought and practice set in motion the deepest, most radical of the many transformations that took place in the last century. I wouldn’t recognize myself without women’s struggles, women’s nonfiction, women’s literature—they made me an adult. My experience as a novelist, both published and unpublished, culminated, after twenty years, in the attempt to relate, in a writing that was appropriate, my sex and its difference. But if we have to cultivate our narrative tradition, as women, that doesn’t mean we should renounce the entire stock of techniques we have behind us. We have to show that we can construct worlds that are not only as wide and powerful and rich as those constructed by men but more so. We have to be well equipped, we have to dig deep into our difference, using advanced tools. Above all, we have to insist on the greatest freedom. Writers should be concerned only with narrating what they know and feel—beautiful, ugly, or contradictory—without succumbing to ideological conformity or blind adherence to a canon. Writing requires maximum ambition, maximum audacity, and programmatic disobedience.

—From The Paris Review’s interview with the bestselling Italian writer Elena Ferrante, conducted by her Italian publishers, Sandro and Sandra Ferri. Ferrante writes under a pseudonym to protect her privacy and freedom to write, and this was her first in-person interview ever.

Read the interview