The Ferrante Letters
An Experiment in Collective Criticism
by Sarah Chihaya, Merve Emre, Katherine Hill, and Jill Richards
Pub Date 07 Jan 2020
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Like few other works of contemporary literature, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels found an audience of passionate and engaged readers around the world. Inspired by Ferrante’s intense depiction of female friendship and women’s intellectual lives, four critics embarked upon a project that was both work and play: to create a series of epistolary readings of the Neapolitan Quartet that also develops new ways of reading and thinking together.
In a series of intertwined, original, and daring readings of Ferrante’s work and her fictional world, Sarah Chihaya, Merve Emre, Katherine Hill, and Jill Richards strike a tone at once critical and personal, achieving a way of talking about literature that falls between the seminar and the book club. Their letters make visible the slow, fractured, and creative accretion of ideas that underwrites all literary criticism and also illuminate the authors’ lives outside the academy. The Ferrante Letters offers an improvisational, collaborative, and cumulative model for reading and writing with others, proposing a new method the authors call collective criticism. A book for fans of Ferrante and for literary scholars seeking fresh modes of intellectual exchange, The Ferrante Letters offers incisive criticism, insouciant riffs, and the pleasure of giving oneself over to an extended conversation about fiction with friends.
Sarah Chihaya is assistant professor of English at Princeton University.
Merve Emre is associate professor of English at the University of Oxford. Her most recent book is The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing (2018).
Katherine Hill is assistant professor of English at Adelphi University and the author of the novel The Violet Hour (2013).
Jill Richards is assistant professor of English and affiliated faculty in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University.
"The Ferrante Letters is a smart, beautiful, often moving meditation on the experience of reading the Neapolitan Quartet. This collection of letters and essays deftly manages that tricky balance of the creative, the critical, and the personal. A magnificent accomplishment."
—Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift: A Novel
"These four smart feminist critics reflect on the novels' exploration of women's friendship, intellectual labor, and personal lives. Reading The Ferrante Letters feels like you have stumbled upon your favorite reading group talking about your favorite author. It captures the way critical thinking should work, not in isolation but in conversation."
—Pamela Thurschwell, University of Sussex
"In The Ferrante Letters, expertise and passion dovetail to great effect. This absorptive, idiosyncratic book is a work of collective criticism that offers a set of rigorous, convivial, and stylish readings of its primary texts, staging the critical act as also a creative one. This book reveals that the form literary criticism takes is as important as its content."
—Sarah Blackwood, author of The Portrait's Subject