"Promotion is expensive": Elena Ferrante on anonymity
Posted by the Bookshop
Elena Ferrante's determination to remain out of the public eye has been a source of fascination for the media and her readers. On 21 September 1991, immediately prior to the publication of her debut novel (translated in English as Troubling Love), she wrote to her Italian publisher Sandra Ozzola, confirming and clarifying her position.
During the meeting I had recently with you and your husband [Sandro Ferri, co-founder and publisher of Edizioni EO], which was very enjoyable, you askedme what I intend to do for the promotion of Troubling Love (it’s good that you’re getting me used to calling the book by its final title). You asked the question ironically, with one of your bemused expressions. At the moment, I didn’t have the courage to answer you: I thought I had already been clear with Sandro; he had said that he absolutely agreed with my decision, and I hoped that he wouldn’t return to the subject, even jokingly. Now I’m answering in writing, which eliminates pauses, uncertainties, any possibility of compliance.
I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad. I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum. I am absolutely committed in this sense to myself and my family. I hope not to be forced to change my mind. I understand that this may cause some difficulties at the publishing house. I have great respect for your work, I liked you both immediately, and I don’t want to cause trouble. If you no longer mean to support me, tell me right away, I’ll understand. It’s not at all necessary for me to publish this book. To explain all the reasons for my decision, is, as you know, hard for me. I will only tell you that it’s a small bet with myself, with my convictions. I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t. There are plenty of examples. I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child. I went to bed in great excitement and in the morning I woke up and the gifts were there, but no one had seen the Befana. True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known; they are the very small miracles of the secret spirits of the home or the great miracles that leave us truly astonished. I still have this childish wish for marvels, large or small, I still believe in them.
Therefore, dear Sandra, I will say to you clearly: if Troubling Love does not have, in itself, thread enough to weave, well, it means that you and I were mistaken; if, on the other hand, it does, the thread will be woven where it can be, and we will have only to thank the readers for their patience in taking it by the end and pulling.
Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.