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Playing with the Maternal Body: Violence, Mutilation, and the Emergence of the Female Subject in Ferrante’s Novels


Elena Ferrante’s texts explore new notions of feminine identity and rethink fundamental aspects of gender relations and social constructs, most prominently of motherhood. However, whilst her narrative depicts specifically female-centered experiences, her protagonists remain profoundly affected by the patriarchal structures and spaces that they set out to expose and subvert. A particularly productive way of approaching this tension in Ferrante’s works is through an analysis of her complex depictions of maternity, which stand at the center of the author’s textual negotiation of the troubled and discontinuous emergence of the female subject.

In a close reading of L’amore molesto (1992), La figlia oscura (2006) and the Neapolitan quartet (2011-2014), I will argue that Ferrante’s texts often filter the conflicts that afflict their female protagonists through the maternal body. My analysis will show that the latter is often affected by forms of dislocation or mutilation that synechdochically mirror the characters’ sense of existential unease. Ultimately, I will argue that Ferrante’s narrative does not simply reproduce the formlessness or subsumption that has dominated patriarchal appropriations of the female body, but it reframes and renegotiates the position of the feminine subject in patriarchal society from the perspective of a newly gained agency and creative power.


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