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Artistic Tradition and Feminine Legacy in Elena Ferrante’s L’amore molesto


In this essay I examine Elena Ferrante’s L’amore molesto as a novel about artists, artist figures, and artistic legacies. Delia is a comic artist in Rome; her father is a Neapolitan painter of vulgar commercial canvases; and Amalia is an artist who works with fabric – as a seamstress, she invents and reinvents clothes, bodies, stories. Likewise, the text teems with artworks – the father’s lurid paintings of a semi-nude gypsy; a masterful canvas depicting two women and displayed in the window of a lingerie shop; and several photographic portraits of Amalia and Delia. Notably, all these images portray the woman’s body trapped within the frame of visual representation, within an artwork which is always the product of a male artist. By positing both Delia and her father as artists Ferrante invites scrutiny of their artworks and the social system that enables their production. In this essay I read the discourse constituted by the discrete artworks in the text to contend that the visual representation of women reflects the processes of objectification, fragmentation, and defacement associated with the male gaze and male artistic practice within a Western androcentric tradition. I illustrate these processes by analyzing the image of the female nude in L’amore molesto through the critical lenses of Western art history, visual theory, and feminist thought. I argue that Ferrante’s novel resists patrilineal artistic legacy by advocating a feminine genealogy that connects Delia and Amalia as artist figures and bonds them through the act of artistic creation. This reading offers a new approach to the novel and enriches our understanding of the text. It brings into focus Ferrante’s visual poetics and opens new lines of inquiry into her creative imagination.

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