Mother of Melodrama

The feral freedom of children in Elsa Morante’s novels

By Cora Currier

Morante browsing a Renato Guttuso catalogue in her Rome apartment, 1961.

Elena Ferrante’s penname is reportedly an homage to Elsa Morante, one of the most famous Italian women writers of the postwar generation. Ferrante’s books are full of fraught motherhood, and when she won the Elsa Morante prize (a major Italian literary honor) she went searching for “an unequivocally female passage on the mother figure,” to cite in her acceptance speech. But she couldn’t find one. She could only find passages where “sons imagine their mothers,” she relates in Frantumaglia. Or daughters — here is Elisa, the narrator of Morante’s novel Lies and Sorcery, writing as a young woman:

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