Drawing Elena Ferrante’s Profile: International Workshop at University of Padova

Dear DLS-SIGroupies (is that what we are?),

Some of us took part this month in a very interesting workshop in Padova, Italy, part of the International Quantitative Linguistics Associations‘ biennial summer school, organized by our dear friend Arjuna Tuzzi from Padova University’s Gruppo Interdisciplinare di Analisi Testuale. It was devoted to solving Italy’s current greatest authorship riddle: who is hiding behind the pseudonym of Elena Ferrante, best-selling author of, among others, L’amica geniale. 

In fact I have no idea why I’m blogging about this, since the whole event was covered by “La Repubblica” (so nice to see that there are still countries in this world where literature is taken seriously by mainstream meadia) and the local press. They all published relatively sensible accounts of the event, also with diagrams; and a photo of some of the participants (I don’t want to brag, but…) made it into Greek press as well! Better than that: you can still (I think) watch the proceedings on Livestream!

Still… The speakers were either already members of our SIG, or will be soon, or are our close cousins from Quantitative Linguistics. Arjuna Tuzzi and Michele Cortelazzo (University of Padova), Jacques Savoy (University of Neuchâtel), Jan Rybicki (Jagiellonian University), Maciej Eder (Polish Academy of Sciences), Patrick Juola (Duquesne University), George K. Mikros (National and Kapodistrian University), Pierre Ratinaud (University of Toulouse II) all agreed that stylometric evidence overwhelmingly points to Italian writer Domenico Starnone (he has always been one of the main suspects anyway) rather than his wife, translator Anita Raja; yet her participation of some sort cannot be ruled out. This is very uncharacteristic agreement among people who use different methods and come from different backgrounds; and suggests this is a result that should be reckoned with.

I think this event was noteworthy for two things: first of all, DLS is becoming more and more visible in the media, but there is still a long way to go. Second, it ended in a spontaneous discussion on the ethics of the whole thing. Do anonymous writers have a right to privacy, especially when they’re (probably) alive? Starnone’s and Raja’s privacy had already been trampled upon by journalists who claim to have traced Ferrante’s royalties. Should they not be left alone?

My own answer is the following: I don’t really care who wrote which book, any book, and who took the money, as long as I learn something interesting about the process of literary creation. I think I did this time. While it is quite plausible that both Raja and her husband are in it together, the stylometric fingerprint is that of the latter. If it’s a collaboration, then this is a very valuable insight that might lead us further on: what is, if any, the “silent partner’s” contribution? In what way might Raja’s work as translator of Christa Wolf contribute to the Ferrante phenomenon? If they are, or one of them is, Ferrante, are they becoming Ferrante themselves?

Digital Literary Stylistics (DLS)

This blog is going to become the web page of the Special Interest Group Digital Literary Stylistics (SIG-DLS), whose constitution has recently received official approval by ADHO (adho.org/sigs). We are going to publish news about the SIG-DLS initiatives and related events, such as workshops and conferences, as well as blog posts about the research done by the SIG members. The full proposal SIG-DLS (as approved by ADHO), with a description of the organisation and its aims, can be found here: https://github.com/DLS-SIG/SIG-Proposal/wiki/DLS-SIG—Proposal