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Probably the most internationally prestigious female author of the 21st Century is Elena Ferrante, who writes novels about girls growing up in Naples. But Ferrante is a pen name, and the identity of the writer or writers behind the pseudonym have never been announced.

From Literary Hub:

Have Italian Scholars Figured Out the Identity of Elena Ferrante?

Elisa Sotgiu on Reading Gender and Class in One of the Great Literary Mysteries of Our Time

March 31, 2021

When Claudio Gatti published an investigation into Elena Ferrante’s identity, a few years ago, he raised an outcry both in Italy and abroad. He had pried into the author’s privacy, violated her right to remain anonymous. It was unfair, it was irrelevant, we didn’t want to know.

Didn’t we? Yes and no. There was one conclusion that mattered in Gatti’s article: the person writing Ferrante’s novels was the translator Anita Raja, a woman.

Gatti showed, among other things, that Ms. Raja and her husband, Italian literary lion Domenico Starnone, had bought a very nice apartment for themselves after the Elena Ferrante royalties began to pour in.

That’s kind of like doxxing, so I’m not sure if I approve.

That was a relief. If you haven’t experienced firsthand how sexist Italian academics and journalists can be, it might be difficult to imagine how important Ferrante’s gender has been for all of us studying her work over the years. Before My Brilliant Friend was even published, there were rumors that Ferrante’s work had been authored by a man, and they intensified after the success of the Neapolitan Novels in the United States. I remember my advisor telling me about these speculations when I started working on Ferrante in 2015; we both scoffed at the misogyny that that kind of gossip implied, feeling like we were on the trenches of a mini culture war.

So when I first stumbled on a series of scholarly articles that, through stylometric analysis, identified Elena Ferrante as the Italian novelist Domenico Starnone (Anita Raja’s husband), I was not ready to lay down my weapons. At that time, I hadn’t read any of Starnone’s novels. I knew that he was a prolific author, that he had written about high school, and that his long, semi-autobiographical novel about his youth in Naples, Via Gemito, had won the prestigious Premio Strega. But I didn’t really care about him. When confronted with the idea that he might be the author of my beloved Neapolitan Novels, my first impulse was to push that information aside, not talk about it, and not think about it too much, either.

I was hardly alone. Although the first of those stylometric articles, by Arjuna Tuzzi and Michele A Cortelazzo, came out in 2018—just at the moment when international publications on Ferrante were multiplying exponentially—it was hardly ever cited outside the field of digital humanities. On the rare occasion that it was mentioned, it was quickly dismissed: addressing the problem of Ferrante’s identity, it appears, is quite detrimental to any serious analysis of her writing for some scholars.

For someone interested, like I am, in the cultural history of our present, the creation of Elena Ferrante is a remarkable case study.

It is good practice among Ferrante scholars to declare that whatever her gender, what counts is that she chose to adopt a woman’s persona. But the fact remains that critics frequently (though reproachfully) cite Gatti when they want to discuss Anita Raja’s ideas about translation in relation to Ferrante, while they carefully ignore Tuzzi, Cortellazzo, Jacques Savoy, and the other nine scholars who confirmed that Ferrante’s and Starnone’s styles are often indistinguishable. Rachel Donadio was the only one who attempted (fruitfully) to put Ferrante’s and Starnone’s novels in conversation, but she did so in the pages of the The Atlantic and the The New York Times: the same comparison is very much a taboo in academia.

Let’s start from the beginning, then, and see what picture of Ferrante those articles allow us to trace. First of all, it’s useful to know that Tuzzi and Cortellazzo put together a large corpus for their analyses: 150 novels by 40 contemporary Italian novelists, balanced by gender and regional provenance. This body of texts was then used by a group of international experts who participated in a summer workshop at the University of Padova in 2017. They worked independently and with different methodological approaches but reached similar conclusions (the workshop proceedings are published here by the Padova University Press). While earlier investigations, like this one from 2006, relied on a simple comparison between Starnone and Ferrante, these scholars used less arbitrary methods. Georgios Mikros from Athens University, for example, used the textual corpus to train a machine-learning algorithm to profile authors (that is, identify their gender, age, and provenance) with a high degree of accuracy. This algorithm concluded that the person behind Elena Ferrante was a male over 60 years old from the region of Campania.

And that aging Neapolitan man looks suspiciously like Domenico Starnone: in Maciej Eder’s and Jan Rybicki’s visual representation of the corpus, Ferrante’s and Starnone’s novels occupy the same marginal spot, distant from the larger network of texts and connected to them only by Starnone’s first three novels, which were written between 1987 and 1991. In other words, both Starnone and Ferrante are highly original authors, different from every other Italian writer but very close to each other.

And she lists several more ways that digital literary analysts have piled up evidence linking Ferrante with the well-known male writer.

This suggests that in the future, even pseudonymous dissidents who are careful about op sec are in danger of getting doxed by techniques invented by digital literary scholars for artistic questions like this. As far back as the early 1990s, quantitative stylometric analysis suggested that the anonymous author of the bestselling roman a clef about the Clintons, Primary Colors, was Time political reporter Joe Klein, which Klein eventually admitted to be true.

At present, it still seems like a lot of skilled work to crack pseudonymous identities this way, but in the future, who knows?

… This data can be interpreted in different ways. At the beginning, it seems clear that Starnone is using Ferrante’s name when he wants to adopt a female first-person narrator, without worrying about changing his distinctive voice. Later, he might have worked towards a more marked differentiation of the two styles—or something else might have happened. Maybe a collaboration with Raja. One author, Rybicki, who had previous experience analyzing a couple’s writing efforts, doesn’t exclude that possibility.

If you assume the wife is the The Author, then it’s only natural to wonder how much help she got from her talented husband, the well-regarded novelist?

But if you assume the husband is The Author, then it’s only natural to wonder how much help he got from his skilled wife, the professional translator?

Maybe the husband always enjoyed help with his novels from his wife. Maybe the wife copy-edited her husband’s early novels into their current style, the way editor Gordon Lish edited short story author Raymond Carver into his famous style?

There are a lot of possibilities.

For example, in the Coen Brother’s 1941 Hollywood movie Barton Fink, the William Faulkner character (John Mahoney) is picking up paychecks as a screenwriter but is usually roaring drunk by mid-day. Yet his devoted secretary/mistress (Judy Davis) keeps turning in the required number of pages by 5 pm. Eventually she admits to Barton (John Turturro) that she wrote the great man’s last two novels.

The vast majority of novels are attributed to just one writer, but more dialogue-heavy writing like screenplays and plays often are attributed to two. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote many sci-fi novels independently, but their biggest successes were joint efforts.

In real life, he-man writer-director John Huston’s career was increasingly facilitated by the screenwriting skills of his secretary Gladys Hill, She eventually earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing The Man Who Would Be King with Huston.

… Starnone’s choice of writing as a man for a prestigious publisher and as a woman for a marginal one was consistent with the structure of the male-dominated Italian literary space.

… If being a woman author was a liability in Italy, it was much less so in the United States. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, women constituted 60 percent of shortlisted authors and 60 percent of winners of the National Book Award for Fiction, 52 percent of nominees and 60 percent of winners of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and 80 percent of winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award, just to mention some of the most important recognitions. While Ferrante gave global readers a “fever,” Domenico Starnone received critical attention in the US only with his 2014 novel Ties, which can be read as a sequel to Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment.

I’m not suggesting that the invention of Elena Ferrante was only a shrewd editorial enterprise. A female pen name might have been a way to avoid criticism …

So, unless you are the late Umberto Eco, it’s hard for an Italian man to make it big as a novelist in America, because American men don’t read novels much as the literary establishment isn’t very interested in trying to lure back male readers. So, brand diversification is smart: write as yourself in macho Italy and write under a female pen name in feminized America.

 
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  1. • Thanks: Mike Tre
  2. I suppose at some point they’ll have some software that can go through and store the “style-data” of 100’s of thousands of novels, take a new novel as input, and output a top-10 list of likely authors. In the meantime, rather than worrying about who wrote this book, maybe those literary scholars could do something more along the lines of writing their own damn books.

    I do know how the author of this piece feels, as it was for me when, after their first album, I found out that the Indigo Girls were lesbians. The love songs just weren’t quite the same. That didn’t stop me from listening to the next one, Nomads, Indians, Saints though, but the music seemed to take a back seat to lesbianism as far as the fans at the concerts went.

    • Replies: @fish
    , @Anonymous
  3. Maybe Starnone is transgender.

    • Replies: @Cortes
  4. @JohnnyWalker123

    Thank you, Johnny Walker. I read the VDare article yesterday, and “Washington Watcher II” was pretty upbeat on this one. This is really laying it all out in the open. You shine the light of truth on these people, and they are screwed, like a cockroach caught out in the middle of the kitchen table when I already have a beer bottle in my hand.

    Go VDare! Go iSteve! Go Tucker!

  5. fish says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    ……after their first album, I found out that the Indigo Girls were lesbians.

    ….no…..not possible.

  6. jon says:

    If being a woman author was a liability in Italy, it was much less so in the United States. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, women constituted 60 percent of shortlisted authors and 60 percent of winners of the National Book Award for Fiction, 52 percent of nominees and 60 percent of winners of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and 80 percent of winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award, just to mention some of the most important recognitions.

    When you consistently take home the majority of the big awards in a field for an entire decade, some might consider that the liability of womanhood is so much less so that it is actually a benefit.

  7. @Achmed E. Newman

    They’re scared.

    Look at this. Even establishmentarian Charlie Kirk is saying this now.

    One news segment and the Overton window shifts dramatically. Imagine what could become possible if President Tucker Carlson was in the Whitehouse?

    The possibilities are endless.

    I’m sorry, but Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, and the others had DECADES to say something like this. It’s ridiculous that it took this long before someone had the guts to say this.

    Just think how many times the above commentators praised Israel over the years. Did it ever occur to them that America should adopt Israel’s immigration&border policies? If you can’t defend America’s demographics, then how exactly are you a “conservative?” What exactly are you “conserving?”

  8. Simon says:

    Gee, I’m kind of sorry I read this post of yours. I’m a huge fan of the Italian TV series based on “My Brilliant Friend” (two seasons so far), especially its gorgeous period sets and photography, as well as the vivid characters and haunting music; and now the whole thing seems a little… spoiled. Or at least not as real.

    And then there are the spare, terse, gritty, depressing short stories of Raymond Carver — which apparently were a lot more verbose, and less ambiguous, before celebrated editor Gordon Lish took a scalpel to them and pared away a lot of the original text. It’s hard to feel the same about them, knowing that the finished product isn’t entirely Carver’s.

  9. Hodag says:

    My writing style is transparency obvious. I love the colon : it creates a break and a certain tension.

    I also give away my sometime profession this

    1. A list.

    2. Of bullet points.

    3. Trying to keep things punchy and short, then

    4. A gigantic paragraph most talking about Butler National.

    Yeah, I buy this.

    • Replies: @The Alarmist
    , @Rosie
  10. Polistra says:

    If Jennifer Rubin and Jonathan Greenblatt are against you, you must be doing God’s own work. No idea who Hanabuki is.

    You can tell from their characteristically smug tone that these Establishment drones are certain that their favored epithets will have the usual effect.

    But there’s just a hint of sub rosa panic, too. For that, we thank you.

    • Agree: Bardon Kaldian
  11. Well, wait a minute. Pournelle’s greatest successes were his collaborations with Niven, but implying that Inferno or Lucifer’s Hammer or even Mote was a greater Niven success than Ringworld or than Known Space in general is…not reality based. Heck, The Integral Trees was as big as any Niven/Pournelle(/Barnes) project.

    • Thanks: Redneck farmer
  12. Anonymous[231] • Disclaimer says:

    So, unless you are the late Umberto Eco, it’s hard for an Italian man to make it big as a novelist in America, because American men don’t read novels much as the literary establishment isn’t very interested in trying to lure back male readers. So, brand diversification is smart: write as yourself in macho Italy and write under a female pen name in feminized America.

    Don DeLillo is a very masculine writer whose novels appeal to male tastes and interests, and he’s had interest and support from the literary establishment.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/12/magazine/don-delillo-interview.html

    A permeating paranoia. Profound absurdity. Conspiracy and terrorism. Technological alienation. Violence bubbling, ready to boil. This has long been the stuff of Don DeLillo’s masterly fiction. It’s now the air we breathe. For nearly 50 years and across 17 novels, among them classics like “White Noise,” “Libra” and “Underworld,” DeLillo, who is 83, has summoned the darker currents of the American experience with maximum precision and uncanny imagination. His enduring sensitivity to the zeitgeist is such that words like “prophetic” and “oracular” figure frequently in discussion of his work. They will very likely figure again in regards to his new novel, “The Silence,” in which a mysterious event on Super Bowl Sunday 2022 causes screens everywhere to go blank.

    • Replies: @slumber_j
  13. @Simon

    News to me, not that I care about either, but rather amusing since Carver, from what I recall, is/was seem some kind of genius writing guru/saint whose sandal other writers were not fit to tie, etc.

  14. raga10 says:
    @Simon

    I’m a huge fan of the Italian TV series based on “My Brilliant Friend”

    So am I, and gender of the person who wrote the books it is based on makes no difference to me; I tend to see creators and their works as largely separate and that works out for me just fine: recent allegations against Joss Whedon don’t change my opinion that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the greatest show ever, and whatever opinion J.K Rowling has on transgender issues is her own business as far as I am concerned. Likewise, if “My Brilliant Friend” was written by a man that’s kind of a neat twist in my book but not Earth-shattering discovery – it’s not like I was expecting to have sex with her, is it?

  15. Charles Dickens saw through George Eliot’s ruse from the prose alone.

    • Replies: @dfordoom
  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylometry

    A technical question: Is there any way an author(ess) can prove his/her sex without revealing anything else about his/her identity?

    • Replies: @Bardon Kaldian
  17. Peterike says:
    @Simon

    “ now the whole thing seems a little… spoiled. Or at least not as real.”

    Why? You don’t have to be a whale to write “Moby Dick.” That’s why it’s called fiction.

    • LOL: Achmed E. Newman
    • Replies: @Simon
  18. To what sex does google’s adsense cluster him?

  19. Anon[130] • Disclaimer says:

    Back in the day female genre writers, such as in sci-fi, would use male noms de plume. Now it’s on the cusp of a pole shift. There don’t seem to be that many novels by men anymore, and male writers like espionage novelist Olen Steinhauer are sounding more and more female, with page after page of chick-litesque relationship BS in the middle of their books.

    I think male writers are getting the message: attract female readers, or take your stuff to Amazon self-publishing. I think part of this is declining male interest in reading fiction, and part is the capture of the New York publishing industry by female staffers. It’s a typical low pay job that is nevertheless highly yearned after, like a job in the fashion industy, the game design industy, or the movie special effects industry. There is lots of competition for New York publishing industry jobs among trust-fund Ivy grad young women in New York.

    • Replies: @peterike
    , @Known Fact
  20. At present, it still seems like a lot of skilled work to crack pseudonymous identities this way, but in the future, who knows?

    Nah. It’s quantitative. Machines can do it. A fun example is how the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic showed how Edward de Vere is even less likely of a candidate for Barddom than Elizabeth I– who herself didn’t rank that high. This was thirty years ago, with dot matrix printers.

    Anita Raja… Arjuna Tuzzi… Maciej Eder…

    What’s with all these Js? Isn’t this Italy? Are they all Juventus supporters?

    It’s like those many Brazilian musicians with Ks, Ws, and Ys in their names, but not their alphabet. The Caymmis were of Italian descent, but there’s no Y in either language.

    Maybe the husband always enjoyed help with his novels from his wife.

    Dick Francis did.

    • Replies: @SunBakedSuburb
  21. vhrm says:

    This suggests that in the future, even pseudonymous dissidents who are careful about op sec are in danger of getting doxed by techniques invented by digital literary scholars for artistic questions like this. As far back as the early 1990s, quantitative stylometric analysis suggested that the anonymous author of the bestselling roman a clef about the Clintons, Primary Colors, was Time political reporter Joe Klein, which Klein eventually admitted to be true.

    At present, it still seems like a lot of skilled work to crack pseudonymous identities this way, but in the future, who knows?

    i don’t have any inside info, but i’d be shocked if this wasn’t already available to nation states and even large corporates (or companies they might hire).

    i.e. if a company wants to figure out who wrote an anonymous whistleblowing op-ed or anonymous complaint and they have years of everyone’s emails, and documents to compare to i doubt they’d have trouble matching even with today’s tech.

    Whether the NSA can already match any substantial piece of text to anybody based on having already pre-computed signatures of all public FB / twitter / linkedIn accounts… idk, but i wouldn’t be too surprised.

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
  22. Anonymous[302] • Disclaimer says:
    @JohnnyWalker123

    ~15 yrs ago there was a concept, I think popularized by Kausfiles, of the Feiler Faster thesis (which I now see has its own Wikipedia entry). The “news cycle” never lasts long enough any more to actually lead directly into the major policy or career decisions we associated with scandal fallout in the 80s/90s.

    Because there is so much manufactured scandal, political theater, hypochondria, rioting, war omens from Taiwan/Donbass — overall, so much media competition for finite attention — I think there is not even 1% chance of Carlson or Fox being dented this month by this scandal. Has anyone from News Corp. resigning because of the replacement monologues? Not in this media job market.

    The usual suspects of course will invest more time and money in stalking him, and that is not to say he won’t misstep eventually, perhaps to be expected given his (relatively) defiant talk style. But if popular outrage claims him it won’t be from the content of the show. He isn’t a female Ghostbusters reboot or the state of Georgia, he’s a known quantity, and everyone who hates him already hated him and everyone who doesn’t is at least mildly interested in the controversy regardless of how they feel about replacements.

  23. anonymous[200] • Disclaimer says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    the under 18 population in the US is over 50% minority and race mixing at high rates. even in the best case scenario, what is there to cheer on?

  24. “quantitative stylometric analysis”

    Writers with multiple personalities can defeat this form of surveillance devised by creepily covetous English Lit. profs and statisticians who find themselves bereft of the spark of divine madness.

    • Replies: @Cortes
  25. Anonymous[302] • Disclaimer says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    If the band name and musical style didn’t tip you off– what did?

    Lesbian-marketed pop-folk underwent an inexplicable vogue in the early 90s, though it might have been reacting to the twinned macho phenomena of grunge rock and stadium-friendly country, the kind that used more spotlights and pyrotechnics.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  26. No biggie.

    Readers soon figured out 19th century novelists Acton, Ellis, and Currer Bell were three Yorkshire chicks called Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte, but their publishers thought the books would sell better with androgynous names. Publishers are like that.

  27. Not Raul says:

    In the early 2000s, a somewhat quantitative stylometric analysis submitted to a former college bowl contestant . . .

  28. Publishers are desperate for black authors now. Seems like an opportunity for white writers to submit work under black-sounding pseudonyms. Maybe people are already doing it.

    • Replies: @Gary in Gramercy
  29. Why are they so sensitive about ‘her’ possibly being a man? Novel-writing is one of the few fields where women really don’t have to have an inferiority complex about underperforming men.

  30. @International Jew

    Sure, but won’t someone at a reputable publisher wonder how “Latrina Washington” learned to write just like Evelyn Waugh? (I know, “reputable” is a term with great flexibility, and most 24-year-old editorial assistants think Evelyn Waugh was a girl, so it’s all good.)

    • LOL: Kylie
  31. @vhrm

    Yep. But that is the reason to keep such letter etc. – dry and conventional. The more conventional they are, the harder it is to identify a writer. – It’s still a game that can be won in a lot of ways. I guess.

  32. Cortes says:
    @Yancey Ward

    Superb!

    A friend in Michigan recently mentioned hearing a quip:

    “I’m fat but I identify as skinny. I’m translender” which would make a great tee shirt.

    • LOL: vhrm
  33. Well, long before this, women had had George Eliot.

    Then there’s this …

  34. @Hodag

    Once, in a University class that was offerred on Base, after most of my fellow students essentially failed their first essay exam, the exasperated prof simply said, “People … there is life outside the military, and in that life people write in complete sentences, not bullet points; they use more than a few polysyllabic words, and punctuation is not optional.”

  35. This suggests that in the future, even pseudonymous dissidents who are careful about op sec are in danger of getting doxed by techniques invented by digital literary scholars for artistic questions like this.

    Bronze Age Pervert seems like he might be relatively impervious to this kind of thing.

  36. @James J O'Meara

    Critics, literature professors, etc, all thought he was the bee’s knees, I think because the editor hewed Carver’s prose/stories into exactly the sort of thing that critics, literature professors etc think is the bee’s knees.

    • Replies: @Kibernetika
  37. Ian Smith says:
    @JohnnyWalker123

    They’re allowed to say it because it doesn’t matter anymore. Even if we closed the border down completely, whites will be a minority due to birth rates anyway.

    It would take a lot more balls to oppose affirmative action, which they haven’t done since the early 90s.

  38. @Simon

    I’m a huge fan of the Italian TV series based on “My Brilliant Friend” (two seasons so far),

    The important thing, really, is that Starnone is actually from Naples, and a knowledge of Naples is key to the atmosphere of the books. His wife, Anita Raja, was born in Naples but is the daughter of a refugee German Jew and grew up in Rome. Her background seems in many ways less authentic to the tone of the books than his.

  39. Smart move. I’ve ceased reading fiction when I was around 35. All fiction readers older than 20-25 I know of are females. Just look at book clubs.

    The interesting question is: why? Why do women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s… still read fiction?
    Female gossipy mind? Something else?

    Dunno….

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  40. @Anonymous

    If the band name and musical style didn’t tip you off– what did?

    I read it in a magazeye-eee-eeen, or something.

  41. @JohnnyWalker123

    One man tweeter’s “grim milestone” is another man’s “Fuckin’ A!!!”

    • Agree: JohnnyWalker123
  42. @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

    Not about sex, but it worked on Shakespeare…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare_authorship_question#Evidence_for_Shakespeare’s_authorship_from_his_works
    ………………..

    Beginning in 1987, Ward Elliott, who was sympathetic to the Oxfordian theory, and Robert J. Valenza supervised a continuing stylometric study that used computer programs to compare Shakespeare’s stylistic habits to the works of 37 authors who had been proposed as the true author. The study, known as the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic, was last held in the spring of 2010. The tests determined that Shakespeare’s work shows consistent, countable, profile-fitting patterns, suggesting that he was a single individual, not a committee, and that he used fewer relative clauses and more hyphens, feminine endings, and run-on lines than most of the writers with whom he was compared. The result determined that none of the other tested claimants’ work could have been written by Shakespeare, nor could Shakespeare have been written by them, eliminating all of the claimants whose known works have survived—including Oxford, Bacon, and Marlowe—as the true authors of the Shakespeare canon.

  43. peterike says:
    @Anon

    the capture of the New York publishing industry by female staffers

    Not just staff. Look at the executive team of Random House/Penguin.

    17 people. 3 men. One is Jewish (the President). One Indian. And the only actual white guy is the CFO, with little or no input on content.

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/about-us/management/

  44. This century’s greatest woman novelist is a woman, but does have a man’s name — Lionel Shriver

  45. @Anon

    Male writers are sounding more and more female, with page after page of chick-litesque relationship BS … I think male writers are getting the message: attract female readers [or else.] I think part of this … is the capture of the New York publishing industry by female staffers.

    I think these are great points, and “female capture of the industry” is what I tiresomely keep saying is largely how journalism fell to its sad present state. Feelings trump facts, and even the men are like this now.

    The female audience certainly dictates, even to male adventure writers but that’s not entirely new. One crucial point from my epic rewatch of Mannix — a notoriously bare-knuckles show for its era — was the huge number of scripts clearly aimed at female viewers. The prestige guest star of the week — Sally Kellerman, Jessica Walter etc. — was generally an overwrought female in emotional as well as existential trouble. I give this a lot of credit for the show’s long-term ratings success.

    • Agree: dfordoom
  46. anonymous[401] • Disclaimer says:

    Interesting. And hardly the first time this sort of thing has taken place. The late historian, Paul Johnson, suggested that towards the end of her life, most of Lillian Hellman’s work was probably being ghosted by her husband, Dashiell Hammett.

  47. I’ve thought about the question of authorship detection in blind refereeing and in political dissent. Anonymity can work out fine even if it everybody knows who the author is– in fact, it can work even better then, because the author can get the credit he deserves.

    You have to think about the purpose of anonymity. When I referee an economics paper, I am supposed to be frank, and the author is supposed to be grateful and take his lumps. If he is told who I am, though, this would create social awkwardness when we meet, as we probably will if both of stay active for ten years. If he knows with 99% certainty who I am, perhaps by my writing style, perhaps because I know Eric Rasmusen’s work suspiciously well, that is totally different. Now it is not “common knowledge” (a game theory term). I know I’m the referee; he knows it; but do I know that he knows? Thus, we can both pretend at the American Economic Association conference hotel bar that we don’t know who killed his latest paper at Econometrica, something we both wish to pretend.

    For dissenting op-eds, it’s useful too. If I wrote an op-ed advocating monarchy under my own name, my university would probably feel compelled to denounce me and launch an expensive process to get me fired, both from their own principles and from pressure from radical students and donors. If my name is not on it, then even if everybody knows it was Eric Rasmusen, they have an out and can pretend they don’t know it was me.

    Thus, it may be convenient for everybody concerned if everybody knows that Starnone really wrote the Ferrante novels but his name is not on them. The reader can pretend to himself to believe otherwise and enjoy the novels more as being written by a woman; feminists don’t have to expend energy being outraged; Starnone can sell more novels and still get the glory from the intelligent people he cares about, and won’t have the endure being a celebrity to the hoi polloi. They’ll still give him money, but he won’t have to answer fan letters.

  48. prosa123 says:

    Thus, it may be convenient for everybody concerned if everybody knows that Starnone really wrote the Ferrante novels but his name is not on them. The reader can pretend to himself to believe otherwise and enjoy the novels more as being written by a woman

    Sort of like those concealed-camera-in-women’s-locker-room videos all over certain dark corners of the Internet. It’s obvious they’re staged: all the women just manage to pose squarely in front of the camera so the viewers can see everything, and not infrequently a woman will look directly into the camera (I doubt the producers hire the best actresses). The thing is, because viewers can pretend they’re watching genuine voyeur videos they can enjoy them more, even if they know the truth.

  49. slumber_j says:
    @Anonymous

    Don DeLillo is also well into his eighties.

  50. “American men don’t read novels much”

    American men don’t read much. Scanning a digital screen doesn’t count. And, judging by their body shapes, most American men aren’t as physically active as their fathers and grandfathers, some of whom carried mass market paperbacks in their back pockets. Contemporary American men tend to be fatties and click-bait junkies. The American men I know who still read (Books, Jerry), all two of them, read SF. I like SF, but not that Snow Crash/Mona Lisa Overdrive cyber-crap: my Neanderthal brain likes its stories of the future set in the stars above the crackling camp fire.

    In light of the recent passing of Texas writer Larry McMurtry, I try to steer American men looking for a good yarn to the Lonesome Dove quartet: grim, funny, racial violence, and accurate frontier history. McMurtry spent time as a Hollywood screenwriter, which means he has finely-tuned dialog skills.

  51. Rosie says:
    @Hodag

    I love the colon : it creates a break and a certain tension.

    Quite.

  52. @Reg Cæsar

    “Dick Francis did.”

    Behind many of the successful novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, is a woman guarding the cocoon their husband needs to sustain the focus necessary to build worlds. I would prefer a robot.

  53. Simon says:
    @Peterike

    You don’t have to be a whale to write “Moby Dick.” That’s why it’s called fiction.

    No, but it does help to know that Melville really sailed on a whaler.

    Maybe you read fiction in a total vacuum (though I doubt it). But most people who pick up Moby Dick are aware that it was written by someone who actually lived that life, rather than by someone who boned up on it at the library or simply invented it. Works of art carry a lot of baggage; maybe they shouldn’t, but they do.

  54. @Bardon Kaldian

    Fiction is a great way to explore other people’s lives and minds.

  55. AndrewR says:
    @JohnnyWalker123

    Jewish immigration to the US was truly the greatest thing to ever happen to this country. I shudder to think of the dystopia this country would be if we had been awful enough to refuse the entry of millions of Jews

  56. Lately, any time I see a list of new books, they all appear to be written by female authors.

    Pushing the current agenda to the max.

    I would wager that male writers are still working, but using feminine pen names. Getting paid something is better than being left outside in the cold.

  57. @Barack Obama's secret Unz account

    @Barack Obama

    Critics, literature professors, etc, all thought he was the bee’s knees, I think because the editor hewed Carver’s prose/stories into exactly the sort of thing that critics, literature professors etc think is the bee’s knees.

    There’s some of that for sure, but I’m glad that we read Carver in a certain course (even if it was really Lish-Carver). That was around the time that the B. E. Ellis and J. McInerney trade paperbacks were all the rage. Just looked it up to refresh my memory. Tama Janowitz was popular, too. Had completely forgotten about her. Anyone remember Kathy Acker? You’re lucky if you don’t.

    Eventually I tossed all of my Carver into a dumpster. “Vitamins” was one of my favorite short stories for a while in the 80s. The war trophy ear from Vietnam really helped.

    Want to see some meaningless “academic” mumbo-jumbo? Here is some of the crappiest writing that you’ll ever read: https://journals.openedition.org/jsse/591

  58. dfordoom says: • Website
    @Blue Collar Mike

    Charles Dickens saw through George Eliot’s ruse from the prose alone.

    It’s incredibly amusing that feminist literary scholars who have spent their whole careers studying women’s writing actually know so little about women’s writing that they couldn’t figure out that those books were written by a man. These are scholars who demand that women’s voices be heard but they can’t tell the difference between men’s writing and women’s writing.

    From the point of view of a feminist literary scholar that’s beyond embarrassing.

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