He is a bad boy

A 1905 portrait of Emma Bovary and her daughter Berthe in Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.”Composition by Alfred de Richemont. Illustrated by Charles Chessa.

This article is adapted from “Frantumaglia,” a collection of writings and interviews by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, out November 1 from Europa Editions. The middle pages were originally conceived as a response to the Swedish publisher Brombergs, who, after acquiring the rights to “The Days of Abandonment,” decided not to publish it, because, the character of Olga, the protagonist of the story, to him. children are not bad.

France for me – long, long before Paris – is Yonville-l’Abbaye, eight leagues from Rouen. I remember bending over in that name-place one afternoon, when I was fourteen years old, going through the pages of “Madame Bovary.” Slowly, over the years, thousands of other names of towns and cities followed, some near Yonville, some further away. But France has always lived in Yonville, since I saw him one evening many years ago, and it seemed to me at the same time that I came to the work of the work on models and on myself.

I really saw myself in Berthe Bovary, the daughter of Emma and Charles, and I felt a pain. I know my eyes are on the side, I can clearly see the words, but I seem to have gone to my mother as Berthe tries to get closer to Emma, ​​grabbing her . par le bout, les rubans de son tablier (“the ends of his apron strings”). I distinctly heard Madame Bovary’s voice say with great excitement, “Laisse-moi! Laisse-moi! HAVE BEEN! Laisse-moi donc!” (“Leave me! Leave me! Won’t you leave me!”), and it’s like my mother’s voice when she lost her work and her thoughts, I don’t want to leave her . , I didn’t want him to leave me. That cry of rage of a woman drawn from her own grocery store, like a leaf on a rainy day against the black mouth of a manhole, it struck me deeply. The blow came suddenly with his elbow. Berthe—I—alla tomber au pied de la commode, contre la patère de cuivre; elle s’y coupa la joue, le sang sortit (“fell at the foot of the drawer, touching the brass; he cut his cheek, it began to bleed”).

I read “Madame Bovary” in the city of my birth, Naples. I read it tirelessly, on the original, at the behest of a cold, wise teacher. My native language, Neapolitan, is layers of Greek, Latin, Arabic, German, Spanish, English, and French—a lot of French. Laisse-moi (“leave me alone”) in Neapolitan lassam a music (“blood”) he is sanghe. It is not surprising that the language of “Madame Bovary” is similar to me, at times, my own language, the language of my mother in which Emma appeared and spoke. laisse-moi. He also said with plaster of paris (but he said sparatràp), the hard disk to be placed on the incision that I had – while I was reading and Berthe – when I fell. contre la patère de copper.

For the first time I understood the geography, the language, the society, the politics, the entire history of a nation, it was for me in the books I loved and I could enter as if I will write them down. Near France, Yonville is not far from Naples, the wound drips with blood, the sparatràp, holding my cheek, pulled the skin on one side. “Madame Bovary” struck with swift blows, leaving wounds that never faded. All my life since then I have wondered if my mother, at least once, with the truth of Emma’s words—those same terrible words—thought, looking at me, as Emma and Berthe: You can choose étrange comme cette enfant est laide! (“It’s amazing how bad this kid is”). Bad: negative view of one’s own mother. I have never read or heard a better written word, let alone a bad one. The retribution came from France and hit me hard in the chest, harder than the one Emma sent—sent little Berthe over the chest of drawers, to the brass.

The words got into me: when I read a book, I don’t think about who wrote it—it’s as if I do it myself. So when I was a kid I didn’t know the names of the authors; Every book written, start and finish, made me happy or not, made me cry or laugh. A Frenchman named Gustave Flaubert came after that, and then I learned about France: I went there not only for books and pleasure, like books. ; I can measure the real distance between Naples and Rouen, between Italian and French history. Now I read Flaubert’s letters, his other books. Each sentence was good, some more than others, but not one – I had nothing to do with the malice of that mother’s opinion: You can choose étrange comme cette enfant est laide! At times in my life, I thought that only a man could conceive, and that a childless man, an angry Frenchman, a bear locked in his house complaining of his complaints, a misogynist who considers himself a father of two. and only the mother for her daughter. At other times, I have believed with anger and bitterness that male writers can tell their female characters what women think and say and live but they don’t dare to. writing. Today, I have returned to the faith of my youth. I think there are serious, motivated writers, drawing in black and white, following their instincts or not, but true literature, the most important thing, is work. and the readers. While Flaubert’s page is in French, so is Emma’s laisse-moiStudy in Naples, have Neapolitan cadences, brass instruments to create sanghe Berthe’s cheek swelled, and Charles Bovary held the child’s skin. sparatràp above it. My mother meant it, but in her words, comm’è brutta chesta bambina (“How bad is this child”). And I believe he felt for the same reason that Emma felt for Berthe. So I have tried, over the years, to take that word from the French language and put it somewhere on my own page, I will write myself to see its sadness, to take the words of my mother , give it to him. hear it from her mouth and see if it’s a woman’s language, if it’s a real woman saying that, if I mean it for my daughters, if, in other words, it will be rejected and deleted and elaborated , open. from the side of the French man and brought to the language of the woman-daughter-mother. It is the work that truly leads to France, bringing together men, languages, nations, eras, the world.

A version of this article was published by Uitgeverij Wereldbibliotheek, of Amsterdam, in the 2004 anthology “Frankrijk, dat ben ik,” under the title “Het gewicht van de taal,” “The Weight of Language.” It also appeared in the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, in 2005.


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