In The Margins by Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante has long proved herself as one of the great novelists of our time. In her newest book, In The Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing, Ferrante articulates her literary process and craft through four lecture-essays that provide an illuminating view of her as a writer and more importantly, a woman writer.

“The writing was supposed to move between those lines, and those lines—of this I have a very clear memory—tormented me. They were intended to indicate, by their color as well, that if your writing didn’t stay between those taut lines you would be punished. […] I was punished so often that the sense of the boundary became part of me, and when I write by hand I feel the threat of the vertical red line even though I haven’t used paper like that for years.”

Ferrante traces back to the beginning of her literary life, recalling the strict “margins” of her youth and her struggles to break beyond the boundaries in her literary career. She recalls the strict "margins" she was taught and grew to find the "satisfaction of staying beautifully within the margins". Ferrante brings across the same strength of voice in these essays as she does in her fiction as she describes the development of her style of writing—a mediation between the margins and the truth.

“For a woman who has something to say, does it really take a miracle—I said to myself—to dissolve the margins within which nature has enclosed her and show herself in her own words to the world?” Having to negotiate the “literary patrimony” throughout her career, Ferrante states that she initially tried to embody the literature of 'great men', to imitate their writing. But we are all luckier for her courage and confidence to establish her own unique female voice through her standout female characters. Ferrante ruminates on a myriad of influences—Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Maria Guerra, and many more—and reveals their impact on her writing, seeking its own truth and space in history.

This dazzling collection is an essential companion to her beloved novels, that together reveal a beguiling portrait of a literary life. And if you, like me, have not read anything else by Ferrante, this collection presents a compelling argument to get started.