Gatti thinks he knows better

Deborah Orr has a blistering piece on the privacy-stripping of Elsa Ferrante. Orr is a massive fan of Ferrante’s work, has interviewed her, and is a contributor to “the new edition of Frantumaglia, a collection of writings by and about Ferrante that particularly seems to irk Gatti.”

But here’s the thing. I do not give a stuff who Ferrante “really” is. If I have a right to know, as Gatti argues, I don’t wish to exercise it. Gatti, as far as I’m concerned, has violated my right not to know, while Ferrante protected it. I was more than willing to play my small part in giving this writer the space she needed to write as she does, and gratefully accept my reward – her books and the pleasure they give to me. I abhor the fact that this man, and those who published his speculations, rode roughshod over that perfectly satisfactory contract between writer and reader.

And the writer’s stated wishes over more than two decades, with zero public interest reason to do so.

[S]uccessful women are still expected to account for their ability to balance work and home. A female foreign correspondent will be expected to account for the fact that she has to leave her children behind. A female prime minister will still face insinuations that she hasn’t fully experienced life as a woman’s life should be experienced, because she hasn’t had children. This is the way in which Gatti thinks Ferrante should be held to account – checked over, to see if her creative life is a suitable match to her domestic life. Successful women can’t “have it all”, goes the mantra. We must be allowed to inspect this woman, to ensure that she hasn’t managed it. With men like Gatti in the world, it’s perfectly understandable that a person might want to avoid all that nasty, sinister scrutiny.

Damn right. We don’t want men like him in our faces, and hiding is one way to avoid them.

Gatti thinks he knows better than the people who know and care for the individual that Ferrante inhabits. I very much doubt that he does. The future impact that his intervention could have on Ferrante’s creativity appears not to have figured in his calculations. That’s how much he really cares about Ferrante’s readers and their rights.

He cares about himself and his ability to tell an admired woman who’s in charge.

Listening to Gatti on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning, as he attempted to justify his vast, self-righteous intrusion, I was struck by how strongly he seemed to feel that people should be punished for their success, that somehow, by failing to subject her private self to public scrutiny, Ferrante was pulling a fast one. (The truth, I imagine, is more likely to be that he wants what she’s got, and can’t see why she should eschew the personal inconveniences that he would gladly embrace in her shoes.)

Gatti now seems to find it unfair that a woman may have chosen to write herself out of her own writing, largely, one suspects, because such self-effacement is alien to him. I daresay he would not be able to comprehend the stitching of a patchwork quilt, just for the sake of making beauty. If you want to work, achieve money and acclaim, then play by our rules. That seems to be Gatti’s horrible message. Ferrante’s writing is suffused with explorations of how aggressive and damaging to women such attitudes are. No wonder he wants to damage her back.

No doubt Ferrante didn’t actually want men telling her what she should really be writing about, as Gatti presumes to. Why would anyone want to be told that they were doing something bad and disrespectful by failing to write about their mother and her family? The obligation to write about and talk about her own family, and be defined at least in part by a terrible past, seems to me like something else that Ferrante would have wanted to free herself from. Gatti, however, has exercised his own perceived right to put Ferrante back where he can keep an eye on her. It is a terrible and ghastly violation.

It only makes me more furious as the day goes on. We just can’t be allowed to get on with doing our work in our own way.

11 Responses to “Gatti thinks he knows better”