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ELSA MORANTE: A Life Devoted to Literature (Elsa Morante: une vie pour la littérature)

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Original Language: French | 336 pp. | March 2018

2 Seas Represents: Dutch, Nordic and North American rights

Rights sold: Italy (Neri Pozza)

NON-FICTION | HISTORY

This well-researched and engaging book retraces Elsa Morante’s life from her humble beginnings in a working-class district of Rome to her emergence as one of Italy’s greatest novelists.

Elsa Morante’s birth is shrouded in mystery and she always lied about her age. She didn’t bear her biological father’s name, as her mother, a Jewish primary school teacher, was married to an impotent warden at a borstal who asked a friend to father him a child. Her mother let her daughter into this secret at an early age, and it provided one of the themes of her 1957 novel L’isola di Arturo, which won the Strega Prize (the equivalent of the Man Booker).

At the age of 18, she left home to devote herself to writing and in 1941 married Italy’s most famous novelist, Alberto Moravia, following him into exile and remaining with him until 1962. Elsa was a also a friend of Visconti and Pasolini and travelled extensively including to Spain, the USSR and China and the United States. In 1974, she published La Storia, which was a best-seller, following it up with Aracoeli in 1982.

Suffering from complications from a broken femur, she tried to commit suicide in 1983 and she died on 25 November 1985, just too soon to witness the huge success of the cinema adaptation of La Storia (1986), directed by Luigi Comencini and starring Claudia Cardinale.

In her own country, Elsa Morante is considered to be the greatest female novelist of the twentieth century. Universally admired by her contemporaries (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Leonor Fini, Anna Magnani), she has become a kind of spiritual godmother influencing an entire generation of writers. A leading figure of the Italian post-war intelligentsia, she bequeathed a fine literary legacy in which childhood occupies a central place. Her tragic novel La Storia, centred around the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, is often cited as one of the great 20th-century novels.