We are flying a ball of fire, Lenu. The part that has cooled floats on the lava. On that part we construct the buildings, the bridges, and the streets, and every so often the lava comes out of Vesuvius or causes an earthquake that destroys everything. There are microbes everywhere that make us sick and die. There are wars. There is poverty that makes us all cruel. Every second something might happen that will cause you such suffering that you’ll never have enough tears. And what are you doing?
Elena Ferrante, “My Brilliant Friend”
In the sensitive story of the friendship between Elena and Lila, Ferrante describes the nature of femininity in a scrupulous and intimate manner, and in particular, the phenomenon of a feminine sensibility. The one associated with intuition and emotion, and most often deprecated. In “My Brilliant Friend”, the feminine sensibility is also a ripening consciousness of the social processes taking place in the main protagonists’ surroundings. The two friends, Elena and Lila, could not be more different. One is an introvert and a conformist who sets goals; the other is seductive, proud, and unpredictable. They are growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Naples in the 1950s. While Elena has access to an education, Lila has to decide whether to get married at a young age. For all their lives, both try to reject the place they came from, they don’t want to live like their mothers, aunts, and cousins. They take extremely different strategies to climb the social ladder. Can poverty be left behind? Things are inscribed in the history of the shaping of European society seen through the eyes of Elena and Lila. Sentimental things like discarded dolls, borrowed books, and blue bookmarks, and things that promise a new and better life: a washing machine, television, and Cerullo shoes. The trendy shoes are meant to fulfill the capitalist dream of great opportunities for everyone. Can Elena and Lila protect themselves and others from suffering with their unique sensibilities, nurtured through friendship? And what about the men, who have easily found their way for years in this violent world? Might they get second chances through Elena and Lila’s story?
Elena Ferrante has inspired me to speak not only of the emancipation of women in a world dominated by men, but also to make a personal effort to see how feminine intelligence/ intuition can cope in today’s Europe, so full of contrasts and social injustices.