Europa Editions/The New Republic

The NYRB’s argument for doxing Elena Ferrante is not very good.

Ever since she became an international literary megastar a few years ago, there’s been a lot of speculation about the true identity of the pseudonymous author of The Neapolitan Novels. Some people said that she was some Italian woman. Some people said she was a different Italian woman. A few trolls said she was some Italian man.

Now, after a “months-long” investigation, The New York Review of Books (in conjunction with German, French, and Italian publications) has published a convincing answer to the mystery. Using real estate documents, Claudio Gatti makes the case that the real Ferrante is Anita Raja, an Italian translator who has become conspicuously rich (for a translator) over the last few years. Raja had been labeled as a leading Ferrante candidate a few years ago.

But, in the English-speaking world at least, the revelation has not been greeted with applause. Instead, the piece has been roundly criticized for doxing Ferrante, for violating Raja’s privacy, and for not making an adequate case for its own existence. Here, for instance, Gatti cites Ferrante’s claim that she occasionally lies to protect her privacy as a reason for doxing her:

But by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed, she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity.

This is a very curious argument. Over the last several years, Ferrante has repeatedly argued that anonymity is a precondition for her work and that she would stop publishing if her privacy were violated.

Gatti’s case rests on Ferrante’s coyness—that she has played a game with the press over the last several years to build mystique and profit from it. Gatti is essentially arguing that Ferrante and her publisher were asking for it. At the end of the piece, Gatti defends his work by saying that a doxing was “inevitable:”

In an age in which fame and celebrity are desperately sought after, the person behind Ferrante apparently didn’t want to be known. But her books’ sensational success made the search for her identity virtually inevitable. It also left financial clues that speak by themselves.

This is a shrug, not an argument.

A different argument could be made, however, which is simply that Elena Ferrante is now an international celebrity and a multimillionaire and that her identity is newsworthy in and of itself, despite the fact that the author has made it clear that she would prefer to maintain her privacy. That argument would probably also make people mad, but it would have the virtue of being defensible. Instead, Gatti doxed someone who has made it abundantly clear that they do not want to be doxed and then, perversely, argued that their behavior demanded they be doxed.