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Study information

Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend

Module titleElena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend
Module codeMLI3199
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Luciano Parisi (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

In this module you will explore the work of Elena Ferrante, widely regarded as Italy’s greatest contemporary novelist. My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013) and The Story of the Lost Child (2014) describe the lives of two friends (Lila and Lenuccia, both born in a Neapolitan neighbourhood) from the 1950s until the beginning of the 21st century. Clearly and elegantly written, these novels speak of individual ambitions, fears, dreams, success and disappointments, intelligently highlighting achievements and problems of contemporary Italy. No knowledge of Italian is required for students taking this through modularity, although students of Italian are required to read the novels in their original version.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module gives students the possibility to read engrossing and refined novels, to analyse Ferrante’s distinctive style, and to understand some of the most relevant moments of European history in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Its detailed aims are to:

  • Analyse the main topics of these novels, their characters, their scenes and the novelties that female first-person narrators bring to the genre of historical novels in Italy
  • Read and discuss with confidence recently written novels that have few established interpretative patterns and challenge readers to develop their own approach
  • Examine the connections of these novels with the history of post-war Europe and to use them as stimuli to understand, among other things, the development of new gender roles and what Joe LaPalombara defines ‘democracy Italian style’
  • To analyse Elena Ferrante’s style

Lectures introduce you to the material covered in the module, identify useful critical points, sketch in the historical, social and cultural background to the plot, and form the basis for your seminar preparation; but you are expected to reflect on the texts and other material independently.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a sound understanding of Ferrante's work and of the various social and historical contexts in which it takes place
  • 2. Demonstrate the ability to analyse, understand, discuss and interpret contemporary novels

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. With some guidance from the course tutor(s), evaluate and apply a range of critical approaches to the material covered
  • 4. Mount a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, mustering a range of textual or other evidence in its supportMount a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, mustering a range of textual or other evidence in its support
  • 5. Access and use critically printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the course tutor(s), and, to a limited extent, discover other useful materials independently
  • 6. Analyse selected texts, relating them to significant elements in their cultural context
  • 7. Use recommended reference works to compile a bibliography, within given parameters (chronological, thematic, etc.) on a specified topic

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Undertake defined learning activities with a measure of autonomy, asking for guidance where necessary
  • 9. Adopt a critical approach to the selection and organisation of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written or oral argument
  • 10. Present a cogent and sustained argument orally / in writing, in English / in the TL, on a topic chosen from a range of options provided, following broad guidelines but selecting and adapting them as required
  • 11. Using course material provided, research, plan and write an essay on a chosen aspect of the subject, to a specified length and deadline

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • The historical novels in Italy, from The Betrothed to My Brilliant Friend
  • Civil codes and family laws from 1890 to the present
  • Italian women writers and their literary production
  • Pseudonyms and literary identities
  • Elena Ferrante’s previous work and its critical reception
  • My Brilliant Friend: discussion and analysis
  • Story of a New Name: discussion and analysis
  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: discussion and analysis
  • The final volume: discussion and analysis of selected pages
  • Post-war Naples and contemporary Italy
  • How can familism, clientelism and organised crime coexist with democracy?
  • Urban spaces in Ferrante’s novels
  • Other authors’ texts in Ferrante’s novels

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Tutorial
Guided Independent Study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short essay750 words1-11Written feedback plus debriefing in class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003000 words1-11Feedback sheet

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-11Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (2011)
  • Elena Ferrante, Story of a New Name (2012)
  • Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013)
  • A selection of episodes from the final volume of the series (approximately 80 pages)

Students of Italian are encouraged to read Ferrante’s texts in the original version:

  • Elena Ferrante, L’amica geniale (Roma: e/o, 2011)
  • Elena Ferrante, Storia del nuovo cognome (Roma: e/o, 2012)
  • Elena Ferrante, Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta (Roma: e/o, 2013)
  • A selection of episodes from Ferrante’s Storia della bambina perduta (Roma: e/o, 2014) (approximately 80 pages)

Recommended reading:

  • Ann Caesar Hallamore and Michael Caesar, Modern Italian Literature (Cambridge: Polity, 2007)
  • Anna Cento Bull, Social identities and political cultures in Italy (Oxford: Berghahn, 2000)
  • Culture and Society in Southern Italy: Past and Present edited by Anna Cento Bull and Adalgisa Giorgio (Reading: University of Reading, 1994) Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943-1988 (London: Penguin, 1990)
  • Paul Ginsborg, Italy and its Discontents: Family, Civil Society, State 1980-2001 (London: Allen Lane, 2001) Robert Samuel Clive Gordon, An Introduction to Twentieth-Century Italian Literature: a Difficult Modernity (London Duckworth, 2005)
  • Tony Judt , Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (London: Heinemann, 2005)
  • Joseph LaPalombara, Democracy Italian Style (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)
  • Joseph Luzzi, ‘It Started in Naples. Elena Ferrante’s ‘Story of a New Name’, The New York Times ¸ September 27th, 2013
  • Lisa Mullenneaux, ‘Burying Mother's Ghost: Elena Ferrante's Troubling Love’, Forum Italicum , 2007, no. 1, pp. 246-50
  • James Wood, ‘Women on the Verge. The Fiction of Elena Ferrante,’ The New Yorker, January 21st, 2013
  • Sharon Wood, Italian Women’s Writing (London: Athlone,1995)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Friendship, women’s rights, growing up in Naples, post-war and contemporary Italy

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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