Why is the exposure of Elena Ferrante causing such outrage?

The unmasking of the true identity of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has caused a massive outcry among her fans. One of them, Lucy Alexander, asks why they are so upset.

The hugely popular author Elena Ferrante was "outed" on Sunday in the New York Review of Books by an investigative journalist claiming her real name is Anita Raja.

A backlash against Claudio Gatti's scoop is now gathering force as thousands of critics, fans and fellow writers take to the internet to defend an author's right to anonymity.

"He thinks he has put us out of our misery, but no-one really wanted to know the identity of Elena Ferrante," writes Frances Wilson in the Times Literary Supplement.

Anonymity gave Ferrante's readers a hard-to-define pleasure - it left them with a precious space in which to fantasise about her. "It was a puzzle we enjoyed, and now Gatti has waded in and spoiled the game," says Wilson.

"Ferrante fever" reached its height last year when the author's Neapolitan quartet became a bestseller. The first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend, tells the story of lifelong friendship between two women from a poor neighbourhood of Naples. It was a literary phenomenon and Ferrante's books have been sold in more than 40 countries, with sales of one million books in Italy and 2.6 million in English alone.

But she was very private and guarded her anonymity closely.

In the past, she has written that what began out of reticence, evolved into a point of principle, and then became essential. "Anonymity lets me concentrate exclusively on writing," she told The Guardian earlier this year.

"I have gained a space of my own, a space that is free, where I feel active and present. To relinquish it would be very painful," she said to Vanity Fair.

Her success, inevitably, brought intense speculation about her true identity.

One story - the one that had previously caused most outrage among Ferrante's vociferous fans - was that the author must be a man, with the subtext that no woman could have written such books. Ferrante's supporters leapt to her defence. Only a woman, they felt, could write about a female friendship with such force, and to suggest otherwise was sexism. In their thousands, fans and critics supported Ferrante's right to remain anonymous and continue to give herself to the world through her books. Her words were enough for her readers.

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