Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Nancy K. Miller


Giancarlo Lombardi

Committee Members

John Brenkman

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | European Languages and Societies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Italian Language and Literature | Modern Languages | Modern Literature | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Women's Studies


Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, Plot, Bildungsroman, Italian Literature


This dissertation employs narrative theory to contextualize Elena Ferrante’s successful saga, L’amica geniale, within the larger tapestry of European novelistic discourses. It engages with conceptions of narrative structure put forth by critics like Ortega y Gasset, Brooks, and Winnett to understand how L’amica geniale offers cutting commentary on our exegetic practices and advances a geometry of narrative entanglement. I contend that Ferrante recuperates and italicizes nineteenth-century modes of storytelling, displaying a form of epistemological tension rooted in a movement away from a belief in plot’s semantic potentialities and into the postulation of a poetics of smarginatura or rupture. I support this contention by scrutinizing the text’s several endings, as well as its apparent linear trajectory, through Genette’s notion of the arbitraire, coming to the conclusion that such linearity is entirely constructed by the protagonist in an effort to exact vengeance on her friend. I proceed to examine how the textual apparatus bears the brunt of this revelation. In doing so, I adopt Brooks’s thermodynamic model and reconfigure it into a metabolic model meant to monitor the set of activities and energetic transformations at work in the text. A look at Dickens’s Great Expectations, in Chapter 3, becomes essential to understand the formal aspects, especially as they relate to plot and plotting, of the framework in which Ferrante is working; I argue that, by engaging with notions of entanglement, both novels at once work within the bounds of the Bildungsroman and display an inner resistance to it. I thus develop a resolutely comparative approach to an author whose work is generally viewed in the context of the Italian canon. While comparisons to writers such as Aleramo or Morante are productive and revelatory, this analysis finds that Ferrante is working within a larger framework that harks back to the origins of the modern European novel and that links her to authors like Fielding, Lennox, and Dickens.