My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante
Contributed by Eleanor Sherer
Adolescence - Chapter 38-50
Summary

After getting back to Naples, Elena starts working with Lila to avoid Marcello. Intrigued by how encouraged she was, Stefano begins buying handmade shoes and various sketches of different designs. Stefano goes ahead and rents a space near the shoe shop in order to easily invest in the workshop in case they wanted to expand. Rino and Fernando take an interest in this opportunity and start working on different shoe designs. Marcello begins to feel increasingly dejected as the Cerrullo family gives him lesser attention.

A short time later, Lila accepts Stefano`s formal proposal. She breaks the news to Marcello who is devastated, and then settles quickly into a privileged life of being Stefano’s fiancée. In an attempt to forget the occurrence with Donato Sarratore, and to reform strong relations with Lila, Elena starts dating Alfonso, Stefano’s younger brother, and increasingly focuses on her studies.

This relationship does not last long however, and Elena invites Antonio to go to Lila’s wedding with her. She says:

“I had no intention of making things official—we were careful to keep our relationship absolutely hidden—but I wished to keep under control my anxiety about being attractive. I wanted, that day, to feel calm, tranquil, despite my glasses, the modest dress made by my mother, my old shoes and at the same time think: I have everything a sixteen-year-old girl should have, I don't need anyone or anything.” (303)

As Elena baths Lila for her wedding, she thinks:

“Today I can say that it was the embarrassment of gazing with pleasure at her body, of being the not impartial witness of her sixteen-year old’s beauty a few hours before Stefano touched her, penetrated her, disfigured her, perhaps, by making her pregnant. At the time it was just a tumultuous sensation of necessary awkwardness, a state in which you cannot avert the gaze or take away the hand without recognizing your own turmoil.” (312)

Finally, the wedding arrives. Tension arises in Stefano`s family involving his sister, Pinuccia, his mother, and Lila. They dislike the attention he lavishes on Lila. Her new status and wealth make it almost impossible for her to continue with her former habits and old lifestyle with her childhood friends. She is usually a target of rumors and numerous accusations with people gossiping that she married Stefano because of his money.

Despite Elena feeling left behind by Lila`s advancement, she gets the highest score in every high school test she takes. She gets a summer job, which involves supervising the stationer’s daughter every day at the beach, and later becomes Antonio’s girlfriend. She gains sexual experience with Antonio, who is also very helpful when Donato starts lingering around, making her anxious.

Analysis

Upon her return, Elena quickly realizes that her plans of having a similar life pattern and close relationship with Lila are not possible. She knew that Lila was going to be engaged to either Marcello or Stefano and, as such, she focused on a plan that would disrupt their relationship in the least amount possible. Lila prefers to have a self-governing and independent lifestyle where she continues being a teenager instead of moving too quickly into another stage of life, that of being a wife and, possibly, a mother.

Lila feels confident in her decision to marry Stefano. She does not feel anxious or afraid anymore; her life becomes much easier and immensely more secure. The privileges she starts receiving following her engagement puts a distance between her old life and her current one. Many of her childhood friends are envious and spiteful of her. Elena is also concerned about losing her friendship with Lila. In a similar way to when Elena continued on with her studies leaving Lila behind, such a division of their life experiences put their friendship and closeness at risk.

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