Dolls and Daughters

I finished reading Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter. Ferrante is such an interesting writer, so savage. After the compassionate expansiveness of Elizabeth Strout, reading Ferrante is like being trapped between two planes of glass; past and present converge in dense, claustrophobic emotion. Her first person narrators dare you to bear their inconsistencies and volatility.

Leda is a middle aged professor of literature. Her daughters have left home and she is holidaying alone. She becomes fascinated by Nina and Elena, a young mother and daughter, members of a large Neapolitan family who dominate the beach. Leda has painfully severed herself from a harsh working class background but conflict with her past (especially her mother and motherhood) are unresolved. Watching Nina reminds Leda of herself and unhealed wounds begin to suppurate.

Nina and Elena's relationship revolves around caring for and animating Elena’s doll Nani – described as being like a second daughter: “the shining testimony of perfect motherhood”. In a gesture taking herself by surprise Leda steals this doll, observing the affect of its loss on Elena and on the mother daughter relationship, and engulfed by her own memories.

I read the book twice and still find it hard to write and think about. What does the doll mean here, and in Ferrante's other work? The undercurrents of female relationships and overlapped identities are so dense. What is she saying about the relationships between mothers and daughters and issues around their separation and individuality? What impact does that first bond have on subsequent female relationships, including mothering? Why is envy so rife? What role does the doll play in the process of separation and construction of female identity? And why have I been so obsessed?

I put the dolls Lina and Nu from My Brilliant Friend into my Doll Dossier. Ferrante’s vast Neapolitan quartet begins with Lenu and Lina exchanging dolls. Lenu’s doll is pretty, Lina’s is ugly. Lina deliberately drops Lenu's doll into a cellar grate – Lenu echoes the gesture. When they go to retrieve them the dolls have vanished. So begins a story of friendship which is unkind, envious, competitive, interrupted, yet essential to both women. And at the end of the fourth, final book, many years after Lina’s real daughter mysteriously vanished and after Lina herself has disappeared without trace – the dolls are returned to Lenu.

Disappearance is a major theme for Ferrante. It is a muddle. Who disappears? Oneself or another? Physically or psychically? By what agency? Escape, kidnap, theft? Accident or deliberate? Real or fantasy? It is key to the Neapolitan novels and again here. Elena gets lost and is found by Leda. Leda's mother frequently made empty threats to disappear – to punish her children. Interestingly the mother remembers that it was Leda herself who always disappeared. It is after finding and restoring Elena (lost on the beach) to her family that Leda takes the doll. In the course of the novel Leda reveals that she abandoned her own small daughters for several years in order to pursue her career. Now her daughters have left her.

Leda renames the stolen doll, calling it Mina after her own childhood doll – Mina is short for Mammina - mother. Named for the mother, the doll is a substitute for the mother, for curiosity about the mother’s body. Leda writes

“my mother had rarely yielded to the games I tried to play with her body. She immediately got nervous, she didn’t like being the doll “

The inanimate body of the doll receives the child’s loving but rough caretaking. It is a girl child’s first experience of being mother. But also an opportunity to express fascination with the female, maternal body.

Leda had tried to give Mina to her own older daughter Bianca but destroyed it in a fit of temper when she felt that it had been insufficiently valued. The vitality of the favourite doll does not exist in its physical body; you can’t impose a transitional object; everyone has to find, create, give life to their own – in some alchemy between the exact physicality of the chosen thing and the particular imagination and need of the creator. Finding/chosing this object is our first independent creative act. Mina did not mean the same to Bianca as she had to Leda, and thus Leda's destructive rage is perhaps a response to Bianca's defiant act of choosing for herself: marking separateness. At one point Leda watches Elena kissing Nani and sees that the life force transferred so suddenly the doll is the active agent – Nani kissing Elena, with love and force. Later Leda kisses the kidnapped Nani who "responds" by spewing brown bile. Rejecting her.

The doll is created by the mother and daughter together. There is a powerful passage where Leda watches Nina and Elena playing together, and both speaking as if they are the doll. Leda is irritated that they don’t try to unify the voice – they are fine with Nina speaking as a child and Elena speaking as an adult through the doll.

“they imagined it was the same, single voice coming from the same throat of a thing in reality mute. I couldn’t enter into their illusion. I felt a growing repulsion for that double voice

and

“They should make up their minds, give the girl a stable, constant voice, either that of the mother or that of the daughter and stop pretending they were the same"

Lena, the witness, the excluded third, is no part of the making of the doll, it is private magic between mother and child. What is incoherence to the outsider is really a subtle ebb and flow of selves, overlapping and retreating: the power of love and imagination to create illusion.

In Ferrante’s picture book The Beach at Night - another doll is forgotten, left behind at the beach overnight. She is pursued by a sinister beach attendant who wants to extract her language to sell at the doll market. The doll's life is threatened by the inhuman elements of fire and sea, but above all by the male threat of stealing the words which are her identity, her soul. Words given in love between child and doll (mother and child) - the most important being her name and the word mother. Names are important in Ferrante - often people have multiple names, pet names and elaborations, it can be hard to remember who is who. And the pseudonymous author is yet another aspect of that identity flux.

I found this an odd little book, perhaps because it is the language of the doll, more primitive and disorientated than a human voice?

Leda’s fascination is with a mother and single child. Leda’s conflict with motherhood reached its climax once she had two daughters clamouring for her attention. But Leda also struggles with identity as a woman and being one of three may exacerbate feeling of being trapped in a matrix of femininity without singularity.

Winnicott wrote about the infant as existing first as an idea in the mind of the mother. In Leda’s first pregnancy she is able to impose an imaginative humanity from the start, she feels attractive, is absorbed in culture and

“what later became Bianca was Bianca for me right away, a being at its best, purified of humors and blood, humanized, intellectualized, with nothing that could evoke the blind cruelty of live matter as it expands”

During her second pregnancy; exhausted mother to a toddler, Leda experiences the new foetus as alien matter:

"a piece of living iron in my stomach. My body became a bloody liquid: suspended in it was a mushy sediment inside which grew a violent polyp, so far from anything human that it reduced me... to rotting matter without life"

Leda's emotions during pregnancy seem to have shaped her daughters. Bianca is bold, blonde, a pin-up girl. Marta is dark, slight, more insecure in her femininity.

This is a novel of abrupt oscillations between compliance and resistance, illusion and disillusion. Ferrante looks directly into life's emotional chasms, through the veils of beauty and humanity which deny the inexorability of organic life surging through cycles of growth and decay. The still life beauty of a bowl of fruit: look closer and it is rotten. And the effort of preserving a sense that the child in your womb is human progeny rather than terrifying alien invasion.

Leda idealises Nina and Elena until she gets up close and sees Nina's bad bikini wax and Elena's runny nose. Nina admires Leda, sophisticated and solitary among the family groups on the beach beach; until Leda abruptly reveals that she abandoned her own children.

I remembered a book called Living with the Sphinx: Papers from the Women's Therapy Centre where envy is presented as an important feature in female relationships. Some women denigrate or deny themselves so as not to invoke the evil eye, while others inflate themselves to wallow in the pleasure of the gaze of the inadequate other.

Melanie Klein is the great theorist of envy. She sees envy as an innate destructive drive, an emotion born in our earliest relationships, between two people (not three, like jealousy). Envy is primitive, and according to Klein is particularly evoked in relation to creativity - starting with awareness of parental potency - the penis, the breast - the capacity to make babies. Envy revives in subsequent encounters with art and culture.

Envy denies itself. Omnipotent unconscious fantasy fulfills our needs – avoiding the humiliation of dependency. Another response to envious feelings is stealing or spoiling what one needs most. But as Klein points out attacking the external also damages internal good object. For envious people, the internal good object; the sense of being loveable and valuable is very precarious. Does Leda want to spoil the blissful relatedness of Nina and Elena by taking this doll in which they have invested so much and which represents triumphant maternity (and what has to be sacrificed to achieve it) ?

Living with the Sphinx was published in the 80s so there must be much subsequent research and thinking of which I am unaware but the essays are helpful to think about psychoanalysis and gender politics. The authors suggest that as envy emerges from powerlessness and festers in fantasy and fear/shame of its own aggression, the way to counteract it is by gaining power in the real world. Boys have traditionally been encouraged to compete, relating outwardly: communicating facts and things, channeling their aggression into getting what they want. And if not universally true it resonates for me when girls are described as more intuitive, receptive, nurturing. But attunedness to the emotions of others can have a nasty underside. Look at the the bullying underworld of prepubescent girls in Atwood's Cat's Eye - the subtle cruelties that can't quite be challenged. We compliant ones learn early to recognise and negotiate undercurrents of emotions; employing indirect ways to gain and challenge power. Furthermore, hyper-empathetic to others we can feel their feelings simultaneously with our own, muddling identity boundaries. And if we limit our expectations of what we can achieve, or don't allow our ambitions to actualize because of vicarious presentiment of the casualty list in our wake, then we are more likely to suffer envy.

In the patriarchal society of Ferrante's Naples gender identity is especially polarised. Women are valued for beauty - as possessions, accessories. Nina is a trophy wife for her gangster husband. A doll. Beauty is a currency, there is not enough to go around. Leda experiences her own daughter’s beauty as a "subtraction" of her own. She compares herself to her mother, her daughters compare themselves to her. Envy and rivalry is also implicit in relationships with peers. Leda is conscious of not wanting to acknowledge the role of Brenda who gave Leda's article to an eminent professor and so facilitated her academic breakthrough. She wants it to have all been her own achievement.

Two of my images about identity confusion:

Detail from Creative Threshold - a "Clever Elsie" figure

and

Labyrinth wallhanging with quotation from Leonora Carrington's novel The Hearing Trumpet

The novel begins with Leda (first person) saying there are somethings that cannot be spoken about (and so she writes this strange story of doll theft?). Leda has never spoken to her daughters about the period when she abandoned them, instead she wrote letters to them that they refused to discuss. The words between them are superficial - the real thing not said or defended against by a babble of irrelevancies. Written words vs spoken words.

Leda is also a linguist - she speaks English, German - more words, translations, rippling equivalents.

Living with the Sphinx also looks at mother/daughter identity and differentiation, using ideas about mirroring from object relations theory. The idea of mirror suggests objectivity but I was interested by discussion about the partiality of a collective cultural mirror: angled by the dominant power to reflect only aspects of femininity.

"Certain aspects of ourselves are either not reflected back or are distorted so that we do not acquire the means of recognising or expressing those parts"

"We lumbered around ungainly-like in borrowed concepts which did not fit the shape we felt ourselves to be" (Ernst, 1987)

Aspects that the mirror refuses to reflect are perpetuated down generations of women hungering for wholeness. Aspects which are unseen and therefore split off - unconscious. If a woman feels that her true self has not been reflected – seen from the outside as felt inside, with both negative and positive emotions acknowledged– she might use her daughter as a mirror. Here is Winnicott, writing about a woman who received inadequate mirroring:

"The woman had to be her own mother. If she had had a daughter she would surely have found great relief, but perhaps a daughter would have suffered because of having too much importance in correcting her mother's uncertainty about her own mother's sight of her" (Winnicott, 1991)

There is an interesting paper by Kenneth Wright - Maternal Form in Artistic Creation, which develops Suzanne Langer's idea that a successful aesthetic (symbolic) form recreates the structure of an inner feeling, and can evoke that same feeling in an attuned viewer. A symbolic form is not universally fixed in meaning like a word but it has a textural or rhythmic resonance with the original feeling - a visual onomatopoeia? Wright links this with Winnicott's ideas about mirroring and Daniel Stern's theory of maternal attunement (attunement occurs developmentally later and involves more complex rhythmic dialogues). Wright postulates that the artist may have suffered a significant shortfall in maternal care - and creates in order to experience an external object that reflects back his emotional states.

Wright quotes Seamus Heaney - that poetry fortifies "our inclination to credit promptings of our intuitive being. they help us to say in the first recesses of ourselves, in the shyest, presocial part of our nature. "Yes, I know something like that too, Yes that 's right; thank you for putting words on it and making it more or less official"."

I tend to like art and fiction where I can feel the artist searching for himself/herself just below the surface. My education instilled a modernist aesthetic whereby the artist self is eliminated: the art object blazes in distilled purity, purged of the contradictions of the maker. And now I relish the dirty roots...

Wright's examples are of artists who are successful - those who, as well as making their own necessary object, get back the second degree reflections of both affected viewer response and public acclaim.

And if you are an artist who is a woman - what kind of mirror do you need to make for your individual self so that you are not "lumbering around" in borrowed projections? Is that something one even still needs to be conscious of?

My reading attention over the last year, and in this blog, has focussed on unlikeable women, or unlikeable aspects of woman. As figures of strength, not negativity.

Wright's article made me think about envy and creativity. If envy is manifest as delusional omnipotence; a refusal to accept that a (more bounteous) other can give us what we need, then what does it mean for an artist to be looking for what she needs in something that she has made herself? Its interesting that the Heaney quote ends with gratitude (Klein's antidote to envy) - thank you for helping me to see this.

Winnicott's ideas about mirroring were influenced by Lacan's concept of the mirror phase: an encounter with a mirrored whole self which is premature, so our fractured internal experience of ourselves is at odds with the vision of ourselves, seen from the outside, as whole - as other? I am thinking about that in relation to having a doll - this other whole, "like me" self - the plastic doll. The doll/daughter (they are usually girl babies) as receptacle for love/hate expressed physically (cuddling, punishing, grooming, dressing). Beginning as brutal ineptitude mimicking motherly competence. Gaining in skill. Invidiously transforming us into hyper-caring mothers to everyone but ourselves? What about the impossible bodies of Sindys and Barbies. Woman dolls who don't invite us to flex proto-maternal selves but instead exhort us to mince and preen. They teach us to feel like an exterior and compare ourselves to other exteriors. The baby doll is large in relation to us but as we get bigger the doll we are offered/choose (if they are of the Barbie type) gets smaller - too small to be lovingly embraced. Their bodies are remote - small miniature selves living in a brassy Lilliputian world that humans can only watch from the outside. Can a doll be something else?

The Nana/Mina doll is not just a solid object or facade on which the mother and daughter converge. She is hollow; a container. She contains murky things, a faecal liquid, a repulsive worm.

Elena “makes” the doll be pregnant and Leda, realising that she is likely to have wanted a real object to symbolise this, excavates the doll and finds a tiny worm. Leda only gives the doll back after she has aborted the “baby”, drained the primordial liquid: "I imagined her womb as a dry ditch". The anger expressed towards fertility is intense - and the character who is actually pregnant in the novel (Nina's sister in law) is older, fat and ugly - those triple scales on which women are judged: age, weight, beauty.

Leda buys new clothes for the doll, tries to clean her scribbled upon face. To make some reparation - for the kidnap? Or is it her a fantasy to restore Nani to Elena perfected?

I dipped into Frantumaglia, Ferrante’s book of letters and interviews. I stopped, it is exciting and enlightening but I was blurring my own responses. Below are some insights I gleaned before it went back to the library.

I read that Ferrante had wanted to write a story about the mythical Leda and her daughter who would become Helen of Troy. Leda was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan - Helen was their daughter, hatched from an egg. Ferrante wanted to write a version of Helen/Elena as an ugly child, conscious of her physical inferiority to a beautiful mother. Ferrante is preoccupied by the daughter haunted by a more beautiful mother. The names Leda and Helen/Elena remain in The Lost Daughter. Ferrante refers to another version of the myth where instead of impregnating Leda, Zeus pursues the goddess Nemesis - who transforms herself into a goose. A shepherd finds the the egg laid by Nemesis and gives it to Leda who incubates it until it hatches. So Helen is Leda's adoptive daughter: "her daughter-non-daughter".

And Nemesis is the goddess of retribution.

Leda chooses Nina as her adoptive daughter. She writes that the parts she loves most in her own children are those which are alien to her. She is repulsed and made anxious by seeing aspects of herself replicated in her children. Nina is a stranger, but also less alien because as an uneducated Neapolitan mother she is closer to the women of Leda'a childhood. Leda's daughters are sophisticated, taking for granted the class and culture into which they have been born. They refuse to engage in discussion about Leda's abandonment of them as children. Nina's response to Leda's theft - is unmoderated by intellectual subtlety or middle class reserve, her condemnation lashes out verbally and physically. Leda provokes and exacts the judgement of that line of mute and angry women from whom she is both separated and attached.

The doll seems to open up a space between mother and daughter. Without the doll, Elena becomes a horrible clinging burden, Both Elena and Nani are seepingly unattractive: infected eye, runny nose, dirty face, bilgewater innards. The doll is that third element, equivalent to the idea of the father as third; interrupting the fused selves of mother and child. This is a novel without fathers, somehow absent even if they have not actually left. A fold of cloth pulled taut between two points, then the same fold stretched between three points: feel the internal expansion - the lovely space created by the triangle. The body of the doll.

Ferrante writes about her interest in Klein and also in Luce Irigaray – one of whose essays provided the first quotation I ever collected about dolls (see Doll Dossier) – about the doll being a mediator between mothers and daughters. A spatial probe in a world where language has denied their subjectivity.

Ferrante explains the word "frantumaglia" as a maternal boon - a word from Naples dialect - used by Ferrante's mother and meaning a jumble or clutter of contradictory emotions: it tastes of iron and can make you weep. Ferrante says it is "an infinite aerial or aquatic mass of debris that appears to the I, brutally as its true and unique self".

I love the way Ferrante writes about the matter of writing - textures and rhythms and choice of words. Fragments, images,compulsive writing, the struggle to organise. Of her process she says that she begins with with dryness and beauty:

“I begin to wait with trepidation for the moment when I will be able to replace the series of well oiled, noiseless links with a rusty, rasping series of links and a pace that is disjointed, agitated, increasing the risk of absolute collapse.”

How beautiful is that?

Maybe I am particularly aware of texture and matter in making now when I am starting some new works - and not feeling a great root charge of feeling.

I have shapes and characters in mind but they seem too obvious.

But I am happier when I am making - in the thick of it: merged! My fragments are meandering; fragile rhythms proliferate and I try not to panic and sabotage them with doubt. And don't my works from earlier this year, the elemental dolls, also express a yearning to disrupt (cleanliness, meticulous craft) by exposure the the elements or dirt or fire?

And so why am I obsessing about this novel - reading and writing and thinking so much, yet finding it always slightly out of reach?

Mothers and daughters obviously. And what one might have to sacrifice in order to preserve oneself. and one's dream of life. And how to bear the hurtful consequences to others, The right to be selfish.

Leda had to walk out on her family in order to make/keep something of /for herself. The right to pursue an ambition that her husband takes for granted; absenting herself even though it was excruciating.

Doris Lessing is a writer who famously "abandoned" her children to save her creative/intellectual self. In Lessing's chilling short story To Room 19, the opposite happens. Susan puts her career on hold in order to be a wife and mother. And when she tries to find space for herself again when the children are older (secretly renting the physical space of room 19 in a dingy hotel when she can't make a mental space of her own at home) - there is nothing there. She has allowed something to die expecting be able to revive it but the light has gone out for ever. She commits suicide.

Reading the Ferrante made me think about mothers and daughters in relation to myself. I am a daughter, I will never now be a mother. In a recent blog I wrote about Adam Phillips – how the obvious interpretation obscures and saves one from having to consider something less palatable. The Ambivalence Doll was created in the throes of feeling about a horizontal displacement and I have thought and talked and written about it as being “about” sibling and romantic rivalry (the excluded third: jealousy) but I wonder now if it wasn’t also about motherhood. I made it at a time when I might have had a child – and of all my dolls it comes most close to the size of a human baby. A too much baby, too heavy, too many heads, flailing limbs, terrifyingly and eternally hypotonic. My daughter?

My mum and sister both saw the exhibition – my sister was upset by the doll, my mum felt guilty about giving me Nicola, the original doll/substitute baby who inspired it. It is hard not to interpret the gift of the doll (well-intended) as saying you are no longer the baby and therefore must be the mother because there are no other roles. The older sibling, the "like-me" first daughter must also experience primary maternal preoccupation. In my funny binary mind of either/or, did this shut me out forever from being baby. And yet I also resist being mother. Mum reminded me that Nicola was second hand. A colleague was getting rid of toys their children had outgrown and Nicola was part of that job lot of the unwanted. My baby was not even a new doll! My sister and I laughed at that. So Ambivalence Doll is a weapon - wounding my sister, triggering guilt in my mother. She was a way of sharing memories and light heartedness and humour between us too.

During the exhibition I ran a doll workshop – with girls from Dream of Life London. I made simple stuffed calico dolls. Threads, watercolour pencils, scraps of fabric and glue were provided. Stitches take time and I didn’t want a lack of sewing skills to get in the way. I gave a quick tour of the exhibition, focusing on the three most autobiographical dolls – Ambivalence Doll, Mourning Pod and Sleeping Beauty. I wanted to suggest the possibility of a doll, not as beautiful ideal, a saccharine cuddly or baby needing care, but as capable of holding or showing negative or extreme emotion. Showing what cannot be said. Reflecting back what we cannot bear to see in the mirror.

The very different dolls they produced are shown below.

It is not my place to analyise the individual creations. I was interested that one of the younger participants thanked me for the generosity? (kindness? - I can't remember) of my taking the time to make and give the dolls to them. The handmadeness and the giftness of them linking back to Irigaray.

A sentence keeps thrumming in my mind "there is only one place - and we can't both be in it. We either take turns or one of us is forever cast out". What is that? I made this little box ages ago - inspired by those weather house hygrometers - it seems to fit my sentence. Only one of the figures outside at any one time.

it is interesting that in the novel Leda regains her girlish figure when her daughters leave home; she sheds her maternal identity - and becomes daughter?

I go back to Lenu and Lila in My Brilliant Friend - their relationship expands the theme of opposition and alternation: “the self discipline of one, that continuously and brusquely shatters when it runs up against the unruly imagination of the other”. (Ferrante, 2016)

Lila is almost inhuman, (like a goddess?), the novels are punctuated by her unprecedented upsurges of brilliance in different spheres : literature, science, business, craft - but somehow she has no real place in the world, she cannot leave Naples. Only by mysteriously vanishing. Lenu is compromise, groundedness, she is the first person, she has the voice.

One arm of my ambivalence doll has a list of binaries – a musing about the way that in our family system the personalities of my sister and I were polarized – I was good at A, she was good at B, I was shy, she was outgoing, she liked wet food I liked dry...

Finally, about the Leda character, Ferrante writes:

“mainly she has to account for a reckless gesture – whose meaning not only escapes her but surely can’t be deciphered if she remains in her writing” - a story “whose meaning the writer, by the very nature of what she is narrating , is unable to understand: because, if she did, she might die of it.” (Ferrante, 2016)

So the novel ends with Leda saying to her daughter “I’m dead, but I’m fine”

I found myself thinking about Winnicott and paradox. The paradox is that the object/interpretation is only useful to the subject (patient/artist/child) if it feels as though it has been created by him - but it must be found in order to be created. I think of my last blog about the unthinkable partly thought through art or fiction. You would die if you had to confront it head one. Adam Phillips draws out the idea that language - the premature interpretation - can be experienced as a terrifying "raping" maternal invasion: "we suddenly become not me for the patient, and then we know too much, and we are dangerous because we are too nearly in communication with the central still and silent spot of the patient's ego organization" (Phillips, 2007). So again the art object (as tool in the quest for the self) has to simultaneously mirror/reveal and also disguise.

References:

Ernst, S & Maguire, M, eds (1987) Living with the Sphinx: papers from the Women's Therapy Centre. The Women's Press.

Ferrante, Elena (2008) The Lost Daughter. Europa Editions

Ferrante, Elena (2012-15) The Neapolitan Quartet. Europa Editions

Ferrante, Elena (2016) The Beach at Night. Europa Editions

Ferrante, Elena (2016) Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey. Europa Editions

Philips, Adam (2007) Winnicott. Penguin

Winnicott, D.W. (1971) Playing and Reality, Routledge

Wright, K - Maternal Form in Artistic Creation - photocopied gift!

Apologies for absence of page references.

Appendix

A digression into literary Leda.

There is a reference to Leda as an EM Forster scholar. I can’t fathom a link between Forster's sedate Edwardians and Ferrante’s ferocious characters. What could Forster mean to Leda/Ferrante?

I re-read Howards’ End, an arbitrary choice. I was trying trying to hear something "Ferrante" in the relationship between the three women there: traditional, mystical Mrs Wilcox, emancipated compassionate Margaret and the uncompromising Helen. And failing! Personal relations, panic and emptiness, only connect? I will have to leave it. But it is such an extraordinary book - the way the house contrives to make its way to Margaret in spite of the spanner flung into fate's wheel when the family ignore Mrs Wilcox's "will". The triple goddess is there too – overlapping mother, maiden and crone aspects in the three women.

The other book Leda is referred to as studying is Olivia – a famous anonymous novel of the 40s and of course Ferrante’s success has been fraught with interest about her own concealed and now exposed identity.

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