you're reading...
The Book Club

Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose

1. Trying something novel. Umberto Eco’s “The Name Of The Rose” is an interesting read: while it is packaged as a detective fiction – with Brother William of Baskerville committed to investigations within an abbey – the novel delves into areas of religion, spiritual and ideological conflict, as well as suspected heresy amongst the monks. The religious references and frequent use of Latin phrases can be challenging for the reader, but the straightforward characterisation and relatively engaging plot do provide a good read. Given that Eco has penned a considerable postscript to the text, it would be intriguing to run through some of the points he has raised, and complement them with some of my personal observations or perspectives.

2. “The Name Of The Rose” and the final Latin hexameter. The selection of the title was finalised after much considerations; even though the reader might find little connections between the title and the actual storyline. Eco contended that he did not want an obvious heading that might “[concentrate] the reader’s attention entirely on the mystery story … [and] wrongly lure and mislead purchasers looking for an action-packed yarn” (though the synopsis in my version did sell the book as an exhilarating detective fiction). There are probably multiple interpretations for the rose imagery, but its significance can be quite negligible in the grand scheme of things.

3. Adso’s contemplations on logic and its usage. “I had always believed logic was a universal weapon, and now I realised how its validity depended on the way it was employed … [and] that logic could be especially useful when you entered it but then left it”.

4. Adso providing the narrative voice. Having Adso provide the narrative serves an assortment of functions: first, it acts as a buffer for the reader’s potential unfamiliarity with the historical, religious or literature references, since Adso – with his comparative youth and lack of exposure – is equally unacquainted with the allegories or symbolisms; correspondingly, both the reader and Adso are constantly learning from William’s tools, insights and intellect. Adso’s purported lack of knowledge and relatively low status within the abbey renders him more appropriate as a medium or platform of views and expressions, so that the reader can independently judge people and events. At the same time, as opposed to having the story narrated from William’s point of view, the reader distinguishes William’s abilities, and intently follows him to uncover the truth.

5. Adso’s innocence. Adso’s innocence allows the reader to relate to him easily; while his fears and insecurities over matters of sex, the unknown and the challenges of intellectual-religious discourse make him more human, more vulnerable (and therefore, more approachable). This innocence is of huge contrast and significance, when his character is juxtaposed against the indecencies in the abbey, and its respective monks.

6. The novel as a cosmological matter. In Eco’s own words, “what I mean is that to tell a story you must first of all construct a world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest details”. Undertaking such an endeavour does add depth to the work – naturally so, since great amounts of research must have gone into the book – especially since the conflict is set in medieval times; however, such lengths might go unnoticed by the reader, who is at times more superficially engaged with the plot and characters. Devoting large chunks of manuscript or paragraphs to the exposition of concepts or historical chronicles can be frustrating for the reader as well. Had the postscript not been penned, many of my doubts or lack of understanding would have lingered.

7. Eco: the difference between prose and poetry. “Grasp the subject, and the words will follow. This, I believe, is the opposite of what happens with poetry … grasp the words, and the subject will follow”. Through the postscript, it is evident that Eco dedicated large portions of his writing time to maintain and sustain the realism of his concentrative universe; the Benedictine abbey.

8. Linking Eco’s science of Semiotics. Understanding Eco’s background in the science of Semiotics matters (which comes with additional research); throughout the novel – most notably with the hidden manuscript and the labyrinth – the varying interpretations of the symbols highlight the multiplicity in their applicability. William and Adso are constantly discovering secret symbols and coded manuscripts, but the real challenge lies in the deciphering and realising the proper application of these evidences. Notably, everything does not go according to plan; with Jorge and William presented with the eventual circumstances as a result of random mistakes or misguided intentions.

9. Some of the other themes explored in “The Name Of The Rose. The controversies of religion and heresy, investigation based on logic and empirical insights, universal truths versus personal observations, priestly authority (and whether it is always justified), as well as the Church’s receptivity towards scientific discoveries and individual thought.

10. Brother William of Baskerville. “Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry” and “The hand of God creates; it does not conceal”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow guanyinmiao's musings on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,404 other followers


Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

%d bloggers like this: