name of the rose
The Name of the Rose is a novel by Italian author Umberto Eco. It is an historical whodunnit (murder mystery) set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327, an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.
Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk travel to a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to attend a theological disputation. As they arrive, the monastery is disturbed by a mysterious death. As the plot unfolds, several other people mysteriously die. The protagonists explore a labyrinthine medieval library, the subversive power of laughter, and come face to face with the Inquisition. It is left primarily to William's enormous powers of logic and deduction to solve the mysteries of the abbey.
On one level, the book is an exposition of the scholastic method which was very popular in the 14th century. William demonstrates the power of deductive reasoning, especially syllogisms. He refuses to accept the diagnosis of simple demonic possession despite demonology being the traditional monastic explanation. Although the abbey is under the apprehension that they are experiencing the last days before the coming of Antichrist (a topic closely examined in the book), William, through his empirical mindset, manages to show that the murders are, in fact, committed by a more corporeal instrument. By keeping an open mind, collecting facts and observations, following pure intuition, and the dialectic method, he makes decisions as to what he should investigate, exactly as a scholastic would do. However, the simple use of reason does not suffice. The various signs and happenings only have meaning in their given contexts, and William must constantly be wary of the contexts within which he interprets the mystery. Indeed, the entire story challenges the narrator, William's young apprentice Adso, and the reader to continually recognize the context he is using to interpret, bringing the whole text to various levels which can all have different hermeneutical meanings. The narrative ties in many varied plot lines, all of which consider various interpretations and sources of meanings. Many of the interpretations and sources were highly volatile controversies in the medieval religious setting, all while spiraling towards what seems to be the key to understanding and truly interpreting the case. Although William's final theorems do not exactly match the actual events as written, those theorems do allow him to solve the abbey's mystery.
Eco is a pioneer of Reader Response theory and the idea of the ‘open’ text. He often focuses on the reader's role in creating the meaning and experience of a literary work. He combines this with the science of Semiotics, the study of sign processes and the creation and interpretation of symbols.
Eco uses the process of solving the murders as an extended metaphor for a reader’s experience of interpreting a text. William’s search for the truth is a reflection of Post-modernist ideas on the relativistic nature of truth and meaning in this process. The various signs and events in The Name of the Rose only have meaning in their given contexts, and William must constantly be wary of which context is relevant when he interprets the mystery. Though William's final theories do not exactly match the actual events, they allow him to solve the abbey's mystery and thus attain a measure of truth.
Eco wrote that during the Middle Ages there was a conflict between "a geometrically rational schema of what beauty ought to be, and the unmediated life of art with its dialectic of forms and intentions". Eco uses several dialogues and events to link these ideas with the desire to resolve the seeming conflict of structured religion with the spirituality. He sets up several parallel philosophical conflicts within the novel: absolute truth vs. individual interpretation, stylised art vs. natural beauty, predestination vs. free will, spirituality vs. religion.
Eco also translates these medieval religious controversies and heresies into modern political and economic terms. This gives the reader a modern context to help them come to their own conclusions about the meaning of the novel and the views of the characters.
Eco, being a semiotician, is hailed by semiotics students who like to use his novel to explain their discipline. The techniques of telling stories within stories, partial fictionalization, and purposeful linguistic ambiguity are prominent in Eco's narrative style. The solution to the central murder mystery hinges on the contents of Aristotle's book on Comedy, of which no copy survives; Eco nevertheless plausibly describes it and has his characters react to it appropriately in their medieval setting - which, though realistically described, is partly based on Eco's scholarly guesses and imagination. It is virtually impossible to untangle fact / history from fiction / conjecture in the novel. Through the motive of this lost and possibly suppressed book which might have aestheticized the farcical, the unheroic and the skeptical, Eco also makes an ironically slanted plea for tolerance and against dogmatic or self-sufficient metaphysical truths - an angle which reaches the surface in the final chapters.
Umberto Eco is a significant postmodernist theorist and The Name of the Rose is a postmodern novel. For example he says in the novel "books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told." This refers to a postmodern ideal that all texts perpetually refer to other texts, rather than external reality. In true postmodern style, the novel ends with uncertainty: "very little is discovered and the detective is defeated" (postscript). William of Baskerville solves the mystery in part by mistake; he thought there was a pattern but it in fact, numerous "patterns" were involved and combined with haphazard mistakes by the killers. William concludes in fatigue that there "was no pattern". Thus Eco has turned the modernist quest for finality, certainty and meaning on its head leaving the overall plot partly the result of accident and arguably without meaning. Even the novel's title alludes to the possibility of many meanings or of nebulous meaning; Eco saying in the Postscript he chose the title "because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left".