Tuesday, September 1, 2009

241. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

August 2009
History: The book was first published in Italian in 1980. Much attention has been paid to the mystery of what the title of the novel refers to. In fact, Eco has stated that his intention was to find a "totally neutral title".[2] In one version of the story, when he had finished writing the novel, Eco hurriedly suggested some ten names for it and asked a few of his friends to choose one. They chose The Name of the Rose.[citation needed] In another version of the story, Eco had wanted the neutral title Adso of Melk, but that was vetoed by his publisher, and then the title The Name of the Rose "came to me virtually by chance".[2] Eco wrote that he liked this title "because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left."
Plot: Along with his apprentice Adso of Melk (named after the Benedictine abbey Stift Melk), the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville journeys to an abbey where a murder has been committed.
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 misapprehension 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. 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. The murders are being committed by the librarian, who is blind, who is hoarding the original copy of the writings of Aristotle. He puts poison the pages of the book to kill the ones who have discovered it’s presence. At the end, in the struggle to get the book, a fire destroys all of the old books and the abbey. Adso loses touch with William, but becomes a monk himself and eventually revisits the old abbey, and finds some of the old books and treasures them.
Review: Eco's novels finds in the fusion of ecclesiastic history and mystery a chance to explore some of the most fundamental issues of any period of taxing social change. It also explores the importance of symbols and logical debate. The stylistic strength of the book is the resultant combination of rich descriptive detail (especially when it comes to the art and architecture of the Medieval Church) and philosophy (as seen in the impassioned debates over heresy).
Opening Line: “Having reached the end of my poor sinners life, my hair now white, I grow old.”
Closing Line: “I no longer know what it is about.”
Quotes: “The flesh is weak.”
Rating: Okay.

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