First published in Italy in 1980 as Il nome della rosa, William Weaver’s English translation of author Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose appeared in the United States in 1983, and in England in 1984. The novel, with its labyrinthine plot, deep philosophical discussions, and medieval setting, seemed an unlikely candidate for worldwide success. Yet by 2004, the book had sold more than nine million copies and had never been out of print. Critics and readers alike enthusiastically received The Name of the Rose, and the 1986 Jean-Jacques Annaud film, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater, only fueled interest in the novel.
If The Name of the Rose seems an odd choice for such critical and popular acclaim, Eco’s elevation into literary superstardom seems just as surprising. A scholarly university professor, Eco’s main fields of interest include semiotics, aesthetics, and medieval philosophy. Before The Name of the Rose, Eco was well-known among academicians as the writer of many scholarly books, particularly in the field of semiotics. No one could have predicted the furor caused by his debut novel; yet the well-drawn characters, the mysterious setting, and the detective-fiction plot continue to attract a diverse audience for the book. In addition, new critical studies of The Name of the Rose appear frequently, and there seems to be no slowing of critical interest. Rich, complicated, and multi-layered, The Name of the Rose promises to be an important novel for study for years to come.