The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

Start Free Trial

The Name of the Rose

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Ordinarily, the murder mystery, like the Western and (until recently) science fiction, has been relegated to a literary ghetto and considered unworthy of serious critical attention except by students of popular culture, even though all of these genres may have significant work to offer. The Name of the Rose (published in Italy in 1980 as Il nome della rosa) combines a murder mystery with the historical novel (another genre that generally receives short shrift from the critical establishment) and succeeds brilliantly with them both.

In his first novel, Umberto Eco, a professor at the University of Bologna, brings to bear his skills as a historian, philosopher, aesthetician, and specialist in semiotics, as well as literary skills honed by his study of James Joyce. It would be surprising if he were not also a scholar of Dante, for like The Divine Comedy (c. 1320), The Name of the Rose encapsulates the entire Middle Ages.

It begins with a modern hoax, as Professor Eco presents a first-person introduction in which he claims to have discovered in 1968 a book published in 1842 by a French abbé who claimed in turn to have reproduced a fourteenth century manuscript by Adso, a monk from the German monastery of Melk. Eco claims to have translated Abbé Vallet’s work while sailing up the Danube to Melk, where he could not find Adso’s manuscript. By luck, however, Eco says, he discovered in Argentina much of Adso’s manuscript copied into an Italian translation of a Castilian version of a book on chess. Thus, Eco presents his novel as allegedly his “Italian version of an obscure, neo-Gothic French version of a seventeenth-century Latin edition of a work written in Latin by a German monk toward the end of the fourteenth century.” There is considerably more of this literary detective work in the introduction, all of it bogus, but it helps prepare the reader for Eco’s blend of ratiocination, erudition, and scholarship and the formal style of the fiction to follow, and it lends a pretense that the narrative is authentic.

The narrator of the story proper is Adso, an aged monk looking back on the days when, as a young Benedictine novice, he was sent from Melk to an abbey in Italy. There, he came under the direction of a middle-aged Franciscan, Brother William of Baskerville, on a mission in 1327 to the Benedictine abbey reknowned for having the finest library in Christendom but now under suspicion for harboring heretics. Adso’s role as “scribe and disciple” to William is a device that allows the Franciscan to explain to the novice many things that the reader must also know; in addition, it allows Adso to play Dr. Watson to William’s Sherlock Holmes. The analogy is clearly intentional on Eco’s part, for his description of the tall, thin, ratiocinative Baskerville (his name an echo of The Hound of the Baskervilles?) is very close to that of Holmes, and in the opening episode William demonstrates to Adso his powers of deduction in a manner remarkably like that of Holmes with Watson.

Though the action of the novel is confined to the unnamed abbey (the bogus introduction tries to guess at its location), the narrative embraces a much larger sphere. William calls the abbey a microcosm; he has come there in advance to act as mediator between legations from the Holy Roman Emperor, whose emissary he is, and the notoriously corrupt Pope John XXII. In the papal party, there is an inquisitor infamous for his relentless persecution of alleged heretics. William had once been an inquisitor himself but forbore to condemn,...

(This entire section contains 1801 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

let alone burn, anyone. To avoid building castles of suspicion on a mere word, he had insisted on convicting only for proved criminal acts, not for invisible deeds of alleged diabolism, and he soon gave up being an inquisitor altogether, being too much of a rationalist to believe in witchcraft.

While waiting for the legations to arrive, William must turn detective, for a monk has died mysteriously, and the abbot assigns William to solve the case, forbidding him, however, to enter the library, though it seems to contain the clue to the matter. This first death appears to be a suicide, but before William can solve the mystery, six more deaths occur, each grotesquely carried out in correspondence to the seven blasts of the trumpet in the Book of the Apocalypse. The seven deaths take place in a week, almost on the order of one a day, and the novel is organized around the seven days and the monastic order of worship for each day, from Matins to Compline.

The sense of apocalyptic terror was endemic to the time, for the novel takes place early in what Barbara Tuchman calls “the calamitous 14th century.” Though the century’s worst horrors—the Black Death (which will carry off William of Baskerville some years later) and the Hundred Years’ War—were yet to come, Christendom lived under a sense of impending doom. Common theological doctrine held that the great mass of mankind would be damned, and the terrors of that damnation were graphically portrayed in church art, such as a tympanum of the Day of Judgment which fixes Adso with such horrified fascination that he takes several pages to describe it in detail. Two centuries before the Reformation, there was already widespread corruption among the clergy. The Church was rent by internal conflicts and heresies, and the Papacy was in its “Babylonian captivity” at Avignon, where John XXII lived in ostentatious luxury that gave the lie to his priestly vow of poverty. Even the mendicant orders of friars had lost their original purity and were contending with one another for power and wealth.

In reaction, a sect arose within the Italian Franciscans, calling themselves the Friars Minor or Minorites, the Spiritual Franciscans or Fraticelli, who argued that Christ and the Apostles lived in absolute poverty and that the Church should do so as well. John XXII, reveling in the life of a wealthy Sybarite, denounced the Fraticelli as heretics and burned some of them at the stake. Other protestors, going to fanatical extreme, looted, plundered, and burned communities in the name of poverty. Against various groups of alleged heretics, the Church waged “holy crusades,” massacring twenty thousand people at Béziers alone. Some Spiritual Franciscans who escaped the purges found refuge in the Benedictine abbey where the papal inquisitor is coming. Further complicating the situation was the rivalry between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Avignon Papacy. Because the Pope was against the Franciscans, they sided with the Empire, which resisted papal authority and saw the Franciscans as allies. This is the situation that leads to the series of murders at the Benedictine abbey, where some of the Fraticelli have been given sanctuary.

The whodunit element is only a small part of The Name of the Rose. The narrative is richly textured with discussions of the often violent controversy between the Papacy and the Empire and the Papacy versus innumerable groups of alleged heretics. There are debates over poverty, the coming and identity of the Antichrist, the nature of illusion and reality, the elusiveness of truth, and such questions as whether there should be limitations to learning and whether Christ laughed. Eco provides a wealth of detail on almost every aspect of medieval life, including such varied subjects as monastic worship and discipline, herbalism, cryptography, penitential movements, necromancy, vagabondage, relics, optics, the symbolism of stones, the nature of metaphor, science versus magic, the illumination of manuscripts, library aquisitions and cataloging, martyrdom, the distinctions among heretical groups, and the function of comedy.

The narrative is an intellectual tour de force that can appeal to both readers of mysteries and of historical fiction. Compelling as it is, it is not light reading for the casual escapist; the reader must work almost as much as William of Baskerville to fathom the intricacies of thought as well as of events.

Nevertheless, there are enough complications of event to keep the mystery fan happy. The dust jacket gives away the fact that there are seven seeming murders in seven days, but the reader is surprised at who the victims are and when and how they are killed and is kept in suspense, bracing himself for the next shock. The plot cannot be followed here in all its twists and turns; suffice it to say that some of the murders involve homosexuality among several monks; that William and Adso must unravel at night the mystery of the library, which is both a spiritual labyrinth and a literal one that is reinforced with distorting mirrors and an incense that causes bizarre visions; that the library is entered through a grisly ossuary packed with the skeletons of dead monks arranged in grotesque patterns; that William must play cryptographer to decode mysterious symbols and texts; that Adso has a momentary lapse into lust with a wench come to serve the cellarer. The search eventually centers on a mysterious, forbidden book that is itself a murder weapon in the manner of a book that (according to Alexandre Dumas père, in Marguerite de Valois, 1845) killed Charles IX of France. Though he has not directly killed anyone, the controlling person behind the week of terror has played upon the envies and ambitions of some of the monks and has laid the trap by which some of them bring about their own deaths.

The fatal manuscript is the only surviving copy of the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, devoted to comedy (according to Eco’s inspired scenario) as the first was to tragedy. Why should this (apocryphal) text lead to a series of murders and a final conflagration that destroys the library and its irreplaceable contents? In the warped view of its murderous censor, Aristotle’s celebration of comedy would teach mankind “that freeing oneself of the fear of the Devil is wisdom.” Believing that fear is essential for the salvation of sinners, he envisions the fatal book ultimately giving man such freedom of the spirit that he will reject revelation and religion altogether and give himself wholly to rationalism.

The climax and the motivation for murder are ingenious but perhaps overly so; despite a morbid fanaticism that will stop at nothing to preserve its version of orthodoxy, seven deaths to suppress the book in question are extreme even for an insane zealot, nor is the argument persuasive that the book would lead to the result he envisions. Finally discovering the cause of the killings, the reader may ask whether that is all and question whether the cause is not insufficient for the consequences.

Even so, The Name of the Rose provides abundant intellectual adventure to accompany the mysterious events at the monastery. In his first novel, Umberto Eco has given a virtuoso performance.

Places Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Abbey. Unnamed Catholic abbey in northern Italy that provides the novel’s setting. The abbey is modeled on abbeys of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Besides the central area of action—the library—the abbey includes a church, an infirmary, a chapter house, a cloister with dormitory, pilgrim quarters, stables, a smithy, mills, oil presses, granaries, pigpens, gardens, and a cemetery.


Library. Forbidden and mysterious area of the abbey, located in the Aedificium, a large octagonal building housing the kitchen and refectory on its lower floor and the library and scriptorium on its upper floor. The scriptorium is a writing room in the abbey that leads to the main entrance to the library. As was usual in medieval times, the scriptorium is located near the kitchens so that the warmth from cooking fires would help keep the monks warm as they worked.

Most medieval monasteries had libraries because their monks were engaged in religious study and had to undertake daily reading. The abbey’s library serves to preserve manuscripts and provide income and power for the abbey when nobles pay for handwritten copies of manuscripts. Significantly, at this abbey, only the librarian and his assistant are allowed to enter the library itself; they decide who may or may not see certain manuscripts, and only they understand the complex structure of the library.

The labyrinthine design of the library connects it with the medieval mazes often built into cathedrals. The library is designed much like the maze on the floor of the Rheims Cathedral in France. In church symbolism, the maze would be the world, and walking the maze would be a way of reenacting the complex and distracting obstacles in life.

The ossarium, a bone vault leading to a secret entrance into the library, serves a practical purpose as a cemetery and a spiritual purpose as a “memento mori,” reminding all that they will die (and frightening them away from the secret entrance to the library).

Sections of the library are coded according to geographical areas on a medieval map. For example, the finis Africae houses forbidden books—those written by pagan authors that Jorge of Burgos (the former head librarian) considers most dangerous; therefore, it is protected by distorting mirrors and hallucinatory drugs. Aristotle’s Comedy is lodged in the finis Africae because it is the book that Jorge most feared would lead the world astray; this manuscript includes both Arabic and Syriac texts, which indicate that the Comedy was transmitted to the Christian world through infidels.


Church. The abbey’s sturdy church is, like many medieval churches, decorated with carvings intended to inspire religious feeling in the illiterate peasant. When the narrator Adso, a Benedictine novice assigned as William’s scribe, first beholds the church’s carvings, they prompt in him a vision instructing him to write down what he sees; this vision is an allusion to the seven trumpets of the Apocalypse, a theme that permeates the novel.

*Abbey of Melk

*Abbey of Melk. Benedictine abbey on the banks of the Danube in Austria. Adso is from this monastery, which, like the fictional abbey, had a library that was gutted by fire.


Baskerville. Fictional English town from which the amateur detective Brother William comes. This place is important for its symbolic name, which connects Brother William to Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who solved a famous murder mystery at the equally fictional Baskerville Hall.

*Abbey of Cluny

*Abbey of Cluny. Benedictine abbey in France that was one of the most important centers of Christianity in the fourteenth century. Bernard of Cluny wrote a poem from which the title of the novel is taken. The long poem is a denunciation of immoral clergymen and of the wickedness of the world. While the meaning of the “rose” of the novel’s title may be debated, to Bernard, the rose symbolized the brevity and sadness of mortal life.


*Avignon (a-vee-nyo[n]). City on the east bank of France’s Rhône River that was the temporary seat of the papacy during the period in which the novel is set. It is from Avignon that Pope John XXII promulgates papal bulls against the Franciscans.

Historical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Italy in the 1970s

While The Name of the Rose is set in the fourteenth century in an unnamed Italian abbey, it may also be read as allegory of Western culture in general, and Italy in the 1970s, specifically. David Richter in his essay, “The Mirrored World: Form and Ideology in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose” argues that whether the reader associates Emperor Louis with the USSR and Pope John XXII with the United States or the reverse, Eco seems to be concerned “with the impact of their struggle on the three billion people elsewhere in nations that might have preferred to remain unaligned . . .” The cold war, reaching its height during the years that Eco wrote the novel, deeply influenced the writer, and it is little wonder that the confrontation between the papal legation and the Franciscans is so heated.

Perhaps even more relevant to the novel, however, is the kidnapping of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigade. The kidnapping took place on March 16, 1978, the month Eco reports he began writing the novel. Moro was the President of the Christian Democratic Party and had been Prime Minister of Italy three times. A series of convoluted negotiations ensued as different parties tried to secure Moro’s release. Much of what happened is ambiguous; however, Moro was eventually murdered. Eco and other Italian intellectuals were deeply shocked by this assassination, and his outrage seems to make it into the pages of The Name of the Rose.

Europe in the 1300s

The fourteenth century was a watershed period in medieval history, and there is little question of why Eco chooses to situate his novel in this troubled time. In the first place, philosophers and theologians were deeply immersed in a number of debates, including not only the question of Christ’s poverty, but also the nature of language and truth. If language cannot be connected to a transcendent reality outside of the words themselves, then it undermines the entire Christian project. While this concern seems more postmodern than medieval, any close reading of medieval philosophers demonstrates the anxiety caused by new ways of thinking. In addition, Eco deliberately chooses to have Adso write about the events of 1327 from the vantage point of the middle of the century, at a time after the ravages of the Black Death. The spread of the plague in the years between 1348 and 1350 was cataclysmic; Europe lost nearly one-third of its total population, sending social, political, and religious institutions into chaos. For Adso, the plague must have seemed Apocalyptic. He mentions the death of William in the plague, and his own existence in an “aged world.” The contemplation of death and of the world grown old is a common medieval motif; yet the images that Eco provides of Adso sifting through the ashes of the burned Scriptorium could just as easily apply to some cold war vision of nuclear holocaust. Thus, the connection between the twentieth century and the fourteenth century seems closer than might otherwise be thought.

Literary Style

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Detective Fiction

Detective fiction is one of the most popular genres of novels in contemporary culture. Yet it seems an unlikely choice of format for such an erudite writer and book. Eco chooses detective fiction very deliberately, however, and not only to make his book more of a commercial success. Detective fiction offers a series of conventions and rules that attract a particular kind of reader, one who knows what ought to happen next. In addition, the reader of detective fiction is not taken in by what people say; rather, they have learned to look carefully at evidence and to make guesses about what might be the reality of the case. Some of the conventions of detective fiction found in The Name of the Rose include the ultra-intelligent detective; his faithful if obtuse young companion; a series of murders; a series of witnesses and interviews; villains who try to foil the investigation; and a final assembly of those involved where the detective reveals the murderer, the motive, and the means of the murder. In The Name of the Rose, Eco plays with his readers’ expectations, creating a tension between what his audience believes will happen and what really happens, calling attention to the novel as a text, not reality. Furthermore, such playing with generic conventions undermines all such conventions, and reminds reader that what they are reading is a novel, not life.


Another device that Eco employs magnificently is intertextuality. Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms define it as “the condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others, either because it exhibits signs of influence or because its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts through such things as allusion, quotation, genre, style, and even revisions.” For postmodernists, the notion of intertextuality is an important one; it suggests that all literature, and for that matter, all writing, is comprised of writing that has already and always been written. Thus, text leads always to more text, rather than to some transcendental truth. The Name of the Rose draws on vast numbers of other texts in its constructions as evidenced by The Key to “The Name of the Rose,” by Adele J. Haft, Jane G. White, and Robert J. White, a whole book dedicated to identifying the medieval historical and literary allusions, and translating passages from Latin and other languages into English. Indeed, some critics have called The Name of the Rose a pastiche, or collage of many other sources, pasted together into something like a novel. By creating such a text, Eco opens the door to many interpretations.

Literary Techniques

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The novel is structured around the liturgical hours (e.g. Matins, Vespers, Compline) of the seven days that William and Adso spend at the monastery in Northern Italy in 1327. But the entire work, described by the subtitle "Naturally, a Manuscript," is introduced as a copy of an authentic work which has been lost. Eco presents himself not as the traditional novelist, but as yet another amanuensis who transcribes a nineteenth-century reproduction of the original work "as if it were authentic, the manuscript of Adso of Melk." Again, Eco shows that his work not only engenders but also grows out of an individual interpretation.

In Postscript to "The Name of the Rose" Eco explains his choice of genres: "since I wanted you [the reader] to feel as pleasurable the one thing that frightens us — namely, the metaphysical shudder — I had only to choose (from among the model plots) the most metaphysical and philosophical: the detective novel." Yet Eco himself acknowledges that The Name of The Rose is constructed as "a mystery in which very little is discovered and the detective is defeated." Indeed, many of William's theories about the murders prove to be incorrect. Worse, the library and the entire monastery burn to the ground. In his attempt to recover the lost volume of Aristotle, William ends by seeing the best library in all Christendom completely destroyed.

The world of the abbey is meticulously constructed both through floor plans and descriptions. Eco's assiduous attention to the details of the abbey — its pace of life, its rituals, its politics, its relationship to the outside world, its internecine rivalries, its history — makes the novel a seamless garment, a fabric perfectly woven and beautifully fashioned. The wealth of historical detail that informs the novel establishes a basic creditability to the world that Eco creates.

Social Concerns

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Like the entirety of the novel, the social concerns expressed in The Name of The Rose function on at least two levels: they are applicable to medieval times as well as to contemporary society. As Eco writes in his Postscript to "The Name of the Rose": "The Middle Ages are our infancy, to which we must always return, for anamnesis." In addition to the attention paid to various heresies and sects, Eco deals extensively with conflicting ideas on clerical poverty. The Emperor Louis IV asserts the need for the vow of poverty among the clergy, while the corrupt Pope John XXII argues that poverty would diminish the prestige and power of the Church. Other groups, such as the Fraticelli, argue for complete poverty through the abandonment of all material possessions. These conflicts anticipate the battles between religious, social, and political ideologies today. Especially important are the extremes to which these groups go to combat their opponents. The persecution, factionalism, and hatred depicted in a medieval context have direct contemporary political and social parallels in Europe, the Middle East, and throughout the modern world. Some Italian reviewers, in fact, saw The Name of The Rose as an allegory on contemporary Italian politics.

The Name of The Rose considers diametrically opposed attitudes toward knowledge and learning. The confrontation between a blind monk, Jorge of Burgos, and William pits a repressive, destructive, censorial attitude against one of intellectual freedom. There is no question but that Eco's sympathies lie with the latter. William describes Jorge's hatred of philosophy as that of the Antichrist, "born of excessive piety." Jorge's repressive certitude is ultimately the principal destructive force in Eco's novel, the force against which William and Eco struggle.

Literary Precedents

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The Bible, the Conan Doyle stories, the works of Aristotle, medieval literature of every sort — herbals, theological studies, romances — and Eco's own writings on semiotics are the most important sources and inspirations for The Name of The Rose. But it would be easier to identify the works that have not in some way contributed to the characters, themes, and plots of The Name of the Rose than those that have. Eco's erudition is so broad, his writing so informed that authors as diverse as James Joyce and Edgar Allan Poe, Jorge Luis Borges and John Barth, Thomas a Kempis and Thomas Aquinas inform the novel.

In Eco's own terms The Name of The Rose is a postmodern novel that insists on the primacy of plot. As he himself argues: "The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently." There are hundreds of allusions to classical, medieval, and modern works in The Name of The Rose. Eco's novel is replete with instances of untranslated Latin, German, and other languages as well as anachronistic references, often in the form of disguised quotations, to authors like Ludwig Wittgenstein. Eco also sees The Name of The Rose as a historical novel that illuminates the medieval age and shows how modernity derives from that age. As Eco observes: "If a character of mine, comparing two medieval ideas, produces a third, more modern idea, he is doing exactly what culture did."


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The Name of The Rose was adapted for film release in 1986. The film, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starred Sean Connery as William, Michael Lonsdale as the Abbot, and Christian Slater as Adso. Andrew Birkin, Gerard Brach, Howard Franklin, and Alain Godard are credited with the screenplay. Critical response to the film was generally mixed, but it was not a commercial success. The multiple levels of meaning could not survive the process of cinematic adaptation. Consequently, the emphasis fell largely on the basic elements of the plot — a succession of murders, clues, red herrings, and theories. Reviewers often faulted the film as being little more than a medieval Sherlock Holmes detective story or for failing even to suggest the complexities of Eco's novel.

Media Adaptations

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The Name of the Rose was made into a film in 1986, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery as William of Baskerville, Christian Slater as Adso of Melk, and F. Murray Abraham as Bernard Gui. The film was released on DVD in 2004 and is available from Warner Home Video.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Biasin, Gian-Paolo, Review of Il nome della rosa, in World Literature Today, Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer 1981, pp. 449–50.

Bondanella, Peter, “‘To Make Truth Laugh’: Postmodern Theory and Practice in The Name of the Rose,” in Umberto Eco and the Open Text: Semiotics, Fiction, Popular Culture, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 93–125.

Borges, Jorge Luis, Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings, New Directions, 1964, p. 3.

Copleston, Frederick C., Medieval Philosophy, Harper Torchbooks, 1961, p. 121.

D’Amico, Masolino, “Medieval Mirth,” in the Times Literary Supplement, January 9, 1981, p. 29.

De Lauretis, Teresa, “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism,” in Reading Eco: An Anthology, edited by Rocco Capozzi, Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 243.

Dirda, Michael, “The Letter Killeth and the Spirit Giveth Life,” in Book World–The Washington Post, June 19, 1983, pp. 5, 14.

Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose, translated by William Weaver, with Author’s Postscript, Harcourt, 1994.

Farronato, Cristina, Eco’s Chaosmos: From the Middle Ages to Postmodernity, University of Toronto Press, 2003, p. 13.

Haft, Adele J., Jane G. White, and Robert J. White, The Key to “The Name of the Rose,” University of Michigan Press, 1999, p. 175.

Key, Jonathan, “Maps and Territories: Eco Crossing the Boundary,” in Illuminating Eco: On the Boundaries of Interpretation, edited by Charlotte Ross and Rochelle Sibley, Ashgate, 2004, p. 16.

Martín, Jorge Hernández, Readers and Labyrinths: Detective Fiction in Borges, Bustos Domecq, and Eco, Garland Publishing, 1995, pp. 150–51.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003, p. 219.

Richter, David, “The Mirrored World: Form and Ideology in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose,” in Reading Eco: An Anthology, edited by Rocco Capozzi, Indiana University Press, 1997, pp. 256–75.

Sibley, Rochelle, “Aspects of the Labyrinth in The Name of the Rose: Chaos and Order in the Abbey Library,” in Illuminating Eco: On the Boundaries of Interpretation, edited by Charlotte Ross and Rochelle Sibley, Ashgate, 2004, pp. 28–29.

Further Reading

Eco, Umberto, “How and Why I Write,” in Umberto Eco’s Alternative: The Politics of Culture and the Ambiguities of Interpretation, edited by Norma Bouchard and Veronica Pravadelli, Peter Lang Publishers, 1998, pp. 282–302.

Eco offers an excellent first person account of his writing process, describing how he first builds a world for his novels.

Eco, Umberto, and Thomas A. Sebeok, The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce, Indiana University Press, 1983.

Eco and Sebeok have assembled a collection of ten essays examining the method of abduction in the works of Poe’s detective Auguste Dupin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes, and American semiotician Charles S. Peirce.

Inge, M. Thomas, ed., Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” University Press of Mississippi, 1988.

Inge has collected ten essays by noted scholars as well as a preliminary checklist of Eco criticism in English, current to 1988.

Radford, Gary P., On Eco, Thomson/Wadsworth, 2003.

Radford provides a cogent and comprehensive introduction to the thinking of Umberto Eco.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLII, July, 1983, p. 108.

Bondanella, Peter. Umberto Eco and the Open Text: Semiotics, Fiction, Popular Culture. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Analyzes Eco’s fiction in the context of his literary theory, showing how his semiotics, or theory of signs, is applicable to the detective work in The Name of the Rose.

Caesar, Michael. Umberto Eco: Philosophy, Semiotics, and the Work of Fiction. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1999. Comprehensive overview of Eco’s theories, with explanations of how they influence and appear in his fiction.

Christian Science Monitor. December 2, 1983, p. B6.

Coletti, Theresa. Naming the Rose: Eco, Medieval Signs, and Modern Theory. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988. Discusses Eco’s mingling of medieval and modern and what this means in light of the novel’s reception.

Eco, Umberto. Postscript to “The Name of the Rose.” San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. In the spirit of Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition,” Eco discusses how the novel came to be written, not how it should be read.

Haft, Adele J., Jane G. White, and Robert J. White. The Key to “The Name of the Rose.” Harrington Park, N.J.: Ampersand Associates, 1987. A useful source that identifies the novel’s literary references and provides translations of all non-English passages.

Hudson Review. XXXVI, Autumn, 1983, p. 554.

Inge, M. Thomas. Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.” Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988. Ten essays with a foreword by Eco, a reader-response postscript, and a useful annotated checklist of English-language criticism.

Inge, Thomas M., ed. Naming the Rose: Essays on Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.” Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1988. Anthologizes some of the best essays on the novel to the time of publication. Contains a checklist of articles on and reviews of the novel.

Library Journal. CVIII, April 1, 1983, p. 757.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 13, 1983, p. 6.

The New York Review of Books. XXX, July 21, 1983, p. 11.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, June 5, 1983, p. 1.

Newsweek. CII, July 4, 1983, p. 72.

Richter, David H. “Eco’s Echoes: Semiotic Theory and Detective Practice in The Name of the Rose.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 10, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 213-236. Densely detailed and finely argued discussion of the relation between Eco’s parodic novel and semiotic theory.

Ross, Charlotte, and Rochelle Sibley, eds. Illuminating Eco: On the Boundaries of Interpretation. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004. A collection of essays chosen to show the variety of approaches British scholars have taken to Eco’s novels and theoretical works. Includes contributions by Eco.

Time. CXXI, June 13, 1983, p. 72.

The Wall Street Journal. June 20, 1983, p. 26.


Critical Essays