Postscript to

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 11)

Even before the publication of Il nome della rosa (1980; The Name of the Rose, 1983)—which won for its author Italy’s two most prestigious literary awards, the Premio Strega and the Premio Viareggio—Umberto Eco enjoyed an impressive reputation in Europe and the United States. He was known, however, primarily in scholarly circles and almost exclusively as the author of a number of books on literary theory and aesthetics, including such studies as A Theory of Semiotics (1976) and The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (1979). The Name of the Rose, his first and only novel to date, catapulted him to worldwide fame. With the monographic Postscript to “The Name of the Rose” (published in Italy in 1983 as Postille a “Il nome della rosa”), the author refocused his attention on the scholarly preoccupation with signs, readers, and the Middle Ages that preceded (and culminated in) his writing a detective novel set in November, 1327, and peopled with such Sherlock Holmesian monks as William of Baskerville (a Franciscan and the story’s principal sleuth) and Adso of Melk (his Benedictine sidekick). The wit and irony ubiquitous in the novel find equally free expression in Postscript to “The Name of the Rose.”

Postscript to “The Name of the Rose” is divided into fifteen sections, including “Notes.” Eleven pages of illustrations accompany the text and consist largely of photographs of architectural details of twelfth century churches and of medieval miniatures in commentaries on the Book of Revelation. Below each of the eleven pictures appears a passage from The Name of the Rose; the illustrations greatly assist the reader in visualizing the novel’s narrative descriptions of the abbey and the macabre events that occur therein. Eco’s comments on his best-seller, on the other hand, will hardly satisfy the reader who expects definitive or straight answers to why things happen the way they do in the novel. The author-commentator prefers to provide a few, often tantalizing, details on the background of the novel’s composition and then allow the reader to draw his own conclusions.

In the first section, “The Title and the Meaning,” Eco states that no novelist should supply interpretations of his own narrative. To do so would greatly limit a novel’s purpose, which is, according to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Eco, to generate interpretations. While he readily admits that almost any title, nevertheless, constitutes an interpretive key provided by the author, he claims that in his own case the title for The Name of the Rose came to him partially by chance (no further explanation); he hopes, moreover, that it disorients the reader and muddles his ideas. Eco continues in this ironic vein by concluding his opening remarks with the recommendation that the author “die once he has finished writing” in order “not to trouble the path of the text.” In fact, however, he is determined to do exactly the opposite: to live and to trouble his text’s path as much as possible. He begins the next selection, “Telling the Process,” by observing that, while the author must not...

(The entire section is 1322 words.)