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Ironic Contradictions

I'm a long time reader - since way back when I was seven. That makes it over three quarters of my life that I will be a reader for. But it is worth it. When I'm not reading or wasting my time online on here or Goodreads I'll be off playing video games, studying teaching and messing around with friends and pop culture. Or reading some more.
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco, William Weaver
The Name of the Rose: A convoluted and thorny plant of beauty

The Name of the Rose ranks among some of the most complex books read by myself. However where works like [b:Paradise Lost|15997|Paradise Lost|John Milton|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309202847s/15997.jpg|1031493] or [b:Titus Groan|39063|Titus Groan (Gormenghast, #1)|Mervyn Peake|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327871204s/39063.jpg|3250394] contain their complexity with the power of beautiful flowing prose this novel works at maintaining complexity through its sheer psychological and philosophical depth. Added to which the reader can observe that this sophisticated work of fiction is so tightly wound as to form a textual labyrinth like the one written about within this novel.

Umberto Eco’s work may appear to be a diabolically devised mystery set in the early 13th century, yet it is so much more than this. On the surface, it contains an ideology and idea about exploring the reality of man and the human condition. Deeper down the ideology subtly implies that reality is what each individual makes of it and further, that the world consists of signs linked into other signs, much as all novels arguably link to each other.

Part of the brilliance of this text is how Eco links together the past late-medieval setting and views with modern ideas and preconceptions, providing a fascinating discussion as regards religion, particularly Catholicism. Yet, at the same time, there is a quandary posed by the text for the astute reader. Eco appears as both critic and proponent of religion within this novel. In one moment he argues that an overt attachment to God cannot help but create a flawed worldview. Indicated in sequences such as when our narrator finds himself caught making love with the seductive young woman and struggles throughout the narrative to reconcile his lust/love and his religious views and lifestyle. Yet in another moment he creates sound arguments for religion and the fact that he proposes that the world consists of signs guiding us towards truth is an argument that can be used to defend belief in the existence of God. Perhaps it is safer to assume that Eco attempts to argue that an over adherence to legalistic religion is dangerous but that at the same time the underlying beliefs of various religions are not necessarily false.

Motifs and ideas

Corruption and desire

Umberto Eco’s novel on its surface tackles head on the idea that corruption and desire exists within even the most pure of all men. Each of the monks are described in meticulous detail as men with slight blemishes to their character whether that be the sexual sins of ‘sodomy’ and ‘adultery’ or the other sins of pride and selfish ambition. Eco suggests that all men are at their nature flawed, regardless of how pure an individual is. Yet it seems that some men are more corrupted than others, or rather, some men give into their corruption, using religion as a powerful cover up. It is this form of corruption that ultimately destroys the monastery through fire.

Visions and herbs

The Name of the Rose contains several passages of fantastic visions, which the narrator describes in detail. These visions link-up to the mystery of the novel and help link back to the religious content of the book (which itself refers often to the Book of Revelations). At the same time, these dream sequences create a sense of the narrator being unreliable, though throughout most of the text he appears entirely reliable. This sense of unreliability is compounded by the reference to various hallucinogenic herbs, which are utilised in the monastery or eaten/burned by the monks. As a final note, it is particularly interesting that like Sherlock Holmes the protagonist appears to be addicted to certain herbs, thus perpetuating the idea that all good detectives must rely on performance enhancing drugs.


There is the sense in this novel about the dual nature of fire, much as Eco seems to be conflicted in his views on religion. Fire is a recurring motif in this novel and is used to represent emotional desire and the ability to purify. Particularly in the sequences where the narrator describes his making love to the young woman and the burning of the heretic.


The Name of the Rose is a fine work, a beautiful work and yet a convoluted and bizarre work of fiction. It is perhaps one of the deeper works of fiction in any genre, willing to ask big questions without resolving them and packaging such thoughts within a historical mystery. Perhaps one of the best links to reality that this novel creates is the reflection that reality is a mystery to those within it and yet when outside of that reality one can observe the mystery’s secret.