One might say that almost everything can be related to Conan Doyle’s world famous creature, Sherlock Holmes if we want to. Umberto Eco’s novel has several references to the British sleuth. The reason why I decided to write an article about this that The Name of the Rose is one of my favourite books, and my hope is to bring it to the attention of those who have not read this great work. (Link: The importance of reading)
The Name of the Rose, published in 1980, is the first novel of Italian writer Umberto Eco. Born in 1932, Eco is a semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic and novelist. His most well-known other novels are Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), The Island of the Day Before (1994), Baudolino (2000), The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2005) and The Prague Cemetery (2010).
A few words about the novel
The historical murder mystery is set in 1327. Its main character is Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his novice Adso. They arrive at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to take part on a theologican disputation. But it turns out that a young illuminator committed suicide, and the abbot asks William to investigate. As time passes, several monks die within strange circumstances, so the friar has a lot to do.
There are several versions of how the title of the novel was born. The author himself told that he chose it because the rose as a symbolic picture has so many meanings that in reality it means nothing at all. The beauty of the past things is already lost, all we have is the name itself. The last line of the novel says the same: „Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.” – which means „The primordial rose abides only in its name; we hold names stripped.”
A movie was made from the novel by Jean Jacques Annaud in 1986, starring Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham and Christian Slater. It was not too popular in the United States, while viewers liked it in many European countries and most of the critics were positive. I liked the movie, though I have to mention that it was impossible to include all descriptions into it, yet these are necessary to better understand the plot and the circumstances.
References to Sherlock Holmes
The rose appears in The Naval Treaty, it inspires the famous and beautiful monologue of the detective. You can listen to the text in the following video:
The name William of Baskerville recalls the adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is an interesting fact that Doyle borrowed the name from a cab driver. William’s name also refers to William Occam, who created a problem-solving method called Occam’s razor after him. It says that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected – so one should always accept as most likely the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts. The friar investigates the deaths following this principle, and so does Sherlock Holmes when he deals with the crimes of England.
Sherlock and William have almost the same looks: they are both tall, thin, have aquiline nose and their expression is alerted. They investigate tirelessly, though they sometimes sink into apathy when their mind has nothing to do.
Holmes has a faithful friend, companion and chronicler, dr. Watson. William has a young novice, Adso, who recalls the events to us.
Both the friar and the sleuth have an enormous knowledge of countless things which proves very useful during their investigations. Just like Holmes, William is also an educated man, he studied natural sciences in Paris and Oxford. They have an excellent ability of observation. They are not afraid to use the innovations of their era, William knows how the clock works, how to use an astrolabium and a magnet, and sometimes he wears glasses. Sherlock applies evidence and trace detecting methods, and what is more, he invents new ones.
They both can contemplate on the beauty of nature – and they often do it as a kind of relaxation.
Women play a minor role in their life – its reason is obvious in the case of William, who is a friar. We have a whole article on Sherlock’s relationship with women (Recommended article: Sherlock Holmes and women).
To end my short article I would like to quote a little from the novel to show the amazing deductive skills of William of Baskerville:
„At the crossroads, on the still-fresh snow, a horse’s hoofprints stood out very neatly, heading for the path to our left. Neatly spaced, those marks said that the hoof was small and round, and the gallop quite regular — and so I deduced the nature of the horse, and the fact that it was not running wildly like a crazed animal. At the point where the pines formed a natural roof, some twigs had been freshly broken off at a height of five feet. One of the blackberry bushes where the animal must have turned to take the path to his right, proudly switching his handsome tail, still held some long black horsehairs in its brambles. ...”