In the process William displays all the acumen of his Sir Arthur Conan Doyle derived namesake. Watson-esque Adso of Melk., Eco destabilizes his readers who begin doubting the reliability of this supposed first-person narration of actual historical events.
But the thread tying the transmission of this story from the monastic world of the fourteenth century to contemporary readers is flimsy at best.
After the 1968 discovery, the compiler quickly translates this French book but then loses the original.
While investigating Adso's story, he suspects forgeries in the sources and complains about French scholars who are "notoriously careless about furnishing reliable bibliographical information" and who include "obvious interpolations." Layers of translation also muddy the picture; this makes it unlikely we have a clear sense of what happened.
(Italian 1980) first appeared thirty years ago, and it continues to delight and surprise, even after multiple readings.
On the occasion of this anniversary, I offer a few reflections on one of the many mysteries Eco presents us, mysteries that make returning to the abbey so much fun for those who enjoy literary puzzles.
The setting of the story is a Benedictine abbey in the theologically and politically turbulent fourteenth century.
For all its erudition and love of learning, its spirituality and saints, despite its famous library and seemingly infinite collections of ancient books, this renowned abbey is also home to ignorance, superstition, and terrible secrets.
Upon his arrival to this architectural wonder somewhere in northern Italy, the Franciscan William of Baskerville, sent by the head of his order to prepare an important theological disputation between a delegation representing Pope John XXII and the Franciscan Michael of Cesena, receives news of the mysterious death of an illuminator named Adelmo. Owing to the sensitivity of the matter and the impending arrival of the delegations, and because of the fear gripping the community, the abbot asks William, renowned for his wise discernment, to investigate.
Many in the abbey see Adelmo's death and others that soon follow as portents of apocalyptic cataclysm. In the interest of space, I forgo a detailed summary of the story here.
Suffice it to say the English William of Baskerville, with the help of his trusty though sometimes dull-witted sidekick Adso of Melk, a Benedictine novice and narrator of the story, is on the case.
They investigate what turns out to be Adelmo's suicide and the murders that follow, debate the endlessly nuanced theological minutiae dividing the Church, and unlock the great library's labyrinth secrets.