This week, my blog post on ‘Umberto Eco and the Nature of Europe’ became available on Ploughshares blog. Read an extract below, or find the full post HERE.
In the tradition of all good historical fiction, the past is a mirror to the problems and preoccupations facing its contemporary audience, and in the case of The Name of the Rose, one of those problems is Europe.
The Italian intellectual and novelist Umberto Eco died on February 19, 2016, just four short months before the surprise result of the British referendum on the European Union. During his life, Eco, while recognizing the particular challenges faced by the project, was an advocate for a hopeful vision of what the European Union could be. His focus on shared history and shared culture as an immovable foundation on which cooperation can and should be built is a recurring theme in a number of his novels, not least his bestselling debut, The Name of the Rose (1980).
The isolated Benedictine monastery at the heart of this novel is a microcosm of Medieval Europe during the sixty-eight years of the Avignon papacy. During this time, division and discord between various monastic groups was fueled by an increasing challenge from a European populace facing general hardship following the Great Famine (1315-1322). It was a time when the establishment was facing challenges from within and from without, and when big questions were being asked, particularly around the role of wealth in the Catholic Church. While relishing the theological and philosophical arguments of the day as intellectually stimulating, the novel presents the suspicion, jealousy, and division created by a stolid rejection of other ways of thinking as a monstrous perversion of the diversity and the shared cultural heritage of Europe. In presenting and discussing these issues, The Name of the Rose speaks not only to the Medieval Europe of the novel’s setting but also to our contemporary times… continue reading