Although I have not read the book in a very long time, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose remains one of favorite novels for both the story and the storytelling. I recall reading it multiple times, at the time mostly in awe of the writing style especially in the detail. The very artistry lived up to the meaning behind the title, it brought to life an entire world as if it were lost history instead of invented fiction.
I loved how convincing the depiction was of the narrator and the abbey’s inhabitants as average men in what was at the time an upper middle class type existence. Though they lived meager by today’s standards, they lived in a walled-off sanctuary with sufficient food and comforts, and with a wealth in both a large library and a well commissioned copy service.
The story also vividly illustrated the lower class of outside those walls through the illustration of the peasant girl sneaking in the abbey’s kitchen to steal some food, taking advantage of a young monk to secure her escape, only later to be burned as a witch by her own class.
Relatively speaking, the distance between the upper middle class and the lower working class is comparable to modern times.
The main story concerned an outsider monk who goes about solving the mystery of unexplained deaths, finding clues in a Sherlock Holmes type way. Eventually discovering the book that one monk was trying to keep secret and using poison on the paper that transferred to the hands and then to the mouth when the reader moistened his finger tips to turn the pages.
That particular image reminds me of the current demand that everyone frequently wash their hands before touching anything near the face. As this virus picked up in fingers would enter the mouth, nose, or eyes, the story’s poison would move from object to fingers to mouth. In both cases, the effect occurs days later separating the death from the source making the mystery hard to solve.
The outsider eventually solves the mystery but that sets off the events that burns down the entire abbey, destroying all of its relics and architecture, and in particular destroying the wealth of the library. In the end, the monks are left on their own, eventually relocating to other less wealthy monasteries and reflecting on this lost time.
I see something like that happening now. We discovered a new disease and in our attempts to put a stop to the villain we set off a world wide conflagration of the modern equivalent of the upper middle class, its comfort and its source of wealth. The story is still unfolding, but I wonder whether it may all end up like the Name of the Rose, the only thing remaining is the word itself.