ECO, UMBERTO. (1932-2016). Italian academic, critic and novelist best known for his works The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum. TLS. (“Umberto Eco”). 2/3p. 4to. Milan, November 2, 1983. On his personal stationery. To New York bibliophile PHILIP SPERLING (1912-1997).
Revealed! Umberto Eco Explains Meaning of the Last Line of “The Name of the Rose”
Signed by Umberto Eco
“Thank you for your letter. I think that the best award for having written a novel is a passionate response on the part of one’s readers. In writing my novel I felt, first of all, a great pleasure. I am delighted when I discover that my readers feel the same pleasure. It is a way to establish a sort of sincere friendship with many persons, all around the world.
As for the title, the rose is so overwhelmed with symbolic meanings that everyone can fill it up with every possible interpretation. As a matter of fact I was thinking of the last line of my book: “the rose of yore remains only through its name and we hold only bare names.” It seems to me that such a line was a good epitome for a book dominated by ‘nominalistic’ feelings and based upon other books…
After studying medieval philosophy, Eco became a professor of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols. His contribution to that field is profound but it is for his fiction that he is best remembered. His 1980 novel The Name of the Rose explores the intertextuality and contains references to Jorge Luis Borges, Sherlock Holmes, Rudyard Kipling, Aristotle, Alexandre Dumas, and Eco’s own books. A medieval murder mystery, The Name of the Rose was Eco’s fiction debut, and is one of the best-selling novels of all time. A 1986 film based on the book bolstered its popularity. In our letter, Eco translates the last line of the novel, written in Latin “Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus,” which, as our letter points out, can be interpreted in several ways. He also refers to the metaphysical problem of nominalism, the denial of the existence of universals, explored by medieval philosopher William of Ockham, the inspiration for the book’s main character, William of Baskerville. In addition to his other novels such as Foucault’s Pendulum and The Island of the Day Before, Eco penned numerous non-fiction works on semiotics, medieval aesthetics and religion.
Sperling was a notable collector of books produced by British publisher William Pickering, and an influential member of various bibliographic organizations.
With two small corrections by Eco in blue ink and folded into thirds. Broadly signed with slight creasing and normal wear; docketed by the Sperling under the typed date. Accompanied by the original envelope, Sperling’s notes on the novel and some news clippings. Letters by Eco are surprisingly rare and this is the only one we’ve seen referring to his masterpiece.