In the mid-1980s, just as the new historicists, with their invocation of "the historicity of texts and the textuality of history," were transforming the way readers understood the English Renaissance, Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose became both a critical success and a bestseller. (1983) Widely celebrated as a postmodern historical novel, this dazzling mixture of thick historical research and popular detective fiction invited its readers to view historical fiction as an academically respectable genre and a vehicle for recovering and reimagining the past in unconventional ways. .
Four years later, Eco responded to readers of his novel in an eclectic text called Postscript to The Name of the Rose. An eighty-page mixture of short, fragmentary chapters, photographs, and illustrations of medieval architecture and manuscripts, the Postscript is partly a poetics designed to "help us understand how to solve the technical problem which is the production of a work." (Eco, 1984).
Eco explains how the historical fiction writer must become immersed in historical evidence: to tell a story, "you must first of all construct a world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest detail." In his case, this required committing him to a specific date, reading architectural plans and registers of the holdings of medieval libraries, and even counting the steps in a fourteenth-century stairway. Eco's Postscript is also a manifesto proclaiming the authority of serious historical fiction: the characters in a historical novel may not appear in encyclopedias, he notes, but everything they do could only occur in that time and place. Made-up events and characters tell us things "that history books have never told us so clearly," so as "to make history, what happened, more comprehensible"(p. 75). By reimagining the past, the novelist thus performs the analytical role of the historian, by "not only identify[ing] in the past the causes of what came later, but also trac[ing] the process through which those causes began slowly to produce their effects"(p.