The three texts dealt with in the present thesis share the library as a significant element of narration. The actions of the protagonists take place inside or around the library. It architecturally dominates the setting and metaphorically the signification of these texts.
It also seems to attract other co-occurring motives and generate a set of common elements tending to appear together. The ones singled out and discussed in detail in this chapter are the following:
The last point will also lead us to some more general considerations of sex and gender as present in those texts.
In the fictional world of the Borges story "La Biblioteca de Babel" there is nothing apart from the library. It occupies the whole universe.
El universo (que otros llaman la Biblioteca) se compone de un número indefinido, y tal vez infinito, de galerías hexagonales . . .
(The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries . . .) (F: 89).
All the inhabitants of the universe are librarians and the narrator is one of them. All the world is just books and their keepers. The narrator proceeds with the architectural description of this world:
galerías . . . con vastos pozos de ventilación en el medio, cercado por barandas bajísimas. La distribución de las galerías es invariable. Veinte anaqueles, a cinco largos anaqueles por lado, cubren todos los lados menos dos; su altura, que es la de los pisos, excede apenas la de un bibliotecario normal. Una de las caras libres da a un angosto zaguán, que desemboca en otra galería, idéntica a la primera y a todas. A izquierda y a derecha del zaguán hay dos gabinetes minúsculos. Uno permite dormir de pie; otro, satisfacer las necesidades fecales. Por ahí pasa la escalera espiral, que se abisma y se eleva hacia lo remoto. En el zaguán hay un espejo, que fielmente duplica las apariencias. . . . La luz procede de unas frutas esféricas que llevan el nombre de lámparas. Hay dos en cada hexágono: transversales. La luz que emiten es insuficiente, incesante.
(galleries, with vast air shafts in the middle, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two: their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal librarian. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens on to another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one's fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates appearances. . . . Light is provided by some spherical fruits which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.) (F: 89-90)
This realistic presentation of the physical reality of the universe known to the narrator is then completed by a mathematical abstract definition:
La Biblioteca es una esfera cuyo centro cabal es cualquier hexágono, cuya circumferencia es inaccesible.
(The Library is a sphere whose exact centre is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.) (F: 90).
The books the library contains are all of the same format: "each book is of four hundred and ten pages: each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in colour" (F: 91). The letters on the spine do not indicate what is to be found inside. And what is to be found are accidental permutations of the twenty five orthographic symbols: the full stop, the comma, the space and the twenty three letters of the alphabet. The Library is infinite and the librarians have never come across two identical books: as the number of all possible permutations of the twenty five symbols is limited (although extremely vast), it follows that the Library is total. Every possible book in every possible language is hidden in one of its innumerable hexagons. The Library contains everything, e.g.:
la historia minuciosa del porvenir, las autobiografías de los arcángeles, el catálogo fiel de la Biblioteca, miles y miles de catálogos falsos, la demostración de la falacia de esos catálogos, la demostración de la falacia del catálogo verdadero, el evangelio gnóstico de Basílides, el comentario de ese evangelio, el comentario del comentario de ese evangelio, la relación verídica de tu muerte, la versión de cada libro a todas las lenguas, las interpolaciones de cada libro en todos los libros.
(the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels' autobiographies, the faithful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.) (F: 94)
When the fact that the Library must include everything was demonstrated by one of the librarians the humanity was initially overwhelmed by happiness: "there was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist" (ibid.). The universe and the existence of all people was vindicated. Then, when it was becoming to seem more and more apparent that the rule in the Library was chaos and meaning an extremely rare exception, the people/librarians began to despair. At the time when the narrator is scribbling his account on a book cover, the population of the Library has already been decimated by suicides, pulmonary diseases, epidemics and a general despair. He thinks the human species is on its way to extinction and what will stay on is the library: "illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret" (F: 99). This accumulation of rhetorical adjectives applies to the same library as the initial realistic description with all its drabness. The Library is a metaphorical textual universe, but it is also a place where librarians live, sleep, defecate and die, and where their body is then thrown down one of the ventilation shafts and, falling interminably, decomposes. Although, as Adam might say, "there is no risk of confusing that sort of thing with life" (BM: 118) as we know it, the world created in this ficción has enough realist detail to almost make it credible as an alternative reality (we will see in section 3.5. why only almost).
The other two libraries dealt with in here appear in novels rather than ficciones and as such they are much more of this world. They retain, however, a lot of the figurative function so evident in "The Library of Babel".
The library in Il nome della rosa belongs to a fourteenth century north Italian monastery. Or rather the monastery belongs to it, since the Library is its most important point; more important even than the church. It is situated on the highest, third floor of the Edifice which towers above the surroundings. Arriving, Adso is overwhelmed by its size:
Come ci inerpicavamo per il sentiero scosceso che si snodava intorno al monte, vidi l'abbazia. Non mi stupirono di essa le mura che la cingevano da ogni lato, simili ad altre che vidi in tutto il mondo cristiano, ma la mole di quello che poi appresi essere l'Edificio.
(As we were climbing up the precipitous which wove its way around the mountain, I saw the abbey. I wasn't amazed by the walls that girded it on all sides, similar to others I saw all over the Christian world, but the hugeness of what as I later learned was the Edifice.)(NR: 29)
The narrator then proceeds with a description of the architecture of the Edificio, emulating in detail the one provided by Borges. It is a three floor octagonal construction, four of whose sides are occupied by heptagonal turrets. Five of the seven walls of these turrets protrude outside, and the remaining two are hidden inside. The whole building seems tetragonal from the distance. Adso sees a deep symbolic sense in all these numbers:
otto il numero della perfezione d'ogni tetragono, quattro il numero dei vangeli, cinque il numero delle zone del mondo, sette il numero dei doni dello Spirito Santo.
(eight the number of each tetragon's perfection, four the number of Gospels, five the number of the zones of the world, seven the number of the Holy Ghost's gifts.) (ibid.)
When later on William and Adso work out the mysterious layout of the Library itself, it seems to them that
la biblioteca è costruita secondo un'armonia celeste a cui si possono attribuire vari e mirifici significati... (the library is build according to a celestial harmony to which various and marvelous meanings can be attributed...)(NR: 220).
This looking for sense in the numbers spelled by the Library has a parallel in "La Biblioteca de Babel". Idealists among the librarians (who all spend their life in the endlessly repeating hexagons) claim that
las salas hexagonales son una forma necesaria del espacio absoluto o, por lo menos, de nuestra intuición del espacio. Razonan que es inconcebible una sala triangular o pentagonal. (the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable) (F: 90)
The Edifice and the Library house encoded in their numbers the medieval notions about Earth and Heaven. The building seems to grow straight from the rock and, becoming naturally a tower reaches the sky, with no discontinuity in between. The tetragon springing from the earth and in three floors reaching heaven reflects the principle of the Christian world: the three-personal God descending from heaven on Earth and revealed in the four Gospels. For Adso, and for the medieval builders of the Abbey, "architecture is, of all arts, the one that most arduously aims to reproduce the order of the universe in its rhythm" (NR: 34).
Inside the Edifice, the scriptorium and the library also evoke the principal elements of Christian cosmology. When Adso enters the scriptorium for the first time he is overwhelmed by its celestial beauty. "[L]a sua spaziosa immensit�" (its spacious immensity) is suffused with "bellissima luce" (the most beautiful light) (NR: 79). The windows are made of transparent glass, "perche la luce entrasse di modo pi� puro possibile" (so that the light can get in in a manner as pure as possible) (ibid.). Adso then explains the spiritual significance of this light:
Vidi altre volte e in altri luoghi molti scriptoria, ma nessuno in cui cos� luminosamente rifulgesse, nelle colate di luce fisica che facevano risplendere l'ambiente, lo stesso principio spirituale che la luce incarna, la claritas, fonte di ogni belleza e sapienza, attributo inscindiblile di quella proporzione che la sala manifestava.
(On other occasions and in other places I saw many scriptoria, but none where the very spiritual principle that light incarnates, claritas, source of all beauty and knowledge, indispensable attribute of the proportion manifested by the hall, would shine so luminously in the streams of physical light which made the place resplendent) (NR: 79-80)
This lukewarm, heavenly light reigning in the scriptorium is complemented by the darkness of the library upstairs. At the beginning this darkness is only slightly dissipated by the light of oil lamps exuding hallucinogenic smoke and by scary reflections in curved mirrors. But finally, when diabolic Jorge sets it on fire the library becomes a true netherworld: "dall'accesso alla biblioteca proveniva un fumo denso . . . non si poteva pi� penetrare in quell'inferno" (a thick smoke was coming out from the entrance to the library . . . it was no more possible to penetrate that inferno) (NR: 490). Thus the Library in The Name of the Rose impersonates the two extremes of the Christian universe: heaven and hell. It is illuminated by the light of knowledge and beauty but then is burned to the ground by the blazes of hellfire (cf. Garret 1991: 379).
The Library is analogous to the Universe (and to the Library of Babel) also in other aspects. Not being infinite it is still very big. The Edifice is higher even than the very church (NR: 45), and the Library is talked about with admiration by all the Christian world (NR: 43). Not without a reason, since compared with its bookshelves "quelli di Bobbio o di Pomposa, di Cluny o di Fleury sembrano la stanza di un fanciullo che appena si inizii all'abaco" (those of Bobbio or of Pomposa, of Cluny or of Fleury seem a bookshelf belonging to a boy just being initiated to the abacus) (ibid.). Indeed it is so much bigger than any of the real medieval libraries that it is virtually impossible for it to have existed (Garret 1991: 375). This fact reinforces the non-literal reading of the library in the context of the book.
The monks who live in the monastery and work with the manuscripts in the Edifice come from all over the Christian world: there are Germans, Danes, Spaniards, Frenchmen and Greeks among them (NR: 43-44). The monastery is a micro-world containing a figure of the real world: the spatial layout of the Library corresponds to that of the "universo mondo" (NR: 316).
[L]a biblioteca era davvero distribuita secondo l'immagine dell orbo terraqueo. A settentrione trovammo ANGLIA e GERMANI, che lungo la parete occidentale si legavano a GALLIA, per poi generare all'estremo occidente HIBERNIA e verso la parete meridionale ROMA . . . e YSPANIA. Venivano poi a meridione i LEONES, l'AEGYPTUS che verso oriente diventavano IUDEA e FONS ADAE. Tra oriente e settentrione, lungo la parete, ACAIA . . . per indicare la Grecia . . .
([T]he library was really arranged according to the image of the globe. In the North we found Anglia and Germani, which along the western wall joined Galia, to later generate Hibernia in the extreme West and, towards the southern wall, Roma . . . and Yspania. Then, in the South, there came the Leones, the Aegyptus which towards the East became Iudea and Fons Adeae. Between the East and the North, along the wall, Acaia . . . indicating Greece . . .)(NR: 323-324)
Being a figure of the universe the Library also partakes of another of its features. The narrator of "La Biblioteca de Babel" claims that the Library exists ab aeterno, has always existed. Adso does not go that far, but still attributes a respectable age to the Edifice: "era molto pi� antico delle costruzioni che lo attorniavano (it was much older than the surrounding constructions)" (NR: 34). The Abbot of the monastery insists that the monks have worked there "per secoli" (for centuries), have upheld the library "nei secoli" and its design has remained unknown to everybody "nei secoli" (NR: 45-46).
But now, he continues, sharing millenarian pessimism with the narrator of "La Biblioteca de Babel", the times are close:
[V]iviamo ora in tempi molto oscuri . . . Per i peccati degli uomini il mondo sta sospeso sul ciglio dell'abisso, penetrato del abisso stesso che l'abisso invoca. . . . Mundus senscit. . . . La divina providenza ha ordinato che il governo universale, che all'inizio era in oriente, man mano che il tempo si avvicina si spostasse verso occidente, per avvertirci che la fine del mondo si approssima, perché il corso degli avvenimenti ha già raggiunto il limite dell'universo.
(We are now living in very dark times . . . Because of men's sins the world is hanging on the edge of the abyss, as the abyss penetrates those who invoke it. . . . Mundus senescit. . . . The divine providence has ordered that the universal government, which at the beginning was in the East, should shift towards the West as the time closes on, in order to warn us that the end of the world is approaching as the course of events has already reached the limits of the universe) (NR: 44-45)
In "The Library of Babel" the librarians may all die but the library will stay on, as it has always stood. Here the library is very old but not eternal, and, the monks intuit, it will soon disappear and the world with it. The monks tend to identify the destiny of the world with what happens to the library. Since literacy decreases and monastic libraries lose their importance, the world must be coming to an end. For Jorge, the approaching end is to be read in the signs "nel grande anfiteatro del mondo, e nella immagine ridotta dell'abbazia" (in the great amphitheater of the world and in the reduced image of the abbey) (NR: 404). Adso observes that for the rest of the monks an almost total identification of the universe and the library takes place:
Per questi uomini votati alla scrittura la biblioteca era al tempo stesso la Gerusaleme celeste e un mondo sotterraneo al confine tra la terra incognita e gli inferi.
For these men vowed to writing the library was at the same time the heavenly Jerusalem and a subterranean world at the boundary between the terra incognita and hell. (NR: 187)
From the above examples one can see that although in Il nome della rosa the library is not as total as in Borges's story it is still pretty evident that it is to be taken as more than a simple fourteenth century library. It is a microcosm which is a replica of the medieval European cosmos: it is Heaven, Earth, and Hell. It stands for a world which is "un libro scritto dal ditto di Dio, in cui ogni cosa parla dell'immensa bont� del suo creatore" (a book written by God's finger, where each thing speaks of the immense goodness of its creator) (NR: 282). In such a world everything is a sign � just as everything is potentially a sign in the modern world, too.
Unlike in the two other texts, the library in the Lodge novel, apart from performing a narrative role in the book, is also a part of the extratextual reality. The British Museum is Falling Down being a patchwork of pastiche and parody, the non-literal meaning of the British Museum Library is never very stable. But in spite of its protean nature some patterns can be found - and quite a few correspondences with the libraries from the other two texts.
The British Museum Library is also a microcosm. A cosmological interpretation can be read into elements of its topography. The central part of the library, the Reading Room (an equivalent of the scriptorium from Il nome della rosa) is covered by a huge dome which hangs "over the scene like a tropical sky before a storm" (BM: 52). In one moment the "dome looked down on the scholars" (BM: 44). Forty five pages later, during the fire alarm, "[t]he dome seemed to look down with deep disapproval at the anarchic scene" (BM: 89). The dome's anxious gaze may be read as a caricature of benevolent God's eye hanging in the sky. And instead of the celestial "most beautiful light" permeating the scriptorium in Eco's novel, in the British Museum Reading Room "[l]ittle daylight entered through the grimy glass at the top", and the scholars "fed on electric light" (BM: 44-45) - a situation more like in Borges's library-universe with its "incessant, insufficient" light.
The Library also has its quasi-hell. Adam accidentally opens a secret door and "he was in another country: dark, musty, infernal. . . . The staircase spiralled up unto darkness, like a fire escape in hell, fixed there to delude the damned" (BM: 90-91). The titles he finds on the bookshelves there speak of ultimate things: "A bundle of old tracts caught his eye. Repent!, the cover admonished for the Day of Judgement is at Hand." (BM: 91).
In the British Museum we do not find the exact mapping of the world onto the library layout like in The Name of the Rose. However Adam, from the height of a gallery running round the Reading Room finds a meaning to its design:
Never before had he been so struck by the symmetry of the reading room design. The disposition of the furniture, which at ground level crated the impression of an irritating maze, now took on the beauty of an abstract geometrical relief - balanced but just complicated enough to please and interest the eye. Two long counters extended from the North Library entrance to the centre of the perfectly circular room. These two lines inclined towards each other, but just as they were about to converge they swelled out to form a small circle, the hub of the Reading Room. Around this hub curved the concentric circles of the catalogue shelves, and from these circles the radii of the long desks extended almost to the perimeter of the huge space. A rectangular table was placed in each of the segments. It was like a diagram of something - a brain or a nervous system, and the foreshortened people moving about in irregular clusters were like blood corpuscles or molecules. This huge domed Reading Room was the cortex of the English-speaking races, he thought, with a certain awe. The memory of everything they had thought or imagined was stored here. (BM: 92-93)
This huge all-inclusive library, apart from being an illustration of the information flow and storage in the Anglophone world, also is a home for all sorts of scholars from every part of the globe. If the monastic library in Eco's novel is a Mecca for medieval monks from the whole Christianity, then The British Museum performs a similar function in the modern world. There are
earnest, efficient Americans, humming away like dynamos, powered by Guggenheim grants; turbanned Sikhs, all called Mr Singh, and all studying Indian influences on English literature; pimply, bespectacled women smiling cruelly to themselves as they noted an error in somebody's footnote; and then the Museum characters � the gentleman whose beard reached to his feet, the lady in shorts, the man wearing odd shoes and a yachting-cap reading a Gaelic newspaper with a one-stringed lute propped up on his desk, the woman who sniffed. (BM: 45)
Later on Adam also meets "Indians and Africans working busily in their striped suits and starched collars" (BM: 52), "a prostrate nun, saying her rosary" and "a Negro priest, hurriedly collecting his notes on St Thomas Aquinas".
The British Museum as presented in the Lodge novel is not an elaborated figure of the Cosmos like the medieval library for Adso. It is rather a series of comic travesties which build up to a caricature mini-world. Both novels, however, make use of this cultural topos - library as a universe - and play with it, each in a different key. As we have already seen "La Biblioteca de Babel" may be considered the fullest and most explicit elaboration of this specific topos - a textual universe par excellence.
Library, like a temple, is a special place. What is inside is clearly different from what stays outside. Access to a library, as to an altar, is not free for everyone. Library is also a place designated to store and preserve knowledge. Some kinds of knowledge are not to be freely disseminated, they are to be defended against a profane gaze.
In the Borges story this distinction between the inside and the outside of the library is of course impossible: there is no outside. The space of the library cannot be sacralized. But the texts it contains may become objects of cult - or of inquisition. The narrator affirms:
Yo conozco distritos en que los jóvenes se prosternan ante los libros y besan con barbarie las páginas, pero no saben descifrar una sola letra.
(I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter.) (F: 99)
The knowledge hidden in those books is unattainable for the worshippers; they assume its presence but are unable to decipher it. Other people watch out for heresies:
Otros, inversamente, creyeron que lo primordial era eliminar las obras inútiles. Invadían los hexágonos, exhibían credenciales no siempre falsas, hojeaban con fastidio un volumen y condenaban anaqueles enteros: a su furor higiénico, ascético, se debe la insensata perdición de millones de libros.
(Others, inversely, believed that it was fundamental to eliminate useless works. They invaded the hexagons, showed credentials which were not always false, leafed through a volume with displeasure and condemned whole shelves: their hygienic, ascetic furor caused the senseless perdition of millions of books.) (F: 96)
Thus books are simultaneously objects of ignorant worship and of inquisitorial furor.
In Il nome della rosa the library is quite obviously a very special place. As it has already been observed, architecturally, the monastic church cedes its importance to the library. For the monks work with books in the scriptorium is a form of prayer. They often get a dispensation from church services to be able to go on with their pious work. When at the end of the novel the library is being destroyed by fire, at first they cannot believe that it is really happening:
A tutta prima nessuno comprese. I monaci erano così adusi a considerare la biblioteca come un luogo sacro e inaccessibile, che non riuscivano a rendersi conto che essa fosse minacciata da un accidente volgare, come una capanna di contadini.
(At first, nobody understood. The monks were so used to considering the library as a sacred and inaccessible place that they didn't manage to realize that it was now being menaced by a vulgar accident, like a peasant shack) (NR: 489)
The library is "un luogo sacro e inaccessibile" - and its condition as a holy place depends on its inaccessibility. To a temple an element of mystery is indispensable. This very mysteriousness is one of the causes its final destruction:
La biblioteca era stata condannata dalla sua stessa impenetrabilità, dal misterio che la proteggeva, dall'avarizia dei suoi accessi. (The library had been condemned by its own impenetrability, by the mystery that protected it, by the scarcity of its entrances.) (NR: 492)
The mysteries protecting the library are many. Monastic rule forbids access to anyone but the librarian and his assistant. This formal prohibition is reinforced by its secret design revealed also to the librarians only.
La biblioteca è nata secondo un disegno che è rimasto oscuro a tutti nei secoli e che nessuno dei monaci è chiamato a conoscere. Solo il bibliotecario ne ha ricevuto il segreto dal bibliotecario che lo procedette . . . E le labbra di entrambi sono suggelate dal segreto. Solo il bibliotecario . . . ha il diritto di muoversi nel labirinto dei libri . . .
(The library was born according to a design that has remained unknown to all during centuries and which none of the monks is sanctioned to know. Only the librarian has received its secret from the librarian that preceded him . . . And the lips of both are sealed with secrecy. Only the librarian . . . has the right to move around in the labyrinth of books . . .) (NR: 45)
In the monastery, it is not the library that serves the readers � it is the readers that serve and protect the library. The librarian and his assistants who are initiated to its secrets, are the priests of this temple of knowledge. The post of the librarian is as (or more) important as that of the abbot. The two share the spiritual and temporal power in the abbey.
The library has also other defenses against unwelcome intruders. The abbot affirms that nobody apart from the librarians could penetrate its secrets:
Nessuno deve. Nessuno può. Nessuno, volendolo, vi uscirebbe. La biblioteca si difende da sola, insondable come la verità che ospita, ingannevole come la menzogna che custodisce.
(Nobody should. Nobody can. Nobody, wanting to, would get out of there. The library defends itself on its own, unfathomable like the truth it houses, deceptive like the lie it guards.) (NR: 46)
The monks are made to believe that the library is impenetrable for the uninitiated. The librarians use various tricks to scare them off. At night, strange lights appear in the third-floor windows of the Edifice. The monks talk of "fuochi fatui o delle anime dei bibliotecari monaci traspassati che tornano a visitare il loro regno" (fatuous fires or dead librarians' souls that come to visit their kingdom) (NR: 98). Other tell how a disobedient monk who ventured into the library saw "serpenti, uomini senza testa, e uomini con due teste" (snakes, men with no head, and men with two heads). He left the labyrinth almost mad (NR: 97). Adso himself experiences those visions when he and William penetrate the labyrinth. They also feel mysterious presences and hear groans:
[M]i sentii accarezzare sul volto da una mano invisibile, mentre un gemito, che non era umano e non era animale, eccheggiava e in quel vano e in quello vicino, come se uno spettro vagasse di sali in sala.
(I felt an invisible hand stroke my face, while a groan that was not human and was not animal, echoed in that room and in the neighboring one, as if a ghost wandered from room to room(NR: 97)
They discover that all these things have a rational explanation: "questo luogo della sapienza interdetta � difeso da molti e sapientissimi ritrovati" (this place of forbidden wisdom is defended by many and very wise devices) (NR: 179). It results that the visions are provoked by hallucinogenic oil-lamps and reflections in curved mirrors; and the scary sounds and ghostlike touches are simply gusts of air running through the library's clever ventilation system.
The portrayal of the library that Eco gives in Il nome della rosa is a clear dystopia: the library's task is to preserve knowledge from those curious rather make it available. According to Garret, Eco is thus making a criticism of libraries as "institutions still clinging to an outdated, quasi-sacred mission, urgently in need of a secularizing reform" (1991: 337-338). Undoubtedly, the temple-of-knowledge image of the library is taken to its absurd extreme in the monastery - and it is a constant object of criticism by progressive William.
The British Museum Library should in this respect be regarded as a reformed, modernized "temple" - like a modern church open and welcoming to those in need of spiritual comfort. It retains traces of its sacral nature , however, (often become mock-sacral) and a lot of its institutional paraphernalia. Chapter three of The British Museum, when Adam at least gets there on his scooter, opens with an invocatory epigraph from Thackeray. The passage represents the sort of attitude to this library that is parodied throughout the novel:
I have seen all sorts of domes of Peters and Pauls, Sophia, Pantheon - what not? - and have been struck by none of them as much as by that catholic dome in Bloomsbury, under which our million volumes are housed. What peace, what love, what truth, what happiness for all, what generous kindness for you and for me are here spread out! It seems to me one cannot sit down in that place without a heart full of grateful reverence. I own to have said my grace at the table, and to have thanked Heaven for this my English birthright, freely to partake of these bountiful books and to speak the truth I find there. (BM: 34)
This quote chockfull of religious imagery and pious reverence is polemically and comically set against what happens in the rest of the book - and in the paragraphs immediately following. Having arrived, Adam has difficulty finding where to park his scooter:
many businessmen have discovered that by leaving their cars in the South forecourt, walking through the Museum and sneaking out through the North Door, they could enjoy free parking all day in the centre of London. (ibid.)
Thus what was supposed to be a privilege of those studious in this great sanctuary of western civilization is being abused by the mercantile infidels - businessmen. Later on even the genuineness of scholars' interest in study is called into question: "The British Museum was returning to its winter role - refuge for scholars, post-graduates and other bums and layabouts in search of a warm seat" (ibid.). Adam is feeling guilty - for him the daily visits to the Museum are a bore.
It seemed base, somehow, to come daily to this great temple of learning, history and artistic achievement in the same weary, mechanical spirit as the jaded clerk to his city office. But there it was: not even the British Museum was proof against the sedation of routine. (BM: 35)
Adam repeats his tedious daily pilgrimage to the Museum, so he is a familiar figure for the doorkeepers, and, as one initiated, has the privilege of not having to show his card on entering. This gives him an air of importance in the profane eyes of "the group of casual visitors who invariably hung about outside the door, trying to peer into the Reading Room" (ibid.). That day, however, is the day of the annual check and as his card results two months out of date, he is asked to renew it. Now begins a nightmarish procedure that illustrates how the library is hermetic to card-less outsiders.
Adam dropped his bags with an angry thud at the feet of an Easter Island god, and stumped off to renew the ticket. Near the Elgin Marbles was a heavy door, guarded by a stern-looking porter with a huge key. When notified of Adam's errand, this official grudgingly unlocked the door, and ushered him into a long corridor. He then rang a little bell, and went out again, locking the door behind him. Adam, or A as he would now more vaguely have identified himself, had been all through this before, but could not be sure whether he had dreamed it or actually experienced it. He was trapped. . . . (BM: 35-36)
And the Kafkaesque bureaucratic cauchemare goes on for three more pages: A (like K) passes along long corridors, arrives at huge counters and tries to convince hostile officials ("'Yes?' he [the official] said, after a few minutes had passed, and without looking up" ibid.)to renew his ticket. They try not to understand his request and keep sending him to the other desk. Finally one of them tears his expired ticket into pieces and then there is no way to renew it... Finally, in the corridor, he wakes up from what it seems was a bad dream (but there are scattered pieces of the ticket around him) and is directed again to where Reading Room cards are renewed.
This experience reminds Adam, and the reader, that the Library is still a powerful holy institution that one does not disregard. There is a clear distinction between the inside and the outside. And to get inside one has to go through a humiliating rite of passage... Clearly this mock-scary episode calls into question and parodies this exclusiveness and inaccessibility, even as it evokes it. The whole fragment is an re-utilization of Kafka clich�s and as such is only half-serious. Adam is not transported by the bliss of being able to partake of the wisdom collected under the "catholic dome" like the Victorian Thackeray, nor is he permanently trapped in the entrails of a menacing Institution like modernist Joseph K. He is rather a postmodern ironic version of these two figures. And Lodge's library is a comic anticipation of the "luogo sacro e inaccessibile" from The Name of the Rose.
The libraries in the texts we analyze are all in some way associated with labyrinths or mazes. Their overwhelming architecture makes those who enter get themselves lost inside. The abundance of texts they contain is a sort of labyrinth itself � it is very difficult for the uninitiated to find their way about and usually only librarians fully master the cataloguing systems.
Architecturally, the library-universe from Borges's story is definitely a labyrinth. One can visualize the arrangement of its innumerable hexagonal rooms as superimposed honeycomb layers. What makes this relatively simple structure a labyrinth is the fact that, apparently, each hexagon-room communicates directly with only one other room on the same floor: four of the six walls are covered by bookshelves, and of the remaining two one connects with another identical hexagon by a narrow hallway (F: 89). Supposing by extension that the other empty wall also opens onto another identical hexagon one gets a pattern which allows for all galleries on one floor to be mutually connected in a quite mazelike manner. But if we assume that any room communicates directly with only one other room on the floor, the picture gets much more confused: in order to access some distant hexagon on the same floor one would have to go up and downstairs many times, perhaps visiting many different floors.
As well as physically, the Library is also figuratively a labyrinth, standing for the labyrinthine nature of the world. The universe in this story has the disorderly-ordered shape that physical labyrinths have. The 'order' is represented by the invariable and symmetrical arrangement of the galleries, the bookshelves, by the standardized book formats and the uniform number of letters. The 'disorder' rules in the content of the books: one of them "es un mero laberinto de letras, pero la p�gina penultima dice oh tiempo tus pir�mides" (is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the penultimate page says Oh time your pyramids) (F: 92). Other books do not even say that much. Looking for meaning, looking for "el catálogo de catálogos" (F: 90) is as sensible or senseless as in the real world. One has a small chance of coming across it, but how does one recognize it as the true one? One of the most distinctive features of a labyrinth is the facts that wherever you are in it, it always looks the same to you: all the rooms and all the passages are identical. A similar thing happens to texts in "The Library of Babel". They are different from one another but any book has thousands and thousands of versions and there is no way to tell which is the 'original', the 'true' one.
Just like the Borges universe, the library in The Name of the Rose is a "labirinto spirituale e anche labirinto terreno" (spiritual labyrinth and also an earthly one) (NR: 46). It also stands for the labyrinth of the world. It can be inferred that similar rules have to be applied to get around in a labyrinth and in the intricacies of the real world. The oldest monk in of the abbey maintains:
'Hunc mundum tipice laberinthus ille,' . . . 'Intranti largus, redeunti sed nimis artus. La biblioteca � un gran labirinto, segno del labirinto del mondo. . . .'
(The library is a great labyrinth, a sign of the labyrinth of the world. . . .) (NR: 163)
Its architecture is reminiscent of the Library of Babel (McGrady 1987: 796). The latter like the former is composed of a number of bookshelf-lined multilateral rooms forming together a perplexing maze. Access from one room to another is not always straightforward. The doors are arbitrarily placed so as to confuse the intruders. But the arrangement of rooms is almost as symmetrical as in the Library of Babel. Adso and William discover the design:
Provai tracciare il disegno che il mio maestro mi suggeriva e lanciai un grido di tronfo. 'Ma allora sappiamo tutto! . . . La bibliteca ha cinquantasei stanze, di cui quattro eptagonali e cinquantadue pi� o meno quadrate, e, di queste, otto sono senza finestre, mentre ventotto danno sull'esterno e sedici sull'interno! . . . '
I tried to draw the design that my master was suggesting and shouted in triumph. 'But now we know everything! . . . The library has fifty seven rooms, of which four are heptagonal and forty two more or less square, and, out of these, eight are without windows, while twenty eight look out on the outside and sixteen on the inside! . . . (NR: 220)
This harmonious pattern looks so perfect on a map. But as soon as one enters inside the library one is unable to find the exit. William explains why:
'Splendida scoperta,' dissi, 'ma allora perché è così difficile orientarsivi?'
'Perché ciò che non risponde a nessuna legge matematica è la disposizione dei varchi. Alcune stanze consentono il passagio a più altre, alcuna a una sola, e c'è da chiedersi se non vi siano stanze che non consentono il passagio a nessuna. Se consideri questo elemento, più la mancanza di luce e il nessun indizio fornito dalla posizione di sole (e vi aggiungi le visioni e gli specchi), capisci come il labirinto sia capace di confondere chiunque lo percorra, giù agitato da un senso di colpa. . . . Il massimo di confusione raggiunto con il massimo di ordine: mi pare un calcolo sublime. . . .'
('Excellent discovery,' I said, 'but then why is it so difficult to find one's way?' 'Because what doesn't correspond to no mathematical law is the arrangement of doors. Some rooms allow to pass to other rooms, some to only one other room, and one wonders whether there are no rooms that allow to pass to no other room. If you consider this element, plus the lack of light and no indication given by the position of the sun (and if you add the visions and mirrors), you understand how the labyrinth is capable of confusing whoever visits it, already shaken by a sense of guilt. . . . The maximum of confusion joined with the maximum or order: it seems to me a sublime calculation. . . .') (ibid.)
The same principle applies in the libraries in Borges and Eco - the same as in any typical labyrinth: a sort of order that seems to be disorderly - or alternatively an apparent order which in reality only serves to mask chaos.
A similar discovery is made by Adam Appleby in the British Museum. In the quote cited in section 3.2.1 he finds out that what seemed to him "an irritating maze" from the ground level becomes a beautiful "abstract geometrical relief" when contemplated from the height of a gallery. And Adam unexpectedly ends up on the gallery precisely because of the labyrinthine character of parts of the British Museum. He is trying to escape from a library employee, who he thinks is chasing him for causing the fire-alarm, when he accidentally opens a door hidden in the wall. What he sees is
another country: dark, musty, infernal. A maze of iron galleries, lined with books and connected by tortuous iron staircases, webbed his confused vision. He was in the stacks - he knew it - but it was difficult to connect this cramped and gloomy warren with the civilized spaciousness of the Reading Room. (BM: 90)
In this quote one can find a few elements shared by the British Museum and the other two literary libraries. Books are stored in galleries connected by staircases - like in Borges. The general impression is sinister - like in both Eco and Borges. And, like in Eco, there is a contrast between the civilized, orderly Reading Room/scriptorium and the chaotic, mazelike library.
Adam spends some time lost in the infernal labyrinth (this passage with its Catholic hell imagery is a pastiche of Graham Greene's prose), but finally manages to get out:
He weaved his way through a labyrinth of bookshelves, hoping to stumble upon some way out. . . . At last he came upon a door from behind which he thought he could hear the sounds of ordinary human life. He slowly opened the door, and breathed a sigh of relief. He was at the North Entrance. (BM: 94)
All the main elements of a labyrinth are present or at least latent even in such a familiar library as the British Museum Library. The design is a combination of order and chaos, it has a menacing, awesome aspect and is difficult to get out of. Adam is not especially keen to penetrate its secrets. He is not trying to find a mysterious manuscript there, like William, nor is he expecting to find revelatory meaning in its books, as the librarians of Babel do. For him it is just one more episode of his episode-riddled day of work. The library may be as much of a labyrinth as it likes, but Adam has to go on with his overdue dissertation.
A traditional library, storing tonnes of paper books, is obviously a perfect setting for a spectacular fire. And indeed fire is in some form present in both Il nome della rosa and The British Museum is Falling Down. It does not appear in "La Biblioteca de Babel"; maybe because fire is not really compatible with the kind of universe described there if the universe is to last. Just like antimatter is not compatible with the real universe if it is to last.
In the monastic library from The Name of the Rose fire is present almost from the beginning. William and Adso realize that something strange is happening up there in the library as they are told that during the nights mysterious fatuous fires can be seen flickering in the windows. It then turns out that these are the special chemical oil-lamps already alluded to. Everybody who wants to illegally penetrate the library has to do it at night, when there is no natural light, and so he must bring fire with himself. The library seems to be condemned practically from the beginning, when we learn that there are quite a few individuals walking around with burning oil lamps there. William says that to resolve the mystery of the library they need two things: know the way to enter and to have a light. And he authorizes Adso to steal a lamp from the kitchen (NR: 146). When William and Adso are on the point of entering the library most secret place - finis Africae - where the forbidden books are kept, Adso almost causes a fire:
posai rapidamente la lampada sul tavolo al centro della stanza, compii il gesto nervosamente, la fiamma andò a lambire la legatura di un libro che vi era posato.
"Attento sciocco!" gridò Guglielmo, e con un soffio spense la fiamma. "Vuoi mettere a fuoco la biblioteca?"
(I quickly put the lamp on the table at the centre of the room, I made the gesture nervously, the lamp ended up licking the cover of a book that was laying there.
"Look out, you fool!" William shouted, and blew out the flame. "You want to set fire to the library?')(NR: 462)
This incident is the last warning, to the characters and to the readers, before, some hours/pages later the library bursts out in flames. This time it is the blind librarian Jorge da Burgos who is guilty. Fighting with Adso and William over the forbidden manuscript, he makes Adso's oil-lamp fall among a heap of books:
L'olio si versò, il fuoco si apprese subito a una pergamena fragilissima che divamp� come un fascio di sterpi secchi.
(The oil poured out, the fire soon caught on a very fragile parchment which burst out like a bunch of dry firewood) (NR: 486)
The library, which has coexisted for so long with the feeble oil-lamp fire, seems to want to burn at last, to consume itself in a catastrophic climax.
Tutto avvenne in pochi attimi, una vampata si levò dai volumi, come si quelle pagine millenarie anelassero da secoli all'arsione e gioissero nel soddisfare di colpo una immemoriale sete di ecpirosi.
(Everything happened in one moment, a flame rose from the volumes, as if those millenary pages craved for to burn for ages and as if they rejoiced satisfying at once an immemorial thirst of combustion.) (ibid.)
It is almost as if the library and fire are two inseparable elements, as if the final conflagration is really inevitable. The fatuous lights observed in the library windows at the beginning of the story are now coupled by real, and even more frightening, flames roaring in the whole Edifice: "Tutte le finestre erano ormai illuminate, un fumo nero usciva dal tetto . . ." (all the windows were now illuminated, a black smoke was coming from the roof . . .) (NR: 491).
The disaster is unstoppable and total. The whole abbey is incinerated and the event is described in apocalyptic terms. The monks rush about chaotically, some of them trying to recuperate their "pergamene amatissime", beloved parchments (NR: 491), others trying uselessly to extinguish the blazes. Crazed animals get loose and escape from the inferno bellowing horribly and trampling what or whoever gets in their way. The horses are transformed into frightening ominous monsters:
Alcune scintille raggiunsero la criniera di molti cavalli e si vide la spianata percorsa da creature infernali, da destrieri fiammegianti che travolgevano tutto sul loro cammino che non aveva né meta né requie. Vidi il vecchio Alinardo, che si aggirava smarrito senza aver compreso cosa accadesse, travolto dal magnifico Brunello, aureolato di fuoco, transportato nella polvere e ivi abbandonato, povera cosa informe. Ma non ebbi né modo né tempo di soccorrerlo, perché scene non dissimili avvenivano ormai ogni dove.
(Some sparks got into the manes of many horses, and one could see the infernal creatures, the flaming steeds, running over everything on their way, which had neither goal nor rest. I saw the old Alinard, who wandered, lost, without having understood what was happening, run over by the magnificent fire- aureoled Brunellus, dragged in the dust and there left alone, poor formless thing.)(NR: 493)
People realize that the dimensions of the catastrophe exceed human powers that the one thing left to do is to flee "quella bieca parvenza di Armageddon" (this gloomy semblance of Armageddon) (ibid.).
The fire lasted for three days and three nights, and the biggest library of Christianity was destroyed together with the abbey that was to protect it. All that was left were the scorched fragments of parchment Adso will re-read for the rest of his life.
As is maybe to be expected in a parodic book like The British Museum, the fire menacing the library there is by no means that serious. In fact it is a comic event. The fire alarm is false: it is caused by a ridiculous telephone misunderstanding.
Adam tries to make a phone call but something goes wrong with the connections and he engages in an absurd three-person conversation with the operator and another caller who wants the police. The conversation ends with the following exchange:
'Look,'he said to the operator, 'are you the one who put through a call just now from Colorado for a man called Bernie?'
'Burning?' said the operator. 'You don't want the police, you need the fire service.' (BM: 85)
When Adam gets back to the Museum, there is an unusual commotion there. The phone operator alarmed the firemen and chaos rules in the Reading Room. The scenes are a comic version of the apocalypse:
Beyond the doorway, similar disorder prevailed. Some readers stood on their desks, and gazed about hopefully for rescue. Pushing his way through the crowd, Adam nearly tripped over a prostrate nun, saying her rosary. Near by, a Negro priest, hurriedly collecting his notes on St Thomas Aquinas, was being urged to hear someone's confession. A few courageous and stoical souls continued working calmly at their books, dedicated scholars to the last. One of them betrayed his inner tension by lighting a cigarette, evidently reasoning that normal fire precautions were now redundant. He was immediately drenched with chemical foam by an over-enthusiastic fireman. Shouts and cries violated the hallowed air which had hitherto been disturbed by nothing louder than the murmur of subdued conversation, or the occasional thump of dropped books. The dome seemed to look with disapproval at this anarchic spectacle. Already ugly sins of looting were in evidence. Adam caught sight of a distinguished historian furtively filling the pockets of his raincoat from the open shelves. (BM: 89)
The vocabulary used to describe the alarm has definite religious, end-of-the-world overtones: prostrate nun, rosary, priest, confession, souls, ugly sins. But in the end the doomsday is a 'hoax', as says Adam's friend Camel.
Fire reappears in The British Museum is Falling Down when a manuscript Adam finally manages to lay his hand on gets burned together with Adam's scooter (see the next section). This has a parallel in Il nome. The Aristotle manuscript everybody has been trying to get at is burned in the final conflagration.
The manuscripts this section is going to deal with are texts the protagonists look for. They have been lost, or are inaccessible or even dangerous. They finally find them, but only to lose them again. A sought-after object is a familiar enough literary topos, but in the case of the two novels analyzed this object is a text. Considering the importance of libraries for those novels' plot, this fact seems to be a further indicator of their meta-textual character.
In the Library of Babel, it seems, almost everybody is looking for some book. (A printed book. In that universe handwriting is only an imperfect imitation of print and as such is of no importance or possible interest. See F: 91) The narrator confesses to have peregrinated in his youth looking for a book, maybe the catalog of catalogs (F: 90). Others spend their life looking for "Vindications" - texts that would justify the life of every man of the universe (F: 94). Still others expect to find a book that would explain all about the universe, that would be "la cifra y el compendio perfecto de todos los demás" (the cipher and the perfect compendium of all the other books) (F: 97); or at least to find the man that has read it. As the library contains every possible book, there is an indefinite number of books it is worth devoting one's life to pursue... The Borges story lacks, however, a central looked-for object, just as it lacks a central protagonist.
In Il nome della rosa there is one such book - a cause of most of the things that happen in the abbey. The protagonists (and the readers) try to guess what book it is for most of the novel's length. The clues accumulate: a series of disputes about laughter with Jorge, then some notes about the book made by a monk who began to read it, a bibliographical reference in the catalog. From this catalog note William learns that the manuscript in question is a "liber acephalus de stupris virginum et meretricum amoribus" (headless book about virgins' disgraces and whores' romances) (NR: 442). At this point, using his intertextual erudition, he already begins to suspect that the manuscript is the lost second part of Aristotle's Poetics. This second part deals with comedy and complements the first part, which dealt with tragedy. Jorge thinks that a book on comedy written by an auctoritas will legitimize laughter and nothing will stop people from using it in order to subvert the existing power relations. So he first hides the book in the most secret part of the labyrinth (finis Africae) and when he realizes that in spite of that some inquisitive monks have managed to get at it, he poisons it. Anyone who begins to read it licks their index finger and uses it to separate the sticky pages. In this way the poison gets into the victims body and he soon dies.
When William and Adso finally find their way to finis Africae, where Jorge hides with the book, Jorge lets William read it, expecting him to get poisoned. However, William has realized that the book is dangerous and uses gloves. Jorge seeing his machinations frustrated decides to destroy the book, even at the cost of his own life. He takes it from William and tries to escape, eating its pages. When the pursuers get him, he causes a fire and throws the book into the flames.
But what is lost is rather Aristotle's authorship and authorization rather than the content of the book itself. This content William manages to more or less reconstruct reading other books - to the amazement of both Adso and Jorge (NR: 475). William is aware of the meta-literary nature of books, at least some books. Adso asks surprised:
"Come mai? Per sapere cosa dice un libro ne dovete leggere altri?"
"Talora si pu� fare cos�. Spesso i libri parlano di altri libri. . . . Non potresti, leggendo Alberto, sapere cosa avrebbe potuto dire Tomasso? O leggendo Tomasso sapere cosa avesse detto Averroè?"
("How come? In order to know what a book says you should read other books?"
"Perhaps it could be done. Often books talk about other books. . . . Couldn't you, reading Albert, get to know what Thomas might have said? Or reading Thomas get to know what Averroès had said?")(NR: 289)
Thus the protagonists look for the lost manuscript simultaneously on two levels: they look for its hiding place, trying to get at the physical manuscript, and at the same time William tries to reconstruct its content from the content of other books stored in the library.
Finally, as it has already been observed in chapter 2, the very novel Il nome della rosa is supposed to be a translation of a lost book which in turn was a translation etc. These numerous lost books, reconstructions, translations and versions are reminiscent of the situation in the Library of Babel where no text is irreplaceable and where any book is already present in other books that are commentaries, versions or obscure translations of it. "[I] libri parlano di libri, ovvero � come se parlassero fra loro." (Books talk about books, or it is as if they talked between themselves.) (NR: 289) And library as a figure embodies this incessant intertextual dialog.
The manuscript Adam Appleby is trying to get at in The British Museum is a much less grandiose book than Aristotle's Poetics. It is an unpublished novel by Egbert Merrymarsh, "the Catholic belletrist, younger contemporary of Chesterton and Belloc" (BM: 48).
Adam gets frustrated with his unfinishable thesis on long sentences in modern fiction and goes to see Mrs Rottingdean, Merrymarsh's "niece", who wrote him a letter saying she was in possession of some unpublished papers by the writer. He hopes that if these appear to be of interest he might be able to write on them or publish them and so advance his academic career. The papers she shows him prove worthless, but her seventeen year old daughter Virginia tries to seduce Adam and as part of her strategy reveals to him some interesting secrets. It turns out that Mrs Rottingdean is no niece but Merrymarsh's former lover. It also turns out that Merrymarsh described their affaire in a fictionalized novel form and that Virginia once managed to save the manuscript of this text from fire when her mother was trying to burn it together with other materials discrediting Merrymarsh's reputation. Virginia still has the manuscript of the novel and is disposed to give it to Adam if he agrees to have sex with her. Adam who is a loving husband and a Catholic has serious qualms about it, but he finally braces himself up to return to Virginia's house and do whatever is necessary to "get his hands on Merrymarsh's scandalous confessions" and with them he intends to
deal a swinging blow at the literary establishment, at academe, at Catholicism, at fate. He would publish his findings to the world, and leap to fame or perdition in a blaze of notoriety. (BM: 129)
Before she insists that Adam keep his part of the deal, Virginia lets him read the manuscript. The impression it makes on Adam is described in a passage already quoted in section 2.3. The interrelation of fiction and reality that this fragment evokes has also been commented on in that section.
Eventually, fortunately or not, Adam does not have sex with Virginia but she lets him have the book (see the next section for a discussion of the character of Virginia). He put it in the tool compartment of his scooter and rides home. He has an accident on the way � the engine bursts into flame and Adam does not manage to salvage the Merrymarsh novel. "Egbert Merrymarsh's lost masterpiece had perished in its second ordeal by fire." (BM: 149) Thus Adam's hopes to build his literary career on the publishing of scandalous confessions by a Catholic writer are frustrated.
There are some similarities between the lost manuscripts in Lodge and in Eco. Both are considered dangerous by their custodians: because of subversive or revelatory content. The Aristotle manuscript is kept hidden and the Merrymarsh closely escapes burning. The protagonists try to get them, they succeed and for a short time enjoy their possession but finally lose them again: both manuscripts are destroyed by fire. Thus, it may be speculated, the presence of an authoritative text that might be used to stabilize signification is denied to the protagonists (and to the readers). The manuscripts only survive in versions, in palimpsests. In search of meaning the protagonists and the readers are referred continually to other texts. Adam, it is suggested, may get a part time job "scouting for books and manuscripts" (BM: 152) for an American library. Adso will also be a reader for the rest of his life, reading remains of the burned library. Both of them will also write further palimpsest versions of life and fiction.
In the three texts under examination here, females, I will argue, are deleted from the library. If they are accorded some role in these texts, it is a role outside the library. Its employees and users are all, or almost all, male. (By the way, this situation seems to contradict our experience of the real world where my impression is the majority of librarians are women.) In Il nome della rosa and The British Museum is Falling Down the protagonists Adso and Adam have each a sexual adventure with a young girl who is an outsider with respect to the world of texts and scholarly pursuits.
The story by Borges does not mention women at all. Apparently this universe is a male-only, single-sex world. The word bibliotecario - (male) librarian - appears four times. Bibliotecarios - librarians - two times. Hombre - man - can be found on four occasions, and hombres - men - on as many as ten occasions. However, there are no instances of bibliotecaria or mujer, which would indicate the presence of female inhabitants in the universe. How such a world is possible is not explicit in the story. Indeed there are some facts that might suggest that this universe is a contradiction. For example the librarians are born, grow up and die. The narrator speaks of leaving "el dulce haxgono natal" (sweet native hexagon) (F: 95) so they are born at some point in time and space. He also talks of what he used to see in his childhood (F: 96), that he travelled in his youth (F: 90), and that now he is an old man (F: 99). He also speaks about "jóvenes" (F: 99) and "hombres viejos" (F: 96) i.e. the young and the old. Thus the librarians grow old, like human beings from the real world. At the beginning the narrator confesses that he is preparing himself to die:
ahora que mis ojos casi no pueden descifrar lo que escribo, me preparo a morir a unas pocas leguas del hexágono en que nací. Muerto, no faltaran manos piadosas que me tiren por la baranda . . .
(now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing . . .) (F: 90)
The narrator also mentions a book seen by his father (F: 92). As is to be expected he never mentions his mother. This absence of women is rather unexplainable in terms of what we know about the world: generations of librarians succeed themselves, baby-librarians are born but there are no mother-librarians to bear them. Even if they do exist and are simply left unmentioned (which would be curious enough) there are still some technical problems left: there is space provided in the library to "sleep standing up" and to "satisfy one's fecal necessities", but there is nowhere to give birth or to have a sexual intercourse for that matter. Incidentally, although defecation is provided for, no mention is made of eating or food (apart from the lamps being called "frutas esféricas" - spherical fruits - F: 90). Indeed it is a strange and dismal world where you can die and defecate but not eat or procreate. McGrady (1987: 805) makes a tentative suggestion that the absence of the topic of love from Borges's fiction may be a way of insinuating its importance; an application of the receipt from "El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan", where a character says:
Omitir siempre una palabra, recurrir a metáforas ineptas y perífrasis evidentes, es quizá el modo más enfático de indicarla.
(To always omit a word, to recur to inept metaphors and evident periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of indicating it) (F: 114)
Following this interpretation one would say that the female sex is deleted from "The library of Babel" precisely in order to highlight its importance. How convincing such a hypothesis is would be a matter of discussion. In the following paragraphs we will see how the tendency to exclude the woman from the library and to treat her as if she were somehow incompatible with scholarship and textuality is more general in library fiction.
In the Benedictine monastery in "Il nome della rosa" there are no women, understandably enough. It turns up, however, that this absence is not absolute. One of the monks, Remigio, makes women from the village come to the abbey at night and has sex with them in exchange for food. One such night Adso surprises him with a nameless peasant girl. The monk flees and Adso is left alone with the frightened young girl. He tries to comfort her, she is impressed by his youth and attractiveness, and they end up fornicating. When Adso wakes up she is no longer there: he has not even learned her name (McGrady (1987: 805) believes that it is Rosa as in the title of the novel). Later on, when the inquisition comes to the abbey to investigate the murders, she is accused of witchcraft and taken away to be executed. Adso will never meet her again but will love her for a long time.
What is interesting is the way Adso describes the girl, their encounter and his feelings about her. On first intuiting her presence in the dark kitchen, he speaks of "un qualcosa", a something, and goes on to describe her as more of a strange, only half-human being rather than a real person.
Rimasi io, sul limine tra refettorio e cucina, e un qualcosa di impreciso presso al forno. Qualcosa di impreciso - come dire? - mugolante. Proveniva infatti dall'ombra un gemito, quasi un pianto sommesso, un singhiozzo ritmico, di paura.
(Only the two of us remained: I, between the refectory and the kitchen, and this something vague - how should I say? - whimpering. In fact, from the shadow a groan was coming, almost a subdued weeping, a rhythmical frightened sobbing.) (NR: 245)
He later on recognizes her as a frightened, crying young woman but nevertheless keeps on treating her and speaking about her in this same vein. He estimates her age as between seventeen and twenty but says about her "la creatura si calmò e mi si avvicinò" (the creature calmed down, and came closer to me) (NR: 247). In Italian the word "creatura" has the connotations of something small and young and vulnerable rather than of something alien and ridiculous or scary as is the case with the English "creature". So an almost adult woman is talked about like a small child. Throughout the text she is then referred to as "la fanciulla" - the little girl, the lassie. As Adso says the girl "tremava come un uccellino d'inverno" (trembled like a little bird in winter) (ibid.), a little later she "emise un gemito sommesso di capra intenerita" (emitted a subdued groan of a goat when moved by something). For him she is a part of nature and he uses nature vocabulary to describe the beauty of various parts of her body:
[I] suoi seni mi apparvero come due cerbiatti, due gemelli di gazzelle che pascolavano tra i gigli, il suo ombelico fu una coppa rotonda che non manca mai di vino drogato, il suo ventre un mucchio di grano contornato di fiori delle valli.
(Her breasts looked to me like gazelle's twins that pasture among lilies, her navel was a rounded cup that never lacks fragrant wine, her belly a heap of wheat surrounded by the flowers of the valley. (NR: 249)
Of course this language is not Adso's invention. He appropriates the vocabulary that the biblical authors use to describe a woman's body, which is probably the only pertinent way of description known to him. He is no exception in treating women as part of nature rather than culture. And he may be justified in this attitude: he is quite unfamiliar with females and no wonder they seem to him some strange and beautiful creatures to be domesticated with familiar vocabulary. This drive to associate the girl and nature recurs in many places of the text. After she disappears for ever he often sees her in the sounds and forms of the various animals and plants (NR: 281, 286). He compares "i gesti semplici i naturali con cui la fanciulla aveva suscitato la mia passione e il mio desiderio" (the simple and natural gestures with which the lass had excited my passion and my desire ) to other cases of seduction where artful strategies are used (NR: 476). Even though she has the use of language, for the monks and for the inquisitors interrogating her she is like a mute - she does not speak Latin and they do not understand her vulgar language (NR: 334). Nature language is used to extol her beauty and it is also used to deny this beauty any value. Ubertino, an old Franciscan, tries to provoke repugnance in Adso towards the supposed witch describing her as a sack of mucus, blood, humors and bile.
Thus whether praised for her beauty or depreciated for her physiology the woman is considered no more than a body, a part of nature. In the library women only appear as illuminations on the pages of manuscripts. They are represented by two stereotypical extremes: the Whore of Babylon and the Virgin Mary. For Adso looking at the pictures these two representations become momentarily one and the same:
questa era vascello di ogni vizio, quella ricettacolo di ogni virtù. Ma le fattezze erano muliebri in entrambi i casi, e a un certo punto non fui più capace di capire cosa le distinguesse.
(this one was a vessel of every vice, that one a rceptacle of every virtue. But the features were womanly in both cases, and at some point I was no longer able to understand what distinguished them.) (NR: 244)
Adso may be intuiting in that moment that although these two stereotypical images are the only source of knowledge about the other sex he has had access to, they may in fact be false. This intuition is later confirmed when he has his sexual adventure with the peasant girl, who sells her body to dirty monks but offers it disinterestedly to Adso and this experience, although a sin, seems to him the most beautiful thing on earth.
The role and perception of women in The name of the Rose seems to be what it routinely was in the middle ages. They are perceived as belonging to nature much more than men. Usually they do not participate actively in the production and reception of an important part of culture: written texts. They are banned from the library. They only make an appearance there as the improbable stereotypical icons of the Virgin and the Whore.
In The British Museum sex is also a major preoccupation - especially sex as sexual activity. Textuality and sexuality run parallel throughout this novel as they do in many others by David Lodge (Ommundsen 1990: 124-125, 135-137). In one later novel �Small World �the former becomes a metaphor for the latter: one character even develops a theory of text as striptease (ibid.). In The British Museum sex and texts are mostly in contrast, and with a comic effect.
The way women are perceived is less stereotyped in this novel than in Eco but some of the same familiar patterns are discernible. The exclusion of women from the library also operates. See in section 2.3 how surprised Adam is when he thinks he sees his wife in the British Museum. There are some women reading in the Museum Reading Room but they are perceived in a strikingly different way to those who stay outside. Approaching the Museum on the winter morning when there are no tourists, Adam regrets
the departure of the pretty girls who sat on the steps in summer, eating sandwiches and writing postcards, their carelessly disposed legs providing an alluring spectacle for men approaching on ground level. (BM: 34)
Those pretty girls are who just sit on the steps of the Museum are very different from the women who work inside. The latter only appear once, in a list of the Museum "familiar figures". They include: "the lady in shorts", "the woman who sniffed", and most tellingly "pimply, bespectacled women smiling cruelly to themselves as they noted an error in someone's footnote" (BM: 45).
There is a clear divide here between young, nice, sexually attractive women who are outside the threshold of the library and those almost unsexed, ugly and cruel creatures from within. One is tempted to infer that what the pretty girls on the steps do is congruous with their sex: they sit, they eat, they are being attractive, and all the contact they have with textuality is postcards. As a reward their retain their sexual identity. The women inside are meant to be perverse. They have intruded into an area reserved for men. They have entered the library, they deal with texts and try to outdo male scholars at their own game, finding errors in their footnotes. So accordingly they are described as cruel, unattractive and asexual, they are made to look ridiculous and out of place.
The only two important female characters are to be looked for outside the library. One is Barbara, Adam's wife. Most of the novel is narrated from Adam's perspective abundantly using indirect reported speech to report his words, thoughts and perceptions. But the final chapter changes the point of view and transcribes Barbara's stream of consciousness, on the Molly Bloom model. This is an important concession to female perspective. The roles, however, that Adam and Barbara perform in their marriage are very much the traditional ones. She has no paid job and stays all day at home doing housework. Adam leaves in the morning to work at the Museum and comes back in the evening. Their sex life is a disaster: being practicing Catholics they are not allowed to use reliable contraception. As a result of recurring to "natural" methods they already have three children and live in a constant anxiety that a fourth one may be on the way. Also they can only have sex on a small number of days at specific moments in a month. This causes frustration in both of them, and an incipient sex obsession in Adam. As quoted in section 2.3. on he even defines fiction and life in terms of having sex or having children.
While in search of the Merrymarsh papers he meets the other important female character, Virginia. In the final chapters Adam goes back and forth between her house and the Museum in search of a textual and sexual discovery. The two opposed worlds of text and sex seem to merge eventually in the person of Virginia and in the sexually explicit manuscript she has to offer. She even has to Adam a somewhat textual look. On her first appearance "she had a white face and black hair and her dress was black" (BM: 100). She is black-and-white just like a printed page. This does not make her unattractive, however. When he meets her a little later he has a chance to have a closer look at her.
The girl leaned against the door and appraised him with a slow, sensual smile. She looked pretty in pale, neglected kind of way, and her figure, eloquently revealed by a black vee-neck sweater and tight skirt, was agreeably contoured. (BM: 110)
Here the focus is on the body and its attractiveness - which must be what Adam is focussing on, being sexually frustrated as he is. They begin a conversation. Virginia's mother, who brought her up in a very strict way and almost does not let her out of house, is away and Virginia uses the opportunity to flirt with Adam:
'. . . What's your name?'
'D'you think I have nice breasts, Adam?'
'Yes,' he said truthfully.
'You can touch them if you like.' She patted the sofa invitingly.
Adam, with difficulty, resists, but when the girl promises to show him the sexually explicit Merrymarsh manuscript he decides to come later. When he does come and get the papers, Virginia expects him to fulfil his part of the deal. Adam procrastinates inventing various excuses and finally Virginia, impatient, throws him on the sofa and tries to get him undressed (which she already is). They scuffle over undoing his belt and Virginia manages to pull down his trousers only to reveal Barbara's lace pants Adam put on that morning unable to find any clean pair of his own. This cools down the girl's enthusiasm. Adam makes use of the accident to convince her that he is "funny that way". "'Religion has played havoc with my married life'" (BM: 144) he explains. The girl confesses: "'And I did so want to be the first sixth former in St Monica to do it'" (BM: 145). And so it turns out that Virginia is a virgin. In her, like in Adso's lover from The Name of the Rose, two female stereotypes are collapsed: the sexually insatiable and the sexually innocent. She is also reminiscent of other typical female figures. She is a "raven-haired, honey-tongued" maiden held prisoner in "Castle Perilous" by her mother, a "mad, key-rattling old queen" (BM: 129). She also is a dangerous seductress type, a woman leading men to sin, a teenage Eve and a little grown-up Lolita.
In Eco and in Lodge the young protagonists Adso and Adam have a problem in common: their sex life. Adso is a monk and as such can have no sex life legally. His sexual drive finds an outlet in dreams, visions and compulsive thoughts. Adam being a Catholic can have no safe sex. He is sex obsessed much like Adso. The two characters meet suddenly a young attractive woman willing to have sexual relations with them and are much perplexed by this fact. In Eco the intercourse takes place, but then the girl is taken away to be executed and Adso goes back to his celibate condition. In Lodge the sexual act is not consummated and Adam retreats down a fire escape to go back to his frustrated marital life.
The two novels also share some elements in the treatment given to women. Women are to varying degrees represented as opposed to scholarship and as out of place in the library. the novels focus on their bodies and their physiological functions. They are either beautiful and attractive or ugly and disgusting. They copulate, menstruate and give birth. (Barbara's pregnancies and her overdue period is a major source of Adam's preoccupation during the day. For Adso, the sexual act he engaged in provokes a number of reflections on the nature of womanhood and on love.) Those who work in the library dealing with texts are male. Thus two opposing worlds are constructed: the library, the male-dominated realm of textuality, and the outside-the-library world of female bodiliness. There is a constant tension between these two domains.