{Story Diary} The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Jul 19, 2018

the secret history donna tartt dark academiaThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
Literary Fiction, Mystery, Social Issues, 1980s
July 1, 1993 from Penguin Books

Truly deserving of the accolade Modern Classic, Donna Tartt's cult bestseller The Secret History is a remarkable achievement - both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful. 

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last - inexorably - into evil.

"Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for things that I did not."

--Donna Tartt, The Secret History

New England, US 

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Set in college somewhere in New England in the 1980s.
aka the characters
  • Richard Papen
  • Henry Winter
  • Camilla Macaulay
  • Francis Abernathy
  • Charles Macaulay
  • Edmund "Bunny" Corcoran
  • unreliable narrator (also morbid)
  • morally gray characters
  • accidental murder
  • murder mystery sans the whodunit aspect
  • classical mythology influence
  • politically incorrect
  • fatal flaw
  • the five-man band archetype
  • set in the 1980s New England
There's a ton of classics mentioned in this literary novel.

  • Untimely Meditations by Friedrich Nietzsche, Epigraph
  • Republic, Book II by Plato, Epigraph
  • Tom Swift by Victor Appleton
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
  • The New Testament
  • Agamemnon by Aeschylus
  • Oresteia by Aeschylus
  • Inferno by Dante
  • Poetics by Aristotle
  • The Iliad by Homer
  • The Bacchae by Euripides
  • Parmenides by Plato
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • Rover Boys by Edward Stratemeyer
  • Journey from Chester to London by Thomas Pennant
  • The Club History of London
  • The Pirates of Penzance by W.S. Gilbert
  • Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
  • Marino Faliero by Lord Byron
  • The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  • Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Mémoires by Duc de Saint-Simon
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Othello by Shakespeare
  • The World Book Encyclopedia
  • Men of Thought and Deed by E. Tipton Chatsford
  • Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
  • Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J. M. Barrie
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante
  • The Upanishads
  • Perry Mason Novels by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • With Rue my Heart is Laden by A.E. Housman
  • Lycidas by John Milton
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
  • Corpus of Mycenaean Inscriptions from Knossos
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • The Malcontent by John Marston
  • The White Devil by John Webster
  • The Broken Heart by John Ford, epilogue epigraph
  • Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
  • The Revenger’s Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

"There are such things as ghosts. People somewhere have always known that. And we believe in them every bit as much as Homer did. Only now, we call them by different names. Memory. The unconscious."

--Donna Tartt, The Secret History
"Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it."

--Donna Tartt, The Secret History
"It is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially."

--Donna Tartt, The Secret History
Donna Tartt is an American writer who received critical acclaim for her first two novels, The Secret History and The Little Friend, which have been translated into thirty languages. Tartt was the 2003 winner of the WH Smith Literary Award for The Little Friend. Her novel The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

The daughter of Don and Taylor Tartt, she was born in Greenwood, Mississippi but raised 32 miles away in Grenada, Mississippi. At age five, she wrote her first poem, and she first saw publication in a Mississippi literary review at age 13.

Enrolling in the University of Mississippi in 1981, she pledged to the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. Her writing caught the attention of Willie Morris while she was a freshman. Following a recommendation from Morris, Barry Hannah, then an Ole Miss Writer-in-Residence, admitted Tartt into his graduate short story course where, stated Hannah, she ranked higher than the graduate students. Following the suggestion of Morris and others, she transferred to Bennington College in 1982, where she was friends with fellow students Bret Easton Ellis, Jill Eisenstadt, and Jonathan Lethem. At Bennington she studied classics with Claude Fredericks.

She divides her time between Virginia and New York City.

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