Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History

Summary of The Secret History Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Donna Tartt was first published in 1991. And almost immediately the work became a bestseller. The first print run of 5 million copies was sold out in a matter of days. It was later translated into 24 foreign languages. With a captivating plot, vivid characters, mathematically precise mise-en-scenes, and a rich literary language – it is not for nothing that The Secret History is rightly considered one of the best examples of modern classics.

Donna Tartt sold the rights to the film adaptation a few years ago to a well-known American film company, but so far there has been no reliable information about the start of work on the film. The novels of the writer “Goldfinch” and “Little Friend” are also widely known.

Book analysis

“The Secret History” is difficult to attribute to any one particular genre. In general, elements of the university novel popular in American modern prose are clearly traced in it. The main events take place in one of the provincial colleges of Vermont.

Here, the life of students on campuses and the nuances of organizing the educational process is described in some detail.

The inner world of heroes

The author paid no less attention to the experiences of the characters, subtly noticing all the psychological aspects of the formation of a personality. The romantic part of the work is surprisingly touching. Moreover, it delicately retains a slight veil of understatement in the relationship of the main characters.

And yet, one of the main plot lines is a criminal-detective component, built in a way that is not the most common, different from the classical canons. From the first lines, the reader learns about the crime. The author immediately points to the killers and their victims. And all further action is already aimed at describing how and why this happened.

The novel is replete with quotations from ancient literature, and the sayings of philosophers, which makes it not just fiction, but justifies the claims of intellectual prose. The name, borrowed from the famous ancient philosopher, and the eloquent epigraph are both symbolic.

The plot of the work

The plot of the work The action of the novel takes place in an ordinary, little different from others, American college. A small group of slightly eccentric students is studying ancient Greek. They are so immersed in the ancient world that they become a little detached from the surrounding reality. They are led by Professor Julian Morrow, a kind of spiritual leader.

At some point, the enthusiasm of young scientists reaches its climax and they try to find out from personal experience what kind of emotions and feelings the Hellenes experienced in the paroxysm of bacchanalia. Through long spiritual research and risky experiments, the four achieve what they want. But suddenly something terrible happens. In the heat of passion, they brutally kill a stranger who happened to be nearby.

Their close friend and the like-minded person is not involved in the murder, but becomes an indirect witness to what happened and begins to blackmail friends. Cornered, the students decide to kill, authentically staging an accident in the mountains.

Heroes of the book


The story is told from the perspective of Richard Playpen. A native of California, a failed medical student decides to leave the rather boring and alien environment to him and go to college in Hampton. Here he is interested in several extraordinary students studying the ancient Greek language and their supervisor. This is a kind of closed society, inaccessible to outsiders.

By chance, Richard joins a mysterious company. At first, he does not notice some oddities in the behavior of new friends and only gets tremendous pleasure from communicating with them. His friends are people of different temperaments, but they are united by one thing – a passion for the ancient world.


Henry Winter is considered the unspoken leader among them. Unflappable, possessing amazing knowledge and fortitude. His haughty manner and eccentricity initially alarm Richard, which may be why he hides his humble origins from his comrades and tells stories about a successful family business.


The opposite of the gloomy Henry is the elegant, light, and ironic Francis Abernathy. His humor and friendliness helped the hero adapt to the new environment and even smooth out the awkwardness that repeatedly arose between friends in some intimate moments.

Charles and Camilla

With special warmth, Richard remembers the twins Camilla and Charles Macaulay. They noticeably differ from others by some elusive, unearthly light and beauty. They do not have that selfishness and cynicism inherent in Francis and Henry.

It was the brother and sister who opposed the murder, but, unfortunately, their arguments turned out to be weaker. Most likely, one of the motives for which the main character became an accomplice in the crime was his affection for the Macaulays, or rather, his tender feelings for the beautiful Camilla.


It was he who became the cause of the tragedy that broke out and its victim. The sloppy and rude joker Bunny Corcoran fit even less into the society of aesthetes of Winter-Abernathy-Macaulay than the shy and severely insecure Playpen. Greed, laziness, and short-sightedness eventually led him to a tragic ending.

It is worth noting that the characters of the characters are another of the intrigues of the novel, and at the very end of the book they will appear before the reader in a completely different light.

novel idea

The idea of ​​the novel In addition to young people, other, no less interesting secondary characters are involved in the novel. Moreover, their influence on the events that took place in the town is no less significant in their totality than it might seem at first glance.

First of all, this is Professor Julian, who created a completely separate closed world with his students. One gets the impression that a wealthy self-sufficient scientist was conducting some experiment known to him alone, flattering his pride and vanity, taking little interest in and thinking about the consequences that his young students’ morbid enthusiasm and detachment from the world could lead to.

In several episodes of the novel, the parents of the characters are involved, who also played a role in the drama. For example, Bunny’s mother and father from childhood brought up vanity in him and in every possible way denied the need for labor. In the same way, the relatives of the other heroes delved too superficially into the lives of their children, mainly their interest was in the material sphere. Richard staying in an unheated garage for the winter while his family showed no signs of alarm is a glaring example of indifference on the part of loved ones.

This conflict is actually the main idea of ​​the book. The author, in a somewhat exaggerated, artistic form, depicted the problems that the emerging personality faces and how modern society influences its formation. The obvious conflict between the excessive material interest of some in contrast to the detachment from the realities of life, as a result, led to horrific consequences.

The heroes of the book came out of the cruel test in different ways. And the results were somewhat unexpected. Henry is a strong, courageous, cold skeptic and stoic who never got over it. And the soft and weak-willed Richard nevertheless got out, with a severe mental wound, he was still able to adapt to the real world.

“The Secret History” summary

Richard arrives at Vermont College, majoring in Ancient Greek. There are five people in Richard’s group and teacher Julianne. Henry is the head of this strange company, stately, self-confident, and constantly walking with a book at hand. Bunny is a well-fed merry fellow, not too rude and ill-mannered. Charles and Camilla are charming twins, Francis is a red-haired aristocrat and a homosexual. The guys seem to not want to see Richard in their own team, but decide to take Richard to their party, and invite them to evenings and walks. These guys do not communicate with anyone, and it seems that they are constantly hiding something.

After a while, Henry and Charles tell Richard their secret. The guys had been preparing for a bacchanalia for a long time, they wanted to try what it is, they tried various methods on how to achieve an exact state of consciousness. The guys did this without the presence of Bunny so that nothing would interfere with this, since Bunny was not serious about the matter. And so it happened. The guys ended up in the predawn forest, and when they got out of this state they found out that they had killed a man, a farmer.

Bunny finds out about this case, and he starts hysterical, Bunny does not understand how it happened. The hero of the work begins to lose his temper, becomes an inveterate drunkard, and the behavior gets out of control. One day he decides to come to Richard in order to tell him everything. But Richard already knew about this situation. Then Henry begins to think that Bunny will betray the guys, and there is only one way to prevent Bunny from spreading his tongue to take his life.

The guys pushed Bunny off the cliff and then held his face in the stream. After such an incident, the guys seem to go crazy, everyone except Henry. Henry later informed Richard that this murder set him free because he used to live his own gray life, like an ordinary person. When they conducted an investigation, the guys were not brought to clean water. Set as suicide or an accident.

Charles began to drink too much and at the same time beat Camille, before that, it happened that his brother and sister had sexual relations. Francis is constantly overcome by the fear that the man is dying. Richard has insomnia and is constantly on tranquilizers. Suddenly the teacher Julianne receives a letter from Bunny this letter, which has lain for months, in the letter Bunny tells the teacher about the murder of the farmer and about his own guesses, Bunny will guess that Henry wants to kill him. Julian left for an unknown destination so as not to spoil his own reputation. In the finale, Henry shot himself.

Soon Richard graduated from college after the summer holidays ended, and no one returned. Charles left Camilla and began living with another married woman. Then Richard met with Camilla for the first time in this lived time and began to confess to the girl in love, offering to marry him, but Camilla replied that she loved Henry. Francis is going to marry a girl just so as not to be left without an inheritance.

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3 months ago

This is a very interesting novel, which, as the authors aptly expressed, is unlike anything else, it contains elements of Hitchcockian suspense, which makes it very similar to a film from the very beginning, and this only supports the atmosphere of mystery around, which is very suitable for this work, because it distinguishes his from among others! I am sure that this novel has had and will continue to have many readers, although more than 30 years have passed, the truths written here are eternal!