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1 Hawthorne Literature- A to Z

The Secret History


The Secret History Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Richard states that he ended up at Hampden College by a “trick of fate.” What do you think of this statement? Do you believe in fate?

2. When discussing Bacchae and the Dionysiac ritual with his students Julian states, “We dont like to admit it, but the idea of losing control is one that fascinates controlled people such as ourselves more than almost anything. All truly civilized people--the ancients no less than us--have civilized themselves through the willful repression of the old, animal self” (p. 38). What is your opinion of this theory? Are we all attracted to that which is forbidden? Do we all secretly wish we could let ourselves go and act on our animal instincts? Is it true that “beauty is terror”?

3. “I suppose there is a certain crucial interval in everyones life when character is fixed forever: for me, it was that first fall term spent at Hampden” (p. 80). Did you have such a crucial interval in your life? What/when was it?

4. In the idyllic beginning it is easy to see why Richard is drawn to the group of Greek scholars. It is only after they begin to unravel that we see the sinister side of each of the characters. Do you think any one of the characters possesses true evil? Is there such a thing as true evil, or is there something redeeming in everyones character?

5. In the beginning of the novel, Bunnys behavior is at times endearing and at others maddening. What was your initial opinion of Bunny? Does it change as the story develops?

6. At times Bunny, with his selfish behavior, seems devoid of a conscience, yet he is the most disturbed by the murder of the farmer. Is he more upset because he was left out of the group or because he feels what happened is wrong?

7. Henry says to Richard, “My life, for the most part, has been very stale and colorless. Dead, I mean. The world has always been an empty place to me. I was incapable of enjoying even the simplest things. I felt dead in everything I did. . . . But then it changed . . . The night I killed that man” (p. 463). How does Henrys reaction compare to that of the others involved in the murder(s)? Do you believe he feels remorse for what he has done?

8. Discuss the significance of the scene in which Henry wipes his muddy hand across his shirt after throwing dirt onto Bunnys coffin at the funeral (p. 395).

9. List some of the signs that foreshadowed the dark turn of events. Would you have seen all the signs that Richard initially misses? Or do you believe Richard knew all along and just refused to see the truth?

10. Would you have stuck by the group after learning their dark secret?

11. The author states that many people didnt sympathize with Richard. Did you find him a sympathetic character?

12. What do you make of Richards unrequited love for Camilla? Do you feel that she loved him in return? Or did she use his love for her as a tool to manipulate him?

13. Do you feel the others used Richard as a pawn? If so, how?

14. What do you feel is the significance of Julians toast “Live forever” (p. 86)?

15. The author mentions a quote supposedly made by George Orwell regarding Julian: “Upon meeting Julian Morrow, one has the impression that he is a man of extraordinary sympathy and warmth. But what you call his ‘Asiatic Serenity is, I think, a mask for great coldness” (p. 480). What is your opinion of Julian?

16. Do you think that Julian feels he is somewhat responsible for the murder of Bunny? Is that why he doesnt turn the group in when he discovers the truth from Bunnys letter?

17. What causes Julian to flee? Is it because of disappointment in his young protegees or in himself?

18. While the inner circle of characters (Richard, Charles, Camilla, Henry, Francis, and the ill-fated Bunny) are the center of this tale, those on the periphery are equally important in their own ways (Judy Poovey, Cloke Rayburn, Marion, and so on). Discuss the roles of these characters.

19. The rights for The Secret History were initially purchased by director/producer/screenwriter Alan J. Paluka (All The Presidents

Men, The Pelican Brief), and they are currently with director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars). What are your feelings about making the novel into a movie? Who would play the main characters if you were to cast it?

20. What is the meaning of Richards final dream?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

thirdwavegrrrl, April 16, 2013 (view all comments by thirdwavegrrrl)
I really enjoyed this suspenseful and beautifully written novel. I highly recommend it!
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
ememily, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by ememily)
The Secret History is wonderful in so many ways. I'm pretty picky when it comes to novels, and I also rarely read a book more than once. But this one is magical in some way. It's a lengthy book, but it's completely engaging the whole way through. I've read it several times, and know I'll read it again. Every person I know that has read it has loved it too. It's hard to describe what's so perfect about it, but it has characters that draw you in, a mysterious plot, and it's written beautifully. It's definitely a book you want to savor, but can't stop reading until you've reached the end.
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Rebekah, March 10, 2007 (view all comments by Rebekah)
I stayed up all night reading this book! "The Secret History" is one of those novels you want to race through because the author has built up such a strong sense of anticipation, but you also want to read v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-ly so that you can savor every part. Tartt explores the human fascination with violence and escapism in intellectual prose that both tantalizes and shocks. This is an indulgent yet edifying read from which you might even learn a thing or two about classical literature and philosophy.
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(7 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Tartt, Donna
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Tartt, Donna
Miller, Jennifer
New York :
College students
Teacher-student relationships
Murder -- Fiction.
secret society;prep school;mystery;tragedy;high school;teens;adolescence;scandal
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
August 1996
Grade Level:
9 x 6 in 1.3 lb

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Related Subjects

» Featured Titles » Literature
» Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
» Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

The Secret History Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Fawcett Books - English 9780449911518 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Powerful....Enthrallling....A ferociously well-paced entertainment."
"Review" by , "A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel."
"Review" by , "Entertaining, evocative first novel."
"Review" by , "[A] work of occasionally irritating pretension that is mostly redeemed by its simple virtue as a gripping read....Where it parts company with even the best of its campus colleagues is in the clever evolution of its first-person telling, its many magnificent pages of description and its refusal to let the parochial environs of its setting limit the exploration of its characters."
"Review" by , "[W]ell-written....The book's many allusions, both literary and to provide the deeper resonance of such works as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Ultimately, it works best as a psychological thriller."
"Review" by , "[A]n elaborately conceived and artistically ambitious thriller....Tartt records the aftereffects of unpunished crime with great skill. But her efforts to transform a chronicle of suspense into a study in sensibility are less successful....Tartt offers the aroma of decadence, not its anatomy; stylish intimations of misbehavior, not visions of hell."
"Review" by , "One of the best American college novels to come along since John Knowles's A Seperate Peace....Immensely entertaining."
"Review" by , "A great, dense, disturbing story, wonderfully told."
"Review" by , "Donna Tartt is clearly a gifted writer....She has the ability to leave her literary contemporaries standing in the road."
"Review" by , "An accomplished psychological thriller....Absolutely chilling....Tartt has a stunning command of the lyrical."
"Review" by , "A thinking-person's thriller....Think Lord of the Flies, then The Rules of Attraction....The Secret History combines a bit of both — the unmistakable whiff of evil from William Golding's classic and the mad recklessness of priviledged youth from Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the '80s....As stony and chilling as any Greek tragedian ever plumbed."
"Review" by , "Tartt's voice is unlike that of any of her contemporaries. Her beautiful language, intricate plotting, fascinating characters, and intellectual energy make her debut by far the most interesting work yet from her generation."
"Review" by , "Beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish."
"Review" by , "The Secret History implicates the reader in a conspiracy which begins in bucolic enchantment and ends exactly where it must — though a less gifted or fearless writer would never have been able to imagine such a rich skein of consequence. Donna Tartt has written a mesmerizing and powerful novel."
"Review" by , "Donna Tartt has a real shot at becoming her generation's Edgar Allan Poe....The Secret History pulses like a telltale heart on steroids."
"Synopsis" by , Truly deserving of the accolade a modern classic, Donna Tartt's novel 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 their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

"Synopsis" by , In this debut novel a budding teenage journalist at an elite prep school and her enigmatic science teacher each separately attempt to track down a secret society that may hold damning evidence about a shadowy tragedy in the school's—and the teacher's—past.
"Synopsis" by ,

“Do you know what it took for Socrates enemies to make him stop pursuing the truth?”


Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom's Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.

Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devils Advocate, the Partys underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the schools new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter's instinct, and her own troubled past.

The Year of the Gadfly is an exhilarating journey of double-crosses, deeply buried secrets, and the lifelong reverberations of losing someone you love. Following in the tradition of classic school novels such as A Separate Peace, Prep, and The Secret History, it reminds us how these years haunt our lives forever.

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