The Secret History
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Secret History, the first novel by Mississippi-born writer Donna Tartt, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. A 75,000 print order was made for the first edition (as opposed to the usual 10,000 order for a debut novel), and the book became a bestseller.
Set in New England, The Secret History tells the story of a closely knit group of six classics students at a small, elite Vermont college, similar in many respects to Bennington College (in Bennington, Vermont) where Tartt was a student from 1982 to 1986. Tartt's tale has certain parallels with the unsolved case of Bennington art student Paula Jean Welden who vanished while hiking near the college in 1946.
One of the six students is the story's narrator, Richard Papen, who reflects, years later, on the situation that led to a murder within the group, implying such at the outset but otherwise revealing events sequentially. In the opening chapter, as the reader is introduced to Papen, the death of student Edmund "Bunny" Corcoran is revealed, although few details are given initially. The novel undertakes to explore the circumstances and lasting effects of his murder on an academically and socially isolated group of students attending Hampden College in Vermont.
The impact on the students is ultimately destructive, and the potential promise of many young lives is lost to circumstance. It mirrors, in many ways, the notion of a Greek tragedy with fate playing a large part in dictating the very circumstances that lead to an escalation of already fermenting issues.