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The Secret History

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Unit 2711 Post-1914 Prose Coursework Donna Tartt (1963 -) THE SECRET HISTORY (1992) Examine Donna Tartt's narrative methods in The Secret History. The Secret History is a unique mystery novel in which the mystery is solved in the prologue ('Bunny had been dead for several weeks', 'we hadn't intended to hide the body'). It exudes confessional qualities, whereby our narrator Richard appears to be searching for closure; for him, its function is to cleanse and provide a catharsis ('this is the only story I will ever be able to tell'). For Donna Tartt herself, it is evident that her sources and influences (e.g. The Great Gatsby) are a vehicle for a display of her own literacy. As a result, it can be suggested that The Secret History is a showpiece; that is, an outlet for Donna Tartt to showcase her talents in order to create a commercial blockbuster. The enigmatic, elusive nature of the novel allows for a range of different ideas to be explored, including obvious Greek sources ['Dim shrieks, and joy, and triumph-cries of death. And here was borne a severed arm, and there a hunter's hooted foot' - Euripides, 485-406 BC The Bacchae: lines 1381-1383, The Harvard Classics (1909-1914)]. ...read more.


This approach to structure was first seen in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and later developed by Joseph Conrad and Henry James amongst others. Conrad believed that there should be no word or phrase used unless it contributes to the overall meaning of the work. This careful arranging of the structure of a novel included both intricate patterning of language and of narrative events. The narrator Nick Carraway is as unreliable as Richard in The Secret History: Nick reinforces through his language a contrast between how Jay Gatsby wants to present himself, and how he really is ('quality of eternal reassurance') much like Richard's portrayal of his classmates 'like figures from an allegory' and the way in which he puts Henry on a pedestal ('deliberate and distinct'). Even Julian can be seen as a Gatsby-type figure in both Richard and Henry's eyes ('saying something of the gravest importance'). At the same time, he 'fail[s] to see anything except...certain tragic similarities between Gatsby and [him]self'. Furthermore, the character of Judy Poovey parallels Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby ('every one knew her name'). Judy is used to provide another narrative perspective from outside the Greek elite ('he was scarier than the other one'). ...read more.


After the murder, the idea of fiction is stressed because the group is forced to adopt different characters, which they are constantly in danger of revealing. Additionally, the murder happens in the blank pages between the books, leaving the event itself to the imagination of the reader. To conclude, Tartt's narrative method is unique in that we never really get to the truth as far as Richard is concerned. Moreover, he is restricted to having purely one story to tell, which adds to the concept that he is searching for an end. Tartt also glorifies her enigmatic and elusive nature through adding such elements to the narrative; she uses The Secret History in order to investigate different ideas by means of a range of sources. Interestingly, Richard's narrative is sometimes flawed ('I am unable to recall'; 'Even today I do not fully understand'). Owing to the fact that the failures are iterated frequently in the novel, an authenticity is added to the narrative because it exposes his imperfection. However, it also highlights human limitation, and the inability (discussed by Julian) to ever really know ourselves. The Secret History is therefore a useful tool in terms of revealing, through its narrative, what self-awareness is really about; that we are truly alone in our suffering. ...read more.

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