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"What does the author gain and/or lose through the use of the first person narration from the outsider, Richard Papen? Does it lend credibility to the argument that much of The Secret History is autobiographical?"

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English Coursework "What does the author gain and/or lose through the use of the first person narration from the outsider, Richard Papen? Does it lend credibility to the argument that much of The Secret History is autobiographical?" When it was published in 1992 The Secret History was acclaimed as the most hyped novel of all time. It sold in vast numbers and despite being marketed as 'The Thinking Person's Thriller' it included elements of many other genres. It has been stated by some critics that much of its success comes from the depth provided by the first person narrative along with the autobiographical detail from Tartt herself. The narrative in The Secret History is provided by Richard Papen, who fulfils the role of an outsider; looking in upon the classics group and gradually becoming assimilated within them. Through the use of the first person narrative the reader only sees Richard's perception of events, along with the inaccuracy of his observations; an example of this is his reference to "the heavy sweet smell of apples rotting on the ground" being both the thing he hated about Plano and one of the things that made Hampden so appealing to him. Richard also states that one of his skills is "lying on my feet", something which hardly lends reliability to the narration. This effect is furthered by the separation of Richard the narrator and Richard the leading character. The narrative switches between the recall of events in the past tense and his feelings about these events in the present tense; through this use of a first person retrospective narrative the progression from the focaliser and past self to the narrator represented by the present self can be seen: "I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. ...read more.


This flatters the reader into believing they are to be told something of great magnitude and encourages them to read on. A feature of both novels is the jaded perception that the narrator has of other characters in the book, much of the plot being subsequently derived from watching their preconceptions fall apart. Tartt uses an interesting twist on this in relation to Richard's perception of Charles and Camilla, his initial view of them as a couple is broken down, only to be reaffirmed much later: "I thought they were boyfriend and girlfriend, until one day I saw them up close and realized they had to be siblings. Later I learned they were twins." (Chapter 1) This tendency to is true of Richard's views on almost of all of the characters and Nick's view of Gatsby and Jordan Baker in particular. When compared with other first person narratives, Tartt does not exploit the medium to its full potential; for example when compared to Bronte's Wuthering Heights which employs a far more sophisticated narrative technique. The Secret History uses a diachronic narrative structure whereas Wuthering Heights begins the narrative 'in medias res' and the plot is then built up in a synchronic manner. This adds a far greater level of depth, intrigue and suspense to the plot and launches the reader in the centre of the action in the opening chapter; in contrast in The Secret History the reader has to wade through a lengthy preamble that builds up the character of Richard before the action begins. It can however be argued that without this period of characterization first then the subsequent events would lose much of their resonance and the factors that make the narrative appealing - such as the inaccuracy of the narration itself - would be far less apparent. ...read more.


What Tartt gains in emotional detail with relation to Richard's character could be autobiographical but due to her secretive nature and reluctance to reveal details about her own past then this cannot be proven. Indeed, her own 'Secret History' is what makes the book so interesting because of the tantalizing glimpses into her past which the reader flatters themselves into believing that they are seeing. Autobiographies are in their very essence first person narratives and Tartt's use of this technique does lend that implication to the plot but her previously stated reticence to divulge information on how her life related to The Secret History makes further discussion on the point little more than fatuitous speculation. In conclusion The Secret History is a modern literary classic at least in part as a result of the depth and intensity that comes as a result of the first person narrative. Tartt employs this technique to such an effect as to draw the reader into the text to such an extent that they themselves feel implicated in the crimes that occur. It is true that this intra-diegetic narrative limits the scope for characterization and leads to a lack of variety in the novel, something which drew criticism from some parties, but the losses incurred as a result of this do not outweigh the aforementioned gains. It is difficult to say that the use of a first person narrative lends much credibility to the autobiographical argument because of the manner in which such details are distributed amongst the main characters as opposed to being embodied in Richard. Whilst certain aspects of her life that bear similarity to Richard's could have given her a deeper insight into his emotional state, not only are the instances too diverse to represent such a trend, but the lack of information divulged by Tartt makes further investigation almost impossible. ...read more.

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