The Secret History Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Secret History

Richard Papen flees a loveless California home for an arts college in New Hampshire, only to fall into a murder plot with his fellow Greek classics students. No love is lost between Richard Papen and his parents in California. To escape them, he must flee to Hampden College in the Northeast where he becomes enchanted by a charismatic classics professor and a tight-knit group of attractive, odd-ball intellectual students.
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Richard falls hard for the beautiful twins Charles and Camilla, and greatly admires the brooding leader of the group, Henry Winter. He also becomes fast friends with Francis Abernathy, a wealthy closet case with a flair for high fashion. The only problem is Bunny Corcoran, a loud-mouthed, glad-handing blowhard with an old money family that won't send him a penny. Bunny constantly mooches off of Richard and his new friends, wringing fancy dinners and drinks with his charm and brutal pigishness.

Things get dark when the twins, Henry and Francis perform a Dionysian ritual out in the country and accidentally murder a local farmer. When Bunny discovers this, he begins blackmailing them for expensive trips and gifts. Henry finally decides to get rid of Bunny once and for all. They throw Bunny off a cliff, and then descend into paranoia and madness. Charles begins drinking heavily and suspecting Henry is now out to get him as well. Richard takes solace in party drugs and one night stands.

Finally it all comes to a head at a hotel in town. In a fit of jealousy, Charles storms in on Henry and his sister with a gun. Richard is shot in the confusion. After disarming the raging Charles, Henry takes the gun and turns it on himself.
Best part of story, including ending: I really liked the beauty of Tart's language. I don't normally re-read passages just for the prose, but I found myself doing it alot with this book.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene is when the group gathers for a dinner at Charles and Camilla's house to smooth over the tension. It's storming outside and Richard finally begins to understand that something is terribly wrong.

Opinion about the main character: Richard is somewhat naive in that he'll forgive his friends of anything because he only wants to see the best in them. It's hard not to admire.

The review of this Book prepared by Tim Weaver a Level 1 Blue Jay scholar

At Hampden College in New England, Californian student Richard Papen decides to study to Classics. The Classics course is taught by well-connected erudite Julian who teaches fatherly a small group of hand-picked students. This clique of students is made up of wealthy trust-funded Henry, rich homosexual Francis, possibly bi-sexual Charles and his pretty twin sister Camilla and Bunny who blags money off them all. Richard is weakly accepted into the group but it isn't until he discovers a terrible secret about the others that he is finally absorbed into the group. The secret is that during a re-enactment of a Greek Bacchanal the others have got so terribly drunk and drugged that during wild hallucinations they have accidentally murdered a local farmer on his own land. Bunny too discovers their secret and begins to taunt them with their guilt to such an extent that the others decide to do away with him. Richard is party to Bunny's cliff top murder and soon begins to suffer the clawing guilt of his murder with the others. The book describes wonderfully the dark awkwardness the murderers suffer in their guilt during the manhunt for Bunny and at his funeral.
The review of this Book prepared by John Marcel

Richard Papen arrives at Hampden College, Vermont, and is quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all wealthy, self-assured, and highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns the secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods one night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. Years later Richard reflects on the lengths they were willing to go to keep their secret, eventually leading to the downfall of them all.
The review of this Book prepared by CM

Chapter Analysis of The Secret History

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   thoughtful Time/era of story    -   1980's-1999 Crime & Police story    -   Yes Story of    -   blackmail/seduction Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   student Age:    -   a teen Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American)


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   7 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast Small town?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Sex in book?    -   Yes Amount of dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Donna Tartt Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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