Rings of Growth/The Secret History

The Secret History turns thirty this year, a few months after I reached my third decade. A coincidence that feels somewhat significant; Tartt’s smash debut has been part of my life since I was fifteen, and first fell in love with those aloof, murderous Classics students.

The way I write owes a weighty debt to Donna Tartt and The Secret History. Her prose has stood the test of time; her storytelling has not aged quite as well.

The most obvious critique of The Secret History is that it is sexist. Tartt’s writing of women is infamously archetypal; something that escaped my notice as a young trans teen who was obsessed with reading about quirky, esoteric men.

Mikaella Clements wrote an article I love (and which changed my perceptions of The Secret History) where she asserts that all Tartt women fall into two camps: the beautiful, academic Camillas, and the brash, tarty Judies.

What I find disappointing in my latest reading is that Richard never grows past his worship of the other Secret Historians. The scales never fall from his eyes even as he witnesses them blunder their way through two murders. This fascinated me as a teenager, and frustrates me now. Where is the character growth? What did Richard learn?

I have measured my age in Tartt rereads; like rings in the trunk of a tree. The older I get, the more I outgrow my old hero-worship of Tartt, in a way somewhat allegorical of the failings of the book itself, which never quite successfully tears down its heroes, and whose narrator never quite outgrows his worship of a lofty, loquacious father figure.

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