Page 5. " Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw', that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? "

 The 'fatal flaw' is a literary term, related to the Greek word hamartia, 'error': the mistake a protagonist makes that leads to their downfall. The term derives from Aristotle's Poetics. The error that the character makes stems from a particular flaw in their personality (a 'fatal flaw'). This is usually an excess of arrogance which leads them to ignore the warnings or instructions of the gods. This particular flaw is called hubris ('wanton insolence').

An important feature of hamartia is that it is committed in ignorance. The flawed character is unaware of the impact their mistake will have, and ignores any warnings as to its effect.



Page 5. " A moi. L'histoire d'une de mes folies "

 'About me. The history of one of my follies.'

This is a line from Rimbaud's Une Saison en Enfer ('A Season in Hell'), from the 'Second Delirium', 'Alchemy of the Word' (Alchemie du Verbe) It can be read here (p. 15 of the pdf).

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) was a nineteenth century French poet. His poetry was produced when he was very young - he gave up writing when he was 21, reputation already secured. He had an intense, torturous affair with Paul Verlaine (writer of Clair de Lune). After retiring from poetry he travelled the world, enlisting as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army and eventually settling in Aden, in Yemen. Rimbaud died of cancer when he was 37.



Page 5. " I grew up in Plano "

Plano, now called Sanborn, is a small town in Kern County, California, near Mojave.


Google Map



Page 6. " Tom Swift, or the Tolkien books "
 The Tom Swift novels were a series of over 100 volumes of stories featuring the adventures of Tom Swift, written by a number of different ghostwriters under the name Victor Appleton. The stories portrayed a world in which science and technology are exciting, entirely positive entities which help Tom Swift during his many adventures. New Tom Swift books have been published from 1910 onwards.

The "Tolkien books" are the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford university professor, writer and philologist. His books, The Hobbit and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, are extremely popular to this day. The Lord of the Rings was made into a film trilogy by the director Peter Jackson.

The Lord of the Rings on Book Drum

Page 6. " a melancholy feeling that I associate with watching 'The Wonderful World of Disney' on Sunday nights "

 'The Wonderful World of Disney' was a long-running American television series that aired between 1954 and 2008. The programme was an hour-long anthology of cartoons and edited films from the Disney studios.


Page 7. " Son of a Clemson football star turned banker "

Clemson University is situated in Clemson, South Carolina, in the United States. All of the sports teams in the university are called the Clemson Tigers, including the Clemson Tigers (American) Football team, to which Bunny's father presumably belonged.

Page 7. " summers on Cape Cod "
 Cape Cod is in Massachusetts in the United States. It is an island and a cape on the North-Eastern coast, and is a popular, upmarket holiday destination, known for its beaches and its clapboard New England architecture.
Page 7. " It was an entirely random decision which, as you will see, turned out to be quite fateful. "

Fate is an important theme in The Secret History. It relates to the main characters' love of Ancient Greek literature, where many poems and plays describe the consequences of attempting to escape one's own fate (a fate which is often predicted).

The idea of fate, predestination, or destiny, contrasts with that of free will. If the characters in The Secret History are doomed to murder (or to be murdered, in Bunny's case) to what extent can their actions be described as free will - in other words, to what extent can they be seen as responsible for their crimes? Richard's reliance on the concept of fate can be seen as an attempt by him to escape responsibility for his actions.

Page 8. " a doomed and Pyrrhic gesture "

 A 'Pyrrhic' gesture is an action, usually a victory, which is achieved at a great cost to the victor. The phrase comes from King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose 279 BC victory over the Romans cost him so many casualties that he is said by Plutarch to have declared that "one more such victory would utterly undo me".

Page 8. " I would've been unhappy anywhere, in Biarritz or Caracas or the Isle of Capri "

Capri Island
Creative Commons AttributionCapri Island - Credit: CameliaTWU
 All places associated with decadent pleasure. Biarritz is a luxury resort in the Basque region of south-western France; Caracas is the capital city of Venezuela. The Isle of Capri is an island in the Bay of Naples in Italy, home to pleasure palaces built by the Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius.

Page 8. " to a certain extent Milton is right - the mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven or Hell and so forth "
 John Milton was a seventeenth century English poet, most famous for his book-length work Paradise Lost which is repeatedly referenced in The Secret History. Paradise Lost is an epic poem, written in blank verse, which recounts the Biblical story of 'The Fall': Adam and Eve's temptation and expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The quote Richard mentions is from Book 1.1.254:

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.


The whole of Paradise Lost can be read online here.

Page 9. " I remember reading about Pythagoras around this time, and finding some of his ideas curiously appealing "

 Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher, and founder of the religion Pythagoreanism. Although today he is probably best known as for the Pythagoras theorem in mathematics. Pythagoreanism was a mystical, ascetic religion whose followers abstained from meat, fish and beans, wore white robes and believed in equality between men and women.

Page 16. " he was an old, dazed, disordered-looking fellow, a behavioralist "

 Behaviourism is school of psychology positing that all types of activity - thought, acting, feeling - can be called 'behaviours' and studied in a scientific, objective way that excludes hypothetical ideas such as 'the mind', or any abstract theories. Psychologists associated with Behaviourism include Ivan Pavlov, Edward Lee Thorndike, John B. Watson and  B. F. Skinner.

Page 16. " a friend to Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot "


Both twentieth century poets. Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was an influential figure in the development of Modernism, working as an editor to publish other Modernist writers, such as T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost and James Joyce, as well as publishing his own poetry. Born in American, he lived in England until the First World War, when he moved to Italy. He is notorious for embracing Mussolini's fascism and broadcasting pro-Fascist radio speeches during the Second World War. In 1945 he was arrested for treason by the advancing American army in Italy. His time in prison triggered a mental breakdown, though he produced more volumes of his most famous work, the Cantos, whilst incarcerated in Pisa.






T.S. Eliot
Public DomainT.S. Eliot

 T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) was an American-born poet, though he too moved to England early in his career. His influence over twentieth century poetry is difficult to overestimate: a Modernist, works such as The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land have entered into modern consciousness; for example The Waste Land is one of the most often-bookmarked poems here on Book Drum. T.S. Eliot became a British citizen when he was 39, revoking his American citizenship, and converting to Anglicanism. Eliot is a figure of great importance to Donna Tartt, and oblique references to his life and work appear frequently in this novel.  Tartt also refers to the same literary sources as Eliot, especially those in The Waste Land: for example Dante's Paradise Lost, revenge tragedy, the Hindu Upanishads and Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, all of which were also employed by Eliot in The Waste Land.

Page 18. " I thought (erroneously) that he dressed like Alfred Douglas, or the Comte de Montesquiou "

 Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945) third son of the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, is best known for his affair with Oscar Wilde, an affair which led to Wilde's arrest and imprisonment. He was also a writer and translator. Often known by his nickname, 'Bosie', Alfred Douglas was notoriously wild and extravagant. 









 The Comte de Montesquiou (1855-1921) is perhaps best known as the inspiration for Proust's character the Baron de Charlus. He was a Symbolist poet and a fashionable dandy, an acquaintance of Alphonse Daudet, Edmond de Goncourt, Sarah Bernhardt, and Jean Cocteau.

Page 19. " a translation of Anacreon "

Anacreon by Jean-Baptiste Guillaume
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAnacreon by Jean-Baptiste Guillaume - Credit: Rama
 Anacreon was an Ancient Greek poet who lived from c.570-478 B.C. He is known as a poet of enjoyment, love, and revelry, famous for his drinking songs. He wrote his poetry in the ancient Ionic dialect, and it was intended to be sung or accompanied by the lyre. Translations of his poems can be found here.

Page 19. " his annual lecture on Racine "

Jean Racine by Jean-Baptiste Santerre
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeJean Racine by Jean-Baptiste Santerre - Credit: Descendance
 Jean Racine (1639-1699) was a hugely influential seventeenth century French playwright, known for tragedies such as Phèdre and Andromaque. He wrote in the dodecasyllabic alexandrine, which makes his plays notoriously difficult to translate. Alongside Molière and Corneille he is known as one of the 'Big Three' French dramatists.

Page 19. " Bunny Corcoran had a habit of playing John Philip Sousa march tunes "

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was an American composer known for his military music. He was head of the Marine Band in the U.S. Marine Corps. His march 'The Liberty Bell' was used as the theme tune to Monty Python's Flying Circus.

John Philip Sousa on Spotify: Invincible Eagle

Page 20. " W.C. Fields with a bad case of Long Island lockjaw "


W. C. Fields (1880-1946) was an American comedian and writer, best known for playing unpleasant comic characters.

Long Island Lockjaw, or Locust Valley lockjaw, is an American accent associated with the upper-class residents of Long Island, New York. Franklin D. Roosevelt and  Katharine Hepburn are said to have had this accent.


Page 20. " If the Greeks are sailing to Carthage, it should be accusative "

Camilla is right on this point of grammar. In Ancient Greek, verbs have four moods, three voices, three persons, four main tenses and different moods for each tense; this complicates issues of translation such as the one Bunny, Camilla and Charles are grappling with in this scene.

Page 22. " Take him some flowers and tell him you love Plato "
Plato (with mistaken inscription)
Creative Commons AttributionPlato - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen

 Plato, alongside Socrates and Aristotle, laid the foundations of the Western philosophical tradition. Probably born in Athens or Aegina in around 429-423 BC, Plato was taught by Socrates, and eventually founded the Academy, one of the earliest known schools, in Athens. He wrote on a wide number of subjects including metaphysics, politics, and epistemology, as well as publishing the Socratic dialogues, based on his recollections of Socrates' teaching.