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.
'About me. The history of one of my follies.'
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.
Plano, now called Sanborn, is a small town in Kern County, California, near Mojave.
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 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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.